U.S. plans for the reconstruction of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq are far behind the military buildup to oust the Iraqi dictator, senior lawmakers said yesterday.
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee complained repeatedly that Bush administration planners are unable to supply hard estimates for the cost of rebuilding Iraq, the military and humanitarian demands of the occupation period, or the character and makeup of the new Iraqi government.
“Whatever is happening on planning for after the military action is way, way behind the curve,” said committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican.
Ranking committee Democrat Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who backs a U.S.-led military strike to disarm Saddam, said, “We ain’t ready yet.”
Marc Grossman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, said the administration is preparing for various contingencies but that many answers depend on how the war is conducted, what allies join the United States, and how much destruction the fighting wreaks on Iraq’s oil facilities and infrastructure.
“It’s very hard to tell precisely what we plan to do because it depends crucially on how events unfold,” Mr. Feith said.
Even addressing President Bush’s top priority the dismantling of Iraq’s forbidden weapons of mass destruction programs is plagued by uncertainty.
“We cannot now even venture a sensible guess as to the amount of time” the disarming process will take, Mr. Feith said.
Pressed by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, for his best estimate on how long U.S. forces would have to remain in Iraq after the fighting to maintain order, Mr. Grossman reluctantly volunteered that it may take two years. But he said other scenarios could make for a shorter or longer stay for U.S. and coalition forces.
“Our objective would be to stay in Iraq for as long as it takes but not one day longer,” Mr. Grossman said.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, said the huge difficulties the Bush administration has encountered in lining up allies for the Iraq campaign are tied to the lack of clarity about what comes after Saddam.
“How can we expect our allies to join us when we don’t have the answers to these questions?” he asked. “We’re trying to make this up as we go along.”
Mr. Grossman and Mr. Feith said considerable spadework has already been done by a number of agencies in trying to outline political, judicial, economic and administrative reforms for a new Iraqi government.
Mr. Feith said there would be no “vacuum” in authority once Saddam is toppled, but that the U.S. military plans to turn over effective control of the government and the country’s vast oil wealth to new Iraqi authorities as quickly as feasible.
The defense official said the Bush administration has rejected the idea of trying to create a government in exile, further distancing the administration from the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group of Saddam opponents who have been trying to fashion an administration and constitution for a post-Saddam Iraq.
“It’s not our thinking that we could be able to impose some particular people or even a particular political system on the Iraqis,” Mr. Feith said. “It would not be right or something we could pull off, even if we attempted it.”
Mr. Grossman said the administration now foresees working with exile groups but also with many inside Iraq on a future administration.
“A lot of this has to come from the bottom up,” he said.