- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Nation-building in Iraq is an inescapable U.S. imperative following the ouster of Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath Party henchmen. President Bush must swiftly overcome his allergic reaction to the idea. Afghan examples of costly disengagements should concentrate his mind wonderfully on avoiding comparable disasters in Iraq.

The United States sponsored a bevy of tribal and religious Afghan factions to roll back the Soviet invasion of December 1979. That Soviet counter was crowned with military success in 1988. But the United States played spectator as Afghanistan descended into anarchy and internecine savageries. Then came the Taliban, its cradling of al Qaeda and the September 11, 2001, abominations.

We were required to return to Afghanistan to defeat the terrorist enemies we had partially fathered by nonfeasance. But we learned little or nothing from our previous disdain for political involvement after military triumph. We eschewed any serious enterprise to forge an Afghan nation from the centuries-old splinters of tribalism. Our military forces are thin. Security outside Kabul is hazardous. Tribal fiefdoms and thievery dominate the landscape. President Hamid Karzai's orders are as ineffectual as King Canute's admonition to the waves. Afghanistan is tolerable as a perpetual no man's land only because it is geostrategically and economically irrelevant to the world.

Iraq presents an opposite case. A stable and democratic succession to Saddam is pivotal to countering Iran's post-Ayatollah Khomeini mullahs; eliminating Saddam's weapons of mass destruction; curbing terrorism, including aiding and abetting Al Qaeda; suppressing secessionist impulses from Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south; honoring human rights and protecting ethnic and religious minorities; boosting Turkey's democratic flowering; and stimulating economic growth through free enterprise, the rule of law, and longheaded development of Iraq's vast oil and gas reserves.

But Baghdad could become the Sarajevo of 1914 if the United States neglects to embrace nation-building in Iraq: a witches brew of clashes involving Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Turkomens, Shi'ites, Sunnis, Iranians, Christians, Circassians and Israelis. And nation-building means much more than humanitarian aid or economic development funds. Neither distributing food nor building dams cultivate citizen loyalties to overarching ideals and visions that are the hallmark of authentic nationhood. Somalia, the Congo and Afghanistan are emblematic.

Fashioning a democratic Iraqi nation from Saddam's ruination will require vastly more U.S. endurance and statesmanship than was necessary in post-World War II Japan and Germany. The Weimar Republic and Japan's pre-war constitutionalism find no counterparts in Iraq's annals. Ditto for unifying national deities like Germany's Goethe and Beethoven or Japan's Emperor Hirohito. Indeed, Iraq is bereft of a single national moment. Its boundaries were arbitrarily marked amidst the rubble of the Ottoman Empire by the British acting under a League of Nations mandate. Iraq was given to King Faisal as a consolation prize after rejection by the French in Syria. In 1958, Iraq's monarchy was overthrown in a military coup. What followed was less freedom, more government oppression and the climb to absolute power by Saddam more than two decades ago.

Building an Iraqi nation thus will be no engineering exercise. No blueprint insures success. But experience and intuition suggest guideposts for Mr. Bush.

First, the United States should govern post-Saddam Iraq without involvement by other nations, as with Douglas MacArthur in Japan. Collective decisionmaking means vacillation or paralysis in governing, which would be catastrophic in fissiparous and fragile Iraq.

Second, the United States should exclude all timeworn and opportunistic factional Iraqi leaders from power during its indefinite caretaker administration. None enjoy a nationwide constituency. None display a crumb of statesmanship, magnanimity or self-sacrifice while jockeying for prominence after Iraq's liberation. Their personal animosities subordinate their devotion to democracy and a thriving nation.

Third, the United States should continue governing Iraq until a new generation of citizens and leaders have been trained and immersed in democratic values and practices. That commitment to stay until the enterprise is completed should be reinforced through bipartisan congressional resolutions and Mr. Bush's appointment of a leading Democrat, such as former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Lee Hamilton, to serve as governor-general in Iraq.

Fourth, the United States should establish an American Teachers Corps to fill Iraqi classrooms with textbooks and lessons celebrating universals in human nature and human rights: freedom of expression and religion; government by the consent of the governed; the rule of law and separation of powers; equality among racial, religious and ethnic groups and between the sexes; the spirit of charity; and the subservience of bigotry or fanaticism to reason and moderation.

Nation-building in Iraq could shipwreck despite our best efforts and intentions. Too little is known about the key constitutional and nonconstitutional building blocks of democracy and nationhood to guarantee success. But all the plausible alternatives are chilling.

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