- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

While the U.N. Security Council remains entangled in internal squabbling over whether and when we will go to war with Iraq, the work of planning the aftermath of the war is moving apace in Washington. Some may see this as unilateralist on the part of the U.S. government, but now is indeed the time to plan for the aftermath.
Judging by the 1991 Gulf War, we won't have much time for planning, once the artillery starts flying. Just this weekend, three Iraqi soldiers surrendered to British paratroopers who were engaged in a military exercise within the Kuwaiti border. The Iraqis had to be sent back, informed that as the war had not actually started, their surrender could not be accepted yet.
Paradoxically, President Bush has been castigated by his critics for introducing a progressive and forward-looking plan for the Middle East in the aftermath of a second Gulf War. Presented on Feb. 26 at the American Enterprise Institute dinner, Mr. Bush's vision was one not just of giving freedom and the power of self-determination to the Iraqi people, but a vision of promoting democratic movements in the Middle East.
"The nation of Iraq, with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people, is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom," Mr. Bush said. This vision was immediately denounced by his critics on the left who usually never see a feel-good cause they don't like as totally unrealistic. Democracy in the Arab world is by many considered a non-starter.
No one in his right mind believes it is an easy task that Mr. Bush has taken on here, which ought to earn him some credit. Having made the mistake of leaving Saddam Hussein in power after the last Gulf War, we have to get it right this time.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Bush administration is accepting offers for a $900 million contract for reconstruction work in Iraq, the largest such project since the reconstruction of Germany and Japan. American companies, as well as friendly countries such as Poland and Romania, have been invited to place their bids.
The plan is reportedly laid out in a 13-page document, "Vision for Post-Conflict Iraq," and is being handled by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It foresees reconstruction beginning as soon as the war is over, with water systems, roads, ports, hospitals and schools being the first priorities. In other words, its priorities are the needs of the Iraqi people.
Exactly what shape the post-Saddam reconstruction government will take is still open to intense debate within the State Department. It will, to a certain extent, depend on the course and outcome of the war. But Jay Garner, the retired general who will be in charge of reconstructing the country, has stated that he will be eager to effect the transition from military to civilian authority as quickly as possible.
Plans have been drawn up by the United Nations, under the direction of Secretary-General Kofi Annan and in consultation with the Bush administration. The U.S. government, however, should not be eager to go this route, not if we want Iraq back on its feet within any reasonable time frame. Under U.N. leadership, the reconstruction of tiny Kosovo, now in its fifth year and hopelessly stalled, could end up taking longer than the reconstruction of postwar Japan. Instead, the goal ought to be handing governing authority over to responsible Iraqis, as soon as can realistically be done.
Those who deride the vision described by Mr. Bush in his speech, ought to take a look at Japan and at Germany. Due to American efforts after World War II, and dedicated domestic leadership, both have been successful democracies for half a century. Iraq is surely no more difficult than Japan.
Japan was entirely feudal in its social and political structures, theocratic even. Germany had had a brief and disastrous experience with democracy under the Weimar Republic, between the end of World War I and Adolf Hitler's power grab in 1933. There was not much to be hopeful about there for advocates of democracy. Indeed, the Germans used to complain bitterly that the British occupation forces treated them condescendingly like the natives in their African colonies.
Nevertheless, the most important people had faith: President Truman, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, Gen. Lucius Clay, military governor of Germany, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, military governor of Japan.
Just think about this: How many nations possessed of vastly superior power would make plans for rebuilding the schools and hospitals of defeated foes? Do any come to mind? The Roman Empire? Napoleonic France? The Soviet Union? Brutal subjugation of a vanquished foe has been the norm throughout history. The United States, we should be proud, has set a different standard.

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