All Writings
September 21, 2003

The No-Fault Administration

Every time I hear that another of our soldiers has been killed in a violent attack by Iraqis resisting the occupation, I become, like many other Americans, extremely saddened. I expect and accept that some of our men and women will die while fighting for a worthy and well-defined cause. In the case of Iraq, however, I find myself increasingly upset over our casualties, because I am not sure if these terrible losses could have been avoided if we had intervened with the full support of the Security Council or NATO. Six months after the war, the Bush administration is finally beginning to recognize the pitfalls of occupation, as evidenced by the loss of lives and the escalating costs of going it alone. The administration has now returned to the UNSC seeking its help. But even at this juncture, Mr. Bush is unwilling to surrender or even share control of Iraq's political transformation to the U.N.

France, Germany, and Russia, along with India, Pakistan and others for their part, insist on a clear U.N. mandate before they provide help in peace keeping, reconstruction or both. They might sympathize more with our current predicament if the administration had shown some humility and admitted that it did miscalculate the reality in Iraq. But this is a no fault-administration: it makes no mistakes, commits no blunders, and continues to pretend that everything is going as planned. Never mind that no weapons of mass destruction have been found, no Iraqi link to Al Qaeda established, and no imminent danger that justified our preemptive strike unearthed. The administration simply deflects these realities. So not surprisingly, there has been no admission that it completely misread the social, religious, and political factionalism in Iraq. Quite the opposite: this administration uses its past mistakes and their consequences to justify its demand to retain complete control over Iraq's political transformation. No matter that over 300 of our best soldiers have been killed and the staggering cost of the occupation, now in the tens of billions–have not produced a stable Iraq; in fact, we are far from claiming victory. And while we have nearly 140 thousand troops in Iraq, which should certainly give us a say in its reconstruction, we cannot demand a final say on everything that transpires. We are turning to the U.N. for help precisely because we have not established the kind of order we want. Yet we remain unwilling to "pay the price" for our mistakes by, at a minimum, agreeing to share authority, both for our own sake and that of the Iraqi people.

The administration's neo-conservatives–the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds, and the Wolfowitzes and their cohorts at the American Enterprise Institute–must not be sleeping well these days. I cannot imagine how much it pains them to have to seek help from either the U. N., an institution they so deeply revile, or NATO, whose help they also rejected. The people in power have a particularly hard time admitting that the rosy picture of post-war Iraq they placed before Mr. Bush was based on illusion rather than the reality of the Middle East. They have underestimated what it takes to achieve their lofty goals while ignoring all the clear signposts that pointed to trouble and uncertainty ahead. They probably still do not accept that no democracies will bloom throughout the region anytime soon, anti-American sentiments have not subsided but increased, terrorism is not diminishing but growing, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is in shambles.

Our stakes in Iraq are extremely high, now that we've occupied it. We must find a way to ensure at least limited success and eventually leave the country in the hands of a competent representative Iraqi government. Otherwise, our strategic interests in the region and beyond it will be severely undermined, not to speak of our sustaining a humiliating setback in the war against terrorism. Yet even such modest goals will require the immediate presence of more peace keepers and major outside financial contributions to aid in the reconstruction of a battered nation. To that end the Bush administration must chose between (1) continuing its efforts to secure a U.N. resolution to aid us in peacekeeping, or (2) asking NATO assume the bulk of responsibility, similar to the arrangement concluded for Afghanistan. Either option would require us to relinquish some control in Iraq. The NATO option is preferable. We are still the dominant power in NATO, which will emerge with a renewed sense of mission–especially as more nations have joined it. In addition, our turning to it will restore purpose and unity to the alliance, mending the relations with France and Germany so greatly frayed by our failure to obtain a second U.N. resolution and by the rush to war. Above all, we would be turning our misadventure in Iraq into a joint venture, which will almost certainly guarantee its success. Although the U.N. must still play an important role in sanctioning NATO's role in Iraq, similar to its role in Kosovo, going through NATO offers the administration a predominant role that the organization's members are accustomed to and the opportunity to reshape NATO's global outreach and responsibility beyond Iraq.

Sooner or later, the administration must admit, that notwithstanding our military and economic might, unilateralism cannot be the basic tenet of our foreign policy. Neo-conservatives who see multilateralism as a constraint in dealing with terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction forget that it is the very nature of these threats that makes multilateralism indispensable. To suppress terrorism and arrest proliferation of WMD will take years of cooperation with many countries–sharing intelligence, policing international borders and tracing the flow of money and dangerous materials. Although we must retain the prerogative of using our military power unilaterally, we must learn to share responsibility and admit our mistakes. And we must first resort to other sources of power–economic, technological, informational, and our culture and political ideals to persuade other nations to join our efforts to successfully combat international threats.