- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

Unless the United States assumes an indefinite trusteeship over Iraq, that fractured and traumatized nation will become President George W. Bush’s second-term Vietnam. His planned devolution of sovereign power to an appointed 25-member Iraqi Governing Council and its entrustment with fashioning a new Iraqi constitution within 12-18 months is folly.

The time has come to acknowledge and to act upon a self-evident truth. At present, Iraq is unsuited for self-government. More than a decade of United States trusteeship will be necessary to prevent Iraq from degenerating into an Afghanistan-like failed state bedeviled by religious extremists, terrorists and regional brigands despite our splendid military defeat of Taliban and al Qaeda there.

Irresolution fathers foreign policy disasters. Hesitancy in Vietnam over killing the enemy and destroying his will to resist occasioned a staggering failure. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong enjoyed sanctuaries across the Demilitarized Zone and in Laos and Cambodia. We sported no plan to win, but only to inflict casualties. On that latter score, as in Iraq and Afghanistan at present, we succeeded. NVA and VC deaths dwarfed the killings of United States soldiers — including the historic 1968 Tet Offensive. But without a clear military objective, demoralization infected our troops and generals. The enemy was heartened by knowing that victory required only patience until the United States could be given a face-saving exit, as transpired under the 1973 Paris Peace Accords.

In post-Saddam Iraq, irresolution earmarks the Coalition Provisional Authority headed by Amb. L. Paul Bremer. The CPA has informed the Iraqi people and investors of its intent to bow to an indigenous Iraqi dispensation cobbled together by the fissiparous and anemic IGC concurrent with the 2004 elections in the United States. That departure date, perhaps chosen to boost President Bush’s re-election prospects, makes Iraqis reluctant to cooperate with the CPA in law enforcement and counterterrorism for fear of reprisals by Saddam, Ba’ath party or al Qaeda sympathizers after the United States occupation lapses. Further, investors are paralyzed by the monumental legal and political uncertainties engendered by the CPA’s planned exit with no viable Iraqi successor regime in sight. Accordingly, the Iraqi economy stagnates. Unemployment climbs. Electricity, water and oil interruptions anguish. Public restiveness in turn emboldens saboteurs and suicide murderers. The persistence of strife and violence injects second thoughts in the CPA about the capacity of the IGC to govern. It might be forced to remain sovereign in Iraq during an expected second term of President Bush. In that eventuality, American soldiers guarding stationary infrastructure would be continually threatened by terrorists. Cluelessness as to the political landscape in Iraq after 2004 compounds the CPA’s governing challenges and the difficulties of constructing democracy there.

The IGC holds dim prospects for success. None of its 25 appointees commands popular legitimacy. Virtually all are perceived as representing antagonistic parochial tribal, ethnic, religious or political groups with no national loyalties or traditions. Emblematic of the antagonism was the violence last week in the north between Kurds and Turkmen in Kirkuk and Tuz Kharmato in which more than a score were either killed or wounded. Such hardened and historical divisiveness will convulse Iraq without an overpowering United States trusteeship. That bleak conclusion is reinforced by the examples of weak international presences in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Bosnia is partitioned de facto between Serb and Croat-Muslim states. Only a foolhardy Serb risks living or visiting Kosovo where ethnic Albanians predominate. And President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, propped up by 8,000 United States troops and modest international forces, is generally impotent outside of Kabul where ethnically and religiously based warlords flourish.

The IGC has issued no statesmanlike creed celebrated as a North Star for steering Iraq to a free and democratic destiny. Few if any in Iraq act on the belief that the IGC will exercise sovereignty in the foreseeable future. Its ability to give birth to a new Iraqi constitution that commands popular legitimacy seems doubtful since it represents no national constituency; and, the idea of free and fair elections of delegates to a constitutional convention by 2004 is chimerical.

A United States trusteeship over Iraq would provoke indictments of imperialism, unilateralism or arrogance from the usual suspects, such as France, Libya, Cuba, North Korea and the United Nations General Assembly. We should not be deterred by such ill-conceived criticism. Neither should we fret that many Iraqis might instinctively protest as humiliating a trusteeship which presumes their need to learn the arts of democracy.

Fickleness characterizes popular opinion in all times and places. In post-World War II West Germany during American Gen. Lucius Clay’s stewardship, for instance, minister of economics, Ludwig Erhard, was reviled and burned in effigy on the heels of his abandonment of debilitating wage and price controls. That masterstroke, however, sparked an economic boom, earning Erhard arpeggios of popular acclaim within six months. A United States trusteeship that succeeded in bringing prosperity, security and the rule of law to Iraq would similarly transform any initial carping into plaudits and gratitude.

Bruce Fein is a founding partner of Fein & Fein.

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