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US Policies in Post-War Iraq - 2003-09-10

President Bush has requested an additional 87 billion dollars to help stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan. The funds -- equivalent to about one fifth of the U.S. 2004 defense budget -- would support military deployment and reconstruction efforts. The president made the appeal to the nation in his first public address since he declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq last May. He spoke amid growing criticism that he has failed to devise an effective post-war plan for Iraq.

Clifford May is President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based research institute focusing on terrorism. He says what is happening in Iraq historically occurs when a regime is overthrown: “People look at what is happening in Iraq right now, just a few months after toppling Saddam, and they see terrorists at work. They see confusion. They see insufficient services. All of that was true in Germany post World War II. The Marshall Plan came after two years of chaos following Hitler's demise. The same thing happened in the American south after the civil war. Terrorists like the Klu Klux Klan rose up and terrorized the countryside. They objected to the occupation by the North. They tried everything to make sure that the occupation would fail.”

Mr. May believes it is unreasonable to think the United States could topple a dictator and rebuild an oppressed society in such a short time. He says the American public and the world must be patient: “We are doing things that have not been done before. We may fail, but we hope to succeed. But the idea that we would succeed in a matter of weeks or just before the end of the summer, I think that is a ridiculous idea.”

Georgie Anne Geyer, a veteran columnist on international affairs and author of eight books, says it is not a matter of patience, but of planning. She believes the Bush administration rushed into war without thinking it through: “Once they had taken Iraq, there was no plan for the day after. There were no military police that should have been brought in after. There was no reconstruction plan.”

In his speech to the American people, President Bush said Iraq is now the 'central front' in the war on terrorism.

But Ms. Geyer says the initial U.S. attack had little to do with the larger war on terrorism. She says the administration's claim in the run up to the war that Saddam Hussein's secular Baathist party had connections to the terrorist network al-Qaida turned out to be false:

“From everything we know, there was no connection. What is now happening with the war, by going into Iraq, we have opened this Baathist secular country to al-Qaida. From all accounts, a lot of al-Qaida people are coming in. These terrible bombings of the Jordanian embassy, the United Nations, the Shia shrine in Najaf, which is like the Islamic shine in Mecca, all of these have the touch of al-Qaida.”

Columnist Geyer says, in essence, the U.S. attack and occupation have bred more resentment in the Middle East and attracted international terrorists into beleaguered Iraq. No Arab state, including countries where U.S. troops prepared for the invasion, publicly supported the military campaign against Iraq.

But Clifford May says U.S. action in Iraq was necessary, and although groups like the Baathists and al-Qaida may have their differences, they share a common enemy in western nations. He says the terrorist attacks taking place around the world, including those in Iraq, are carried out by numerous groups with one goal: to unite the Muslim world to defeat the West:

“We say we are fighting a war against terrorism, but terrorism is really only a method. In a way, that's like saying we're fighting a war against nuclear weapons or against biological weapons. Terrorism is being used by whom? That's the key question. And it's being used by various ideologies. These ideologies justify terrorism when it's used against the infidels - which mean Jews, Christians, Hindus, moderate Muslims and Buddhists. Think of those attacks that have taken place recently - in Bombay, in Baghdad, in Kashmir, in Jerusalem, in Tunisia and in Bali. These are all committed by those who have themselves declared that they are fighting a jihad for Islam.”

Mr. May says the United States is offering democracy to the Middle East as a way to escape this radical movement: “I think people in the West, Democrats and Republicans here, are saying to the Islamic world that our hope for you is that we welcome you into the free world. But these jihadist movements, which claim to act in the name of Islam, are a perversion of Islam. They are anti-democratic. They find their roots not only in Islam, but in fascism.”

Georgie Anne Geyer agrees that radical Islamic fundamentalists are to blame for most of the recent terrorist attacks. But she says U.S. policies in the Middle East have inflamed relations with the Muslim world, making the situation worse. Ms. Geyer believes the United States lost support of much of the world after it invaded Iraq without U.N. approval.

But Mr. May remains skeptical of U.N. involvement in the rebuilding of Iraq: “We would love to have U.N. participation. But the United Nations was not involved in the liberation of Iraq. They did not seem to welcome that. I don't think I would put the United Nations in charge of building democratic institutions. I don't think they have a capability for that.”

However, because of difficulties in pacifying Iraq, the Bush administration has decided to work with the United Nations. Georgie Ann Geyer says this recent move to internationalize post-war efforts is a step in the right direction: “We really saw an incredible turn of events, with the United States going to the United Nations, the body that the Bush administration had treated with utter contempt, and going to it with a new resolution that would bring in France and Germany -- also India, Bangladesh and Pakistan with troops and reconstruction efforts. In general, the situation has turned for the better because there is a possibility now of bringing the world into this very closed and dangerous place in Iraq, where the United States has made itself the target of almost every terrorist in the world.”

The United States is working with members of the U.N. Security Council to authorize a multinational force. Although there is still debate over who will ultimately control this force, diplomats on all sides say they want to find common ground. Several countries, including Greece and India, say they would consider sending troops to stabilize Iraq once it has United Nations approval.

Georgie Anne Geyer believes the United Nations has a lot to offer, and its participation in Iraq will be good for all parties: “What they can do, and what they have done well, are civic and civil missions, like in East Timor. They can be very useful, and they diffuse the tension and the resentment given to the great powers, particularly the United States. They bring in all kinds of capabilities in terms of NGOs and humanitarian organizations. They change the whole tenor of the situation.”

Analysts say that U.N. involvement is no cure-all for conditions in Iraq, but they welcome any help that will lead in the direction of stability and democracy for a long-suffering country.