- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Well, it's about time. If Congress wants to be heard in the debate over U.S. policy on Iraq, if members want to be on the record supporting or opposing the president's right to take pre-emptive military action to eliminate a threat to American national security, their leadership has to stop dragging its feet.

Finally, debate is scheduled to begin, in the proper forum, which should result in some clearing of the air, which has been severely polluted over the past weeks by political name-calling. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle attacked President Bush for allegedly calling the Democrats "unpatriotic," and in Baghdad three Democratic congressmen, Reps. David Bonior, Jim McDermott and Mike Thompson, attacked the president for misleading the American public. If there's any evidence to support such a charge, they did not offer it. Nor did they indicate any qualms about being the guests of a government that is deeply antagonistic toward the United States.

Whether Republicans or Democrats wanted Iraq to become an election issue or not and neither the White House nor the Democratic leadership really wanted it to happen this way it has. This is deeply unfortunate.

There is so much at stake here, so much substance to be discussed. In part because of the political back-and-forth, which is as usual generating more heat than light, little attention has been paid to the methods, means and goals of potential military action against Saddam Hussein. If the temptation to engage in posturing and mud-slinging could be resisted, a very big "if" admittedly, a real debate would shine a light on what military action could achieve.

One of the charges leveled against the Bush administration and those American allies who have declared their support is that we have no answers to questions like: "What comes next for Iraq?" "What happens once the war is over and rebuilding begins?" "How long and how extensive will American commitment in post-Saddam Iraq be?"

Last week, a panel of experts gathered at the Heritage Foundation to discuss those questions. In a separate publication released the same day, Heritage experts presented their forward-looking ideas on "The Future of Iraq: A Blueprint for American Involvement." For those who doubt that going into Iraq is the right thing to do, either from an American security standpoint or from the standpoint of bringing the people of Iraq out from under the yoke of a repressive dictatorship, it should provide food for thought.

A world without the threat of Iraq's growing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and without a mad dictator at the top would certainly be a safer world, and that should be the focus of the Bush administration and its allies. However, beyond that, a well-governed Iraq, with a constitution enshrining democratic principles, could be a major factor in the development of the Middle East region. This could be done as a federation of the three major ethic groups, the Kurds, the Sunni and the Shiites, each with control of its own area, and represented in a federal government.

In this endeavor, we need to work with groups such as the Iraqi National Congress, which could form the first government in exile and the nucleus of a governing authority, once hostilities have ceased. Unfortunately, said Entifadh Qanbar, head of the INC's Washington office, the INC has been short changed by Washington for several years. Fortunately, this attitude is now changing drastically.

The bottom line is, however, that the United States, U.S. allies and the United Nations should avoid the top-down nation-building approach of the 1990s that produced such dubious results in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia. It should not take a decade-long military occupation of Iraq to put the pieces back together, a la Germany or Japan after World War II. With a lot of outside help and guidance, that job should be left to the Iraqis.

Now, Afghanistan may serve as a cautionary example of the difficulties of rebuilding a shattered nation, but Iraq will be a very different case. According to Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Associates, "Iraq can rebuild itself," considering that it has the second largest oil reserves in the world, 12 billion barrels. (Saudi Arabia has the largest.)

Under Saddam Hussein, oil output has declined and oil exploration has basically stopped. Iraq could, however, net $20-25 billion annually in oil revenue. That's a lot for a country of 19 million people. The key here would be to privatize the oil industry and to reach an equitable revenue sharing formula for the three major ethnic groups.

Some will undoubtedly say that thinking along these lines is greatly premature. Yet, we should have a vision of what kind of Iraq we would like to see emerge once the dust settles. That will make it more likely that we will get it right the second time around.

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