Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 12, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

POST-WAR IRAQ....Yesterday I complained about the Bush administration's inability (or unwillingness) to articulate their goals for a post-Saddam Iraq. Since suspicion of our motives is a big reason for European resistance, this silence seemed to be yet another example of the contempt for allies and world opinion that's characterized Bush's administration since its first day.

Well, it turns out that the administration has finally laid out what they want to do in Iraq, and by coincidence they did it just a few hours before I wrote my post. And the picture that was laid out by Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, was mighty pretty. As Tim Dunlop says:

He doesn't actually mention that they'll cure cancer, but everything else should be taken care of. No, I'm not being cynical--I truly hope this wish list comes to pass, just as he describes it--but well, you tell me.

Feith testified that "war for oil" is a "false and malign" slogan and we will administer Iraq's oil wealth "transparently and honestly." We will not "leave a mess behind for the Iraqi people to clean up without a helping hand," but at the same time we have a "commitment to leave as soon as possible, for Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people."

There's more. The United States "aspires to liberate, not occupy or control them or their economic resources." We will "safeguard the territorial unity of Iraq." And we love multilateralism: "U.S. post-war responsibilities will not be easy to fulfill and the United States by no means wishes to tackle them alone. We shall encourage contributions and participation from coalition partners, non-governmental organizations, the UN and other international organizations and others."

I join Tim in hoping that this indeed all comes to pass. But I have a few questions:

  • This statement was very general and could have been made at any time. Why wasn't it made six months ago?

  • Why is the administration seemingly afraid to put some meat on the bones of this plan? To this date, not even an estimated budget for either the war or the post-war reconstruction have been given to Congress.

  • Bush is good at giving vigorous speeches about why we have to go to war. Why hasn't he given a vigorous speech about this post-war plan?

The difference between congressional testimony from an undersecretary of defense and a major speech by the president of the United States is incalculable. The New York Times and Washington Post covered Feith's testimony barely and the Los Angeles Times ignored it, but neither they nor the European press would ignore a major speech by Bush himself along these lines.

Even at this late date a speech from Bush himself could have a significant impact on world opinion. So why won't he do it? Even if the Bushies are as contemptuous of world opinion as they seem to be, you'd think they would want allied support as a purely practical matter. So why not take the high road and do your best to earn the support and sympathy of the world?

It's all very peculiar.

Kevin Drum 8:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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