America & the World

With victory in Iraq near, all sides must focus on repairing relations

No, it wasn't long or particularly bloody. Nor did it look like the oft-predicted Vietnam quagmire, the antiseptic air war against Serbia, or any other recent conflict, for that matter. In the end, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, now reaching its zenith with an occupied Baghdad largely intact, was a unique 21st century production -- part high-tech war, part hunkering down in the face of determined guerrilla attacks. America's weapon of choice was the satellite-guided munition, Iraq's the rocket-propelled grenade. It was no contest.

As BusinessWeek went to press on Apr. 9, Saddam Hussein's fate was unknown. But despite some last-ditch resistance from urban militias, one thing was clear in a chaotic Baghdad: Scarcely three weeks into a furious U.S.-British blitz, victory in Iraq is assured, and it will be faster, cheaper, and more decisive than many imagined.

Military officials caution that it could take months to secure the far reaches of the country. And even with Baghdad in hand, the threat of terrorism and looting remains a concern. Still, what's striking about the war is how closely it hewed to the script crafted by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a Pentagon convinced that high-tech weaponry and networked battlefield communications could do the job with a ground force half the size of the one used in Operation Desert Storm.

The war was fought on Internet time. A lightning advance caught Iraq's generals off guard even as communications links were severed. Airstrikes shredded Iraq's Republican Guard. Oil fields were secured by Special Operations teams. And the horrific scenario of savage urban warfare and heavy casualties never materialized, with many Iraqi soldiers choosing instead to "melt away."

The swift close to the Iraq campaign has met with a mixture of caution and elation inside the White House. That's because the conflict leaves a stream of challenges in its wake, many more daunting than obstacles on the battlefield. Victory gives the Bush Administration an opportunity to expand U.S. influence in the region, seek democratic reforms, and revive Mideast peace process negotiations whose moribund state fuels Islamic radicalism. If all this is accompanied by bridge-building to Western allies, it could repair a breach in the multinational system and stave off a potential breakdown in global economic relations.

Yet, George W. Bush's advisers know that prevailing against a foe employing crude weapons and Stalinist tactics was not an arduous task for the U.S. military. So rather than celebrating, the White House is girding for a massive postwar task. The U.S. must secure the peace in Iraq -- an uneasy period that could be marked by suicide attacks, car bombings, and ambushes. It must promote democracy in the region, despite cries from the Arab Street that the war was inhumane. It must repair ties to allies and a collaterally damaged U.N. and NATO. And it must do this in the face of rising anti-American resentment.

These imperatives represent a huge task for an Administration that's juggling its new international commitments while racing the clock to right a sputtering domestic economy. But now that he's hip-deep in the Mideast sands, Bush has no choice but to follow through with two notions he once resisted -- nation-building on a grand scale and involvement in an Israeli-Palestinian dispute he suspects is immune to logic or diplomatic blandishments.

No doubt the world is shocked and awed -- and perhaps a little rattled -- by the methodical pounding of Iraq. But where exactly does victory leave America? Essentially, the nation now faces two starkly different paths. The first entails a long, hard struggle to remold the Middle East by addressing causes of Arab backwardness -- poverty, corruption, and the suppression of women. That is the dream of Rumsfeld, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and other neoconservatives in the Administration.

The dream isn't universally shared. Many critics of democratization doubt that such a profound cultural implant can take hold in the tradition-bound Mideast. And without U.S. willingness to push Israelis and Palestinians toward greater compromise, efforts to reshape the Arab world may founder. But reformers say even small steps can produce a big payoff. "It's not a question of whether the war is viewed as legitimate now by an irate Arab world," says William Kristol, a leading neocon thinker. "The test is whether five years from now the Middle East is moving in a more positive direction, we see less extremism, and have Arab governments moderating their behavior. America has a huge stake in this."

The second path has no yellow-brick road and no happy ending. Under this scenario, America's intervention cleaves the Western alliance, sowing the perception of a U.S. as a renegade power. Instead of lowering tensions in the Middle East, the conflict sends the flames of terror higher. The result: The Iraq venture is seen as a pyrrhic victory, one that has made the world a dicier place than it was in the days when Saddam flitted fecklessly from palace to palace.

To some, that day is already at hand. "Hatred of American policies in the Arab world has never been higher," says Charles Grant, director of London's Center for European Reform. "In every West European country, polls show that George W. Bush is seen as a greater threat to world peace than Saddam." Frets one GOP foreign policy mandarin: "All a war does is replace one set of problems with another." The cost could be "more U.S. treasure, if not more blood."

