- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2003

How long will the summer of discontent in Iraq stretch into the future? Many believe the answer will be years or more. The Bush administration argues that things are under control and cautions patience. They may be right. During the past short war, as sand storms and Saddam Fedayeen seemed to bogdownthe Americanand coalition advance, dire warnings of quagmireand worse flew across television screens andfrontpage headlines.Those predictions, fortunately,proved wrong.

Still, the task in Iraq is filled with danger and difficulty.Coalition ProvisionalAuthority pro-consul L. Paul Bremer has to combine Solomonian wisdom with Job-like patience while maintaining his Hollywood presence in 120-degree heat that will linger for several more months.

The war has been over for only three months. But given the 24 hour news cycle and intrusive and impatient needs in reporting, Ambassador Bremer is being peppered with scores of unanswerable questions about why Iraq is not yet a functioning society. Ambassador Bremer has little slack. The stakes are vast.

President George Bush has bet more than his presidency on what happens in Iraq. The credibility of the United States is on the line. How the rebuilding of Iraq proceeds could be the single most important barometer of whether or not this nation and the region indeed will be made safer and more secure than when Saddam maintained his odious and evil rule.

Meanwhile, as American and coalition troops are being regularly attacked and killed, the enemy has yet to be fully defined in character or endurance. And, regretfully, until he is found dead or alive, the shadow of Saddam is a looming specter across Iraqi society. That shadow is lengthening.

The debate over how well or poorly the administration prepared for post-war Iraq remains politically volatile, highly controversial and practically irrelevant. The issue is the future and how successful or not the occupation and reconstruction effort will prove. To that end, the White House should consider three major actions that currently are not yet part of its plans.

First, the president must deliver a major address to the nation and to the international community detailing the depth of our commitment and its fundamental importance. In addition to strategic imperatives, there are legal and moral obligations to rebuild Iraq. In all likelihood, a heavy price tag in blood and surely in other physical treasures will be needed.

Americans will rightly demand to know why priorities at home for dealing with unemployment, healthcare, education and rebuilding failing infrastructure are to be subordinate to reconstituting Iraq and therefore justify shifting scarce taxpayer dollars to the Persian Gulf. Mr. Bush must explain why. In a sense, this speech would usher in the Bush equivalent of a new Marshall Plan. Perhaps September 11 this year, would be the appropriate day to deliver this speech, for obvious symbolic reasons.

Second, the administration must internationalize the rebuilding of Iraq. This does not mean diluting our responsibilities under international law as the occupying power or foregoing political control of this process. It does mean, however, broadening the humanitarian effort dramatically. And while the dangers and downsides of bringing in foreign peacekeepers, as was learned in debacles in Somalia and Bosnia, and the difficulties in balancing out the inherent differences in military prowess, are considerable, more non-Americans are needed for security in general and perhaps with focus on rebuilding indigenous Iraqi security capabilities as quickly as possible.

Third, there needs to be a well-explicated and reasoned strategic purpose for focusing our efforts. Mobilizing the Iraqi people to reconstitute their own nation is the most obvious. And, in this process, creating a sense of community that was ruthlessly and cruelly plucked out of Iraqi culture by Saddam is essential.

One innovative means for bringing these aims together is through establishing “community communications” centers throughout Iraq that reach a good part of the public. The equivalent of a post office, or for those who remember them, Western Union Offices, these centers could be the focal points for the ruling authority exchanging information with the citizenry, for dispensing aid and resources and, as government evolved, for finding employment, obtaining other benefits, issuing driver’s licenses, voting and administrating a functioning society. Should these centers prove infeasible, then the strategy of mobilizing Iraq popular support would use different means. But the aim would remain the same.

The administration is reluctant to define the current disorder as an insurgency. However, whether or not the administration is correct in that assessment, the Iraqi people must still be motivated and mobilized if the peace is to be won. By adopting these steps, the Bush administration will go a long way toward keeping the season of Iraqi discontent as short as possible.

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