- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Americans have every right to be proud of the military achievements of the past 18 months. Extraordinary victories were won by the overwhelming might of American and coalition arms. Vicious regimes were destroyed. Yet, while the aims of the Bush administration were noble, the judgments that led to using force, specifically in Iraq, remain suspect.

In Afghanistan, the aim was to hunt down those responsible for the atrocity of September 11. Ending the Taliban rule was necessary in achieving that objective. In Iraq, the explicit aim as well as justification for war was to disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction. To be sure, Saddam’s outrageous disregard of international law, U.N. resolutions and human rights were themselves sufficient reasons to eliminate his regime. However, they were not the main reasons for deposing the Iraqi dictator, at least as President George W. Bush made his case.

To date, no convincing evidence of weapons of mass destruction has been uncovered in Iraq. If it is not, while most Americans will find that of little consequence, given the quick and relatively inexpensive campaign that eliminated a nasty despot, the matter of judgment cannot be so easily ignored. That the administration may have done the right thing in Iraq for the wrong reason raises profound questions about how it will cope with the far more difficult tasks of rehabilitating and reconstructing Iraq, as well as completing the most serious and dangerous pieces of unfinished business that persist, namely the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian and India-Pakistan Conflicts.

Thus far, and the war in Iraq has been over for less than a month, the initial effort to create a peaceful and prosperous post-Saddam society has not gone well. Of course, impatience is not a virtue. It took nearly 35 years after the Korean War ended in 1953 to establish a democratic Republic of Korea in the south. But judgment still remains crucial to achieving a successful outcome in Iraq.

Media reports from Iraq are not promising. To be fair, there is little good news that is exciting enough to steal the headlines and sound bites. Restoring electricity and rebuilding bridges, while vital to Iraq, are hardly newsworthy here. The seemingly rapid changeover of senior U.S. personnel responsible for Iraq reconstruction and the appointment of a former Foreign Service officer to replace the general in charge are big stories, regardless of whether or not retired Ambassador L. Paul Bremer is better qualified than retired Army Gen. Jay Garner to lead the rebuilding effort.

So, what are the administration’s judgments about the future of Iraq beyond good intentions? Why has the administration been less than forthcoming in disclosing its approach? Is the administration determined to create an American-style democracy, or is pluralism under the rule of law sufficient? Do the Americans now in Iraq, selected for these purposes, possess the appropriate mix of skills and experience to complete the task? Who is responsible for overseeing this Herculean effort? And, in the worst case, should Iraqis demand a fundamentalist government, how would the administration react? Former President Ronald Reagan provides an important guide to answering these questions: Trust but verify.

Mr. Reagan was prepared to trust Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. However, Mr. Reagan was also shrewd enough to recognize that trust was worthless without the means to verify that trust. No one will argue the proposition that the president, through the Executive Branch, should not be in charge of rebuilding Iraq. Nor should anyone assume a lack of trust in the president to carry out this daunting responsibility. But who oversees that responsibility and, most importantly, who verifies that it is being done properly? That question has not been addressed either by the American public or its elected representatives in Congress.

The best alternative is for the administration to recognize this deficiency and take action. Establishing an overarching commission to deal with Iraq and supervise the reconstruction seems an obvious step. That commission should be filled with both American and non-American citizens (the latter perhaps as advisers) chosen for their ability to contribute to achieving the aims of helping Iraq become a peaceful, prosperous and law-abiding state. The administration would also be wise to ask Congress to establish this body in law.

Should the administration not choose this approach, then it is up to Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibilities to oversee and legislate such a commission.

We won a great military victory in Iraq, and have created a unique opportunity to bring peace to perhaps,the most unstable region in the world. The judgment that led to war may well prove suspect. The judgments, however, that are essential to creating the peace cannot be flawed. This requires trust in our leaders. It also requires the need to verify that trust.

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