In reality, it is far too early to write off this war as a destabilizing time bomb. That's because Bush still has a chance to win hearts and minds. He has been rescued by the military's performance -- a showing that provides respite from critics who predicted that Iraqi nationalism would turn Operation Iraqi Freedom into another Mogadishu. Now that the Baath Party grip on the country's cowed citizens is being broken, the U.S. has a small window to demonstrate that it knows how to wage peace as well as it wages war.

Above all, that means quickly improving conditions for Iraqis while limiting the perception that America is an occupying power. "A couple of things are absolutely essential," says Edward P. Djerejian, director of the Baker Institute at Rice University. "We cannot become an occupier, which means we can't replace one dictator with another. And above all, we must put in place a government that keeps Iraq intact."

The key to both aims is a rebuilding plan that takes into account Iraq's complex religious and ethnic fabric, while providing some role for a still-riven U.N. To conservatives, this is not as difficult as it sounds, because anything that looks like an improvement over two decades of Saddam-era deprivation will be a winner. Iraq is "not going to turn into Kansas overnight," says military historian Ralph Peters. "But will it be better than Saddam? Yes."

Other experts are more guarded. Reviving Iraq could be "the most financially costly and politically formidable task the U.S. has taken on in decades," says Larry Diamond, a scholar at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. But Administration planners think fears of a bottomless pit are overblown. The reason: Iraqi oil could underwrite much of the rebuilding.

Not surprisingly, signs of friction are appearing over the Administration's postwar blueprint. This much is known: For an interim period of three months to a year, a civilian administrator reporting to General Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, will run Iraq. The country's CEO: retired Lieutenant General Jay M. Garner, a defense consultant. While Garner's teams provide basic services, set up a legal code, and pay civil servants and soldiers, a parallel council of national unity will be formed from among Iraq's Shiites, Sunni technocrats, Northern Kurds, Chaldeans, and Turkomans. Almost immediately, the U.N. and world relief organizations will be called in to dispense humanitarian aid and cope with health care and refugee problems.

At some unspecified point -- in other words, just as fast as the Administration thinks the glue is holding -- Garner & Co. want to set up an interim authority that will form a representative government. Most likely, it will follow the confederation model used in Afghanistan.

But already, there is jockeying over the plan. Britain's Tony Blair, hoping to repair ties to France, Germany, and other antiwar allies, is pressing for a big U.N. role. Administration hawks are resisting, citing the need to get Iraq up and running quickly and without the U.N.'s trademark bickering. The diplomatic maneuvering "has gotten very messy," laments a senior Bush official.

This dispute is rubbing nerves raw across the Atlantic and sparking fears that reconciliation will be difficult. Reconstruction has to proceed in "an acceptable way" to assuage European opinion, says Karl-Heinz Kamp, an official with the Konrad Adenauer Institute in Berlin. "That implies the U.N." With polls showing that most Europeans and Arabs suspect the U.S. might dominate Iraq's oil fields, American insistence on the lead political role has taken on huge symbolic importance overseas.

"We told the whole world that we are liberators, that we don't want Iraq's oil," says Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), an advocate of a limited military role. Some GOP moderates go further, suggesting that the U.S. could make a lot of friends cheaply by giving the U.N. some say in the government-formation process and sprinkling feel-good rebuilding contracts on wary allies.

For the moment, though, the Pentagon is pulling most of the strings in planning for postwar Iraq and seems intent on restricting the U.N. to the aid front. Beyond that, Rumsfeld and Cheney are pushing Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, as a possible head of the interim authority. Opponents at the State Dept. are dubious, and wonder whether the American-educated expat has popular support.

Chalabi has thus become emblematic of Pentagon micromanagement to some allies -- and an impediment to Secretary of State Colin Powell's assurances that rebuilding will be a multinational effort. "The Administration needs to do a better job in managing that tension," says Eric P. Schwartz, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Clearly, there are mixed motives at work. One reason that France, Russia, and Germany seek a big U.N. role is their fear that longstanding economic ties to Iraq will be threatened by triumphalist Bushies. But despite these hidden agendas, some experts still believe that the U.S. must broaden its postwar horizons in Iraq to gain legitimacy. "It may take longer and be more complicated, but the world is more likely to accept whatever new government emerges if it doesn't have America's fingerprints all over it," says Bathsheba N. Crocker, a fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

During an Apr. 7-8 summit with Blair in Belfast, Bush promised a "vital role" for the U.N. in Iraq. What that means, exactly, no one knows, and the U.N.'s "coalition of the unwilling" -- France, Germany, and Russia -- wasn't won over. Leaders of those nations plan to huddle in St. Petersburg in mid-April to discuss ways to keep the pressure on Bush. Arab diplomats are even more determined to shun an interim authority that looks like a puppet regime. Says Riad Kahwaji of Dubai's Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis: "Unless the U.S. gets a U.N. resolution to recognize its role in Iraq, none of the neighboring countries will recognize the [authority] as a legitimate government."

