Doyle McManus, LA Times
Friday 11 April 2003
Last Update 11 April 2003 12:00 am
WASHINGTON, 11 April 2003 — ”We’re there,’’ a Marine officer said last weekend as his unit arrived in Baghdad. “We’re the dog that caught the car. Now, what do we do with it?’’
The Bush administration has been debating the same question: Now that the United States and its allies are in control of Iraq, what do they plan to do with it?
President Bush has offered a ready answer, but one with few details filled in: The United States, he says, will “move as quickly as possible’’ to transfer power to an “interim authority composed of Iraqis from both inside and outside the country.’’
Within that broad outline, though, administration officials have differed over two important questions. One is about means: Who will be in charge of building Iraq’s new political order?
Bush has largely settled that issue, saying the US military, which exercises the only real authority in most of Iraq, will take the leading role, at least at first.
The second debate has received less attention, but may turn out to be even more important: What goal is the administration aiming for? Does the US want to help Iraq attain full democracy — to become, as some officials propose, a shining model for the entire Arab world? Or would the US settle for an Iraq that is only partially democratic, but at least stripped of the threat of chemical and biological weapons — one goal that drew the administration toward war in the first place?
The answer could determine how long American troops remain in Iraq, how deeply they delve into the country’s historically violent political rivalries and how much danger they face over the months to come.
“History will judge us,’’ Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech to newspaper editors Wednesday, “and hopefully the people of the region will judge us, based upon whether or not we keep the commitment we made, which we definitely will keep just as quickly as possible: To establish a viable representative democratic government in Iraq, and to withdraw our forces just as quickly as we can.’’
Some officials privately question, however, whether a fully democratic Iraq may be a goal that is beyond the administration’s reach.
Their skepticism draws a sharp response from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, who has been the administration’s most vocal advocate of using Iraq as a model for promoting democracy across the entire Middle East.
“I’ve heard far too many people say the Arabs are incapable of democracy,’’ he said in a recent television interview. “I think that is a terrible notion, and I think there is an opportunity here to demonstrate in one of the most important countries in the Arab world that Arabs are capable of democracy.’’
Still, in formal policy statements, Bush and his aides have been careful to hedge their bets slightly — to define their goal as moving Iraq toward democracy, but not necessarily tying themselves to getting there.
“A free Iraq will be ruled by laws, not by a dictator,’’ Bush said in February, in a speech laying out his goals for the war. “A free Iraq will be peaceful and not a friend of terrorists or a menace to its neighbors. A free Iraq will give up all its weapons of mass destruction. A free Iraq will set itself on the path to democracy.’’
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell listed the administration’s goals this way: “One, a nation that is free of weapons of mass destruction; a nation that has a representative form of government, that is living in peace with its neighbors, no longer abusing its own population, using the wealth of Iraq for the people of Iraq. A nation that is still one nation, hasn’t splintered into different parts.
“And I’ll add another element: An example for the region and to the rest of the world. One rogue state gone. One place that was a source of tension and instability no longer a place of tension and instability. That’s what our goal is, and we’ll stay as long as it’s necessary to accomplish that goal.’’
Asked how long he thought that mission might take, Powell refused to suggest a timetable, beyond saying: “It’s not going to take years.’’
A Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, which will push into Iraq within two weeks, is likely to play a major role in peacekeeping efforts. But he also said the Pentagon would rely on civil affairs and military police units and that the number of US troops in postwar Iraq could top 210,000.
And Cheney, asked whether democracy in Iraq would cause a domino effect across the Arab world, suggested that the administration would be happy with more modest results, at least in pro-American monarchies.
“Reform can take many forms,’’ he said. “It can be economic. ... In terms of being able to say, ‘This is their form of government,’ I don’t want to be prescriptive.’’
“You’ve basically got two camps in the administration, a democratizing camp and a much more cautious camp,’’ said Larry Diamond, an expert on democratization at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. “The democratizers sometimes sound a little starry-eyed. The others, the Arabists in the State Department and even (Defense Secretary Donald H.) Rumsfeld, say, ‘Let’s try to arrange a decent government, but let’s not get bogged down.’ ‘
Ronald Steel, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, noted that Americans have set out to reform other parts of the world several times, only to pull back whenever the costs mounted too high.
“Woodrow Wilson set out to make the world safe for democracy, but when the whole thing started to founder (after World War I), many of his own supporters simply abandoned it,’’ he said.
“Americans supported this war for a simple reason of security, because they saw it as part of the war on terrorism,’’ Steel continued. “If the cost of bringing democracy to that part of the world is losing men. ... I don’t think the support will be there.’’
In any case, the US effort to remake Iraq appeared on Wednesday to be making a slow start, apparently at least partly because of the continuing policy debate.
Some 250 American officials of the new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance remained huddled at a seaside Hilton resort in Kuwait, poring over maps, refining their plans-and awaiting further instructions.
The group’s leader, retired Army Maj. Gen. Jay Garner, canceled what was to be his first public briefing on postwar plans earlier this week and gave no details during a brief visit to the Iraqi port of Umm al Qasr, where much of the humanitarian aid for the country will come in.
One of Garner’s spokesmen, John Kincannon, said only: “Planning continues apace for us to get to Iraq. We’ll be up there at the right moment.’’
Some Iraqi opposition leaders say that moment is now. “Where is Gen. Garner?’’ asked Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, in a telephone interview with CNN from the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
Chalabi, a London-based exile leader who was airlifted into Iraq earlier this week, urged the Garner group to check out of their hotel and head north.
“The US troops have defeated Saddam militarily,’’ he said. “That was never a problem. ... The issue is the Baath Party and the remnants of the Baath Party who will continue to pose a threat. And those people will continue to have some influence as long as there is no electricity, no security and no water.’’
The Pentagon official said that within days, the military will begin to fly tons of relief supplies into Baghdad, restore civil services in much of the city and fan out around the country to secure suspected chemical weapons sites.