- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 12, 2004

The last 60 days have exacted an unprecedented toll on U.S. ability to succeed in Iraq and on our moral authority to lead the world. The vicious anti-U.S. insurrection in Iraq in April and May claimed more than 200 American lives, and the shocking revelations of prisoner abuse dealt a monumental strategic blow to U.S. credibility in Iraq and in the world.

The U.S. venture in Iraq has reached a fork in the road, but it is far from over. To achieve at least relative stability and security in Iraq, the Bush administration must radically reform the U.S. strategy. This urgent policy overhaul, which must occur both in Washington and on the ground in Iraq, should include at least three steps.

(1) The administration must introduce strict accountability standards and procedures into the making of the Iraq policy. A National Coordinator for Iraq should be designated to be in overall charge of both the domestic policymaking on Iraq and the political and military strategy on the ground. This person will replace National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as head of the Iraq Stabilization Group (ISG), set up by the White House in early October 2003. The ISG, tasked with mobilizing the U.S. government to support the Iraq reconstruction efforts, has so far not had any real powers. It must now be made the nerve center of U.S. national strategy for Iraq. As ISG head, the National Iraq Coordinator will report to the president, the secretaries of state and defense, the Congress and the American people.

(2) The administration must fundamentally alter its attitude toward the role of the United Nations in Iraq. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been instrumental during the past several weeks in forming the Iraqi caretaker government to which the U.S.-led provisional authority will transfer sovereignty June 30.

At the same time, Carina Perelli, director of the Electoral Assistance Division in the U.N. Department of Political Affairs, has been spearheading efforts on the ground to organize and plan for national elections — the next critical milestone in Iraq’s transition. On June 4, Ms. Perelli announced formation of Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission.

The latest statements by President Bush and his senior aides suggest they have finally come to the sensible conclusion that the U.N.’s precious legitimacy will be vitally important during the transition period. The administration must now be prepared to match words with concrete actions by proactively enforcing the new U.N. Security Council resolution.

The resolution requests countries to contribute troops to the multinational force, first mandated by resolution 1511. When he spoke to the Security Council on June 3, Iraq’s new Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari repeatedly stressed the importance of such a force for the security of his country.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration’s actions so far have fallen short of the bold steps required to secure international contributions to this multinational force.

In a speech at the Army War College on May 24, Mr. Bush sounded optimistic about other nations sharing the responsibility of stabilizing Iraq.

As for specific actions to guarantee such support, he said the U.S. will “discuss” a new NATO role in Iraq at the organization’s summit in Istanbul, Turkey, June 28-29. There, Mr. Bush must call for an emergency international conference under U.N. auspices to focus on Iraq’s political transition. That conference would provide an urgently needed venue for the newly designated interim Iraqi leaders to formally ask the world’s nations to support rebuilding and bringing security to Iraq.

The last aspect of the Iraq policy overhaul must be a revived effort by the Bush administration and other public officials to make the case to the American public for this revamped strategy. Mr. Bush’s recent public appearances revealed his infective idealism about America’s world role and his unbending resolve to lead the country in these historic times.

He used the word “freedom” 21 times, and “free Iraq” 20 times at his April 13 news conference, and his May 24 speech was riddled with references to Iraqi “sovereignty” and “self-government.” On both occasions, however, the president demonstrated either his unwillingness to disclose or his fundamental lack of understanding of the U.S. long-term strategy in Iraq, focusing instead on well-known tactical goals and accomplishments.

The president’s hubristic rhetoric has consistently failed to win public support. According to polls by ABC News and The Washington Post, the number of Americans disapproving of Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq has been rising steadily since December 2003, with a majority voicing dissatisfaction from February 2004 (52 percent) through March (53 percent), April (54 percent), and May (58 percent).

If Americans are to support Mr. Bush in this tremendously important venture, they must understand the policy for which fellow citizens daily pay the ultimate price. The onus is on the Bush administration to remake the Iraq policy, to eloquently explain what that policy entails and to persuade Americans to support it.

EUGENE B. KOGAN

Mr. Kogan is the John Kenneth Galbraith Fellow at the Americans for Democratic Action Education Fund. He writes frequently for the Foreign Policy Forum.

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