Because of the dustup over Iraq reconstruction, the larger American task of repairing the Western alliance has gotten harder. And some in the Administration have begun to quietly fret that unless things are patched up, a broad spectrum of relations -- from trade liberalization to international economic consultation -- could be at risk.

In an attempt to soothe tensions, Administration officials are taking to the skies. Bush has dispatched National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to Moscow to confer with Russia's Foreign Minister. The message: Differences over Iraq should not poison the entire relationship. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin may be amenable to persuasion. "The most important thing is the strategic partnership," says an aide.

Powell, too, is becoming a frequent flier. In early April, he jetted to Ankara and Brussels, and he's expected to engage in some vigorous shuttle diplomacy in coming months. "The big split is among the democracies," says Joseph S. Nye Jr., dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "The only way to solve that is for Bush to swallow hard and do what his father would have done," which is to try and create a broader coalition.

Another impediment to a quick thaw comes from sharply differing views of how to deal with state-sponsored terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Bush aides believe institutions such as the U.N. were set up to protect national sovereignty. But dictators who promote cross-border terrorism and pursue advanced weapons don't deserve protection, they argue. The U.N. "is antiquated now," says Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, a key neocon thinker.

In that sense, Euros' fears that Bush may not stop with Iraq could prove hard to allay. Already, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have warned Tehran and Damascus about aiding Saddam. "There's got to be a change in Syria," Wolfowitz said on Apr. 6, leading to consternation in the Arab world. But this is less about a new "axis of evil" checklist than it is about calculated saber-rattling. Says Peter W. Rodman, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs: "It doesn't hurt to have countries worried about what America thinks about their behavior. This could translate into some diplomatic influence."

While much of the world now sees Bush as a lonesome cowboy with an itchy trigger finger, the fact is that after Iraq winds down, he will try the opposite tack toward a North Korea that has restarted its nuclear weapons program. Far from shunning multilateralism, Bush will redouble efforts to persuade China, South Korea, Japan and Russia to persuade Kim Jong Il to shelve a call for direct talks with the U.S. while urging Kim to cut a deal around a regional bargaining table.

Implicit in the regional approach would be some U.S. assurance of aid and a nonaggression pledge to Pyongyang. Whatever that is, it's the opposite of the unilateralism Bush is often accused of favoring. The reason is simple, and flows from the difficulty of imposing a military solution when South Korea's capital is just 60 miles from North Korean artillery. "With North Korea, this was a two-bit blackmail attempt," says historian Peters. "But we're not going to start a war on the Korean Peninsula and kill tens of thousands of people."

Although there are already signs that the North Korean situation may be improving, experts are less sanguine about the Mideast in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. The pessimists believe that by inserting itself in the Mideast and spurring fears that it is next in a long line of Western invaders, America will, in the words of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, "create one hundred bin Ladens."

The semi-pessimists say -- there are few optimists in this drama -- that U.S. success in Iraq may make Syria and Iran wary of backing Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terror organizations. Former Reagan official Kenneth Adelman feels that Saddam's ouster could make Iraq's neighbors reconsider terrorist support: "I think that they are nervous" about a U.S. Act II in the region, he says..

Prodded by Blair, Bush is preparing a major drive for Mideast peace. But no one knows how much a President who admires Ariel Sharon's hard line against terrorism will push for concessions on Israeli settlements and military incursions. With White House pols counting on a jump in the President's Jewish support in 2004, "Bush may find it difficult to put pressure on," says Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University.

Given these complex foreign problems -- and the contentious business of rebuilding Iraq -- it looks like a George W. Bush who was determined to avoid his father's immersion in international affairs has no choice now. He must plunge deeper into the global thicket, and do so at a time when the domestic economy needs his attention, as well.

Bush is fortunate that a war that began so inauspiciously on the diplomatic front unfolded with lethal precision on the battlefield. But now he must cope with the fallout from America's intervention -- in the region, and among deeply estranged allies. In the enormously challenging days ahead, the President must prove that the postwar world can be made safer and more prosperous after the last Saddam statue is pulled down.

By Lee Walczak, Stan Crock, and Paula Dwyer in Washington, with Kerry Capell in London, Jack Ewing in Frankfurt, Laura Cohn in Doha, Qatar, and bureau reports

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