Rebuilding Iraq will take patience and help

Americans are an impatient, can-do people, and some of them are fretting because the Bush administration can't seem to rebuild Iraq in the same amount of time it took to liberate it.

Their frustration is compounded by the daily guerrilla sniping at American soldiers there, which has now raised the US death toll above that of the Gulf War.

But it took a good long while and billions of dollars to rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II. We had better face up to the fact that rebuilding Iraq is also going to be a long and expensive business, requiring American fortitude and commitment, and the help of others.

This does not mean we should be sanguine about what has happened so far. The Pentagon's conduct of the war was brilliant and swift. Its conduct of postwar reconstruction has not been. Using fighting-force soldiers for nation-building is something that sends shivers up every military commander's spine. In the immediate days after the seizure of Baghdad, the Pentagon seemed ill prepared for the postvictory tasks of policing the country, rebuilding its infrastructure, and moving it in the direction of a democracy that might inspire other Arab lands.

That is changing, however. An able US civilian envoy, Paul Bremer, is gathering a team of expert civilian advisers to help run the country. The new Iraqi Governing Council is in place and has found favor with the United Nations until a legitimate Iraqi government is elected. Reform of the Iraqi court system is under way. An Iraqi militia is being recruited to relieve American troops currently guarding key installations. An Iraqi police force is undergoing training. A free press, of unbridled and sometimes sensational independence, is beginning to flourish.

Though there is now more coming to grips with the postwar challenge, the task is far from easy. While the Pentagon might have dreamed of running Iraq with an American-only military cadre, Mr. Bremer understands the need for more funding, more resources, and more manpower. While the American military must remain the controlling force that guarantees the security of Iraq, help should - and must - come from a variety of sources, ranging from allies of the US to international agencies such as the UN; to well-wishers, who want to see freedom flourish in Iraq; and to Iraqis, who must exert themselves on behalf of this goal.

In September, Congress will begin its own budget process, which will determine how much the US is prepared to spend in in Iraq. In October or November, a conference of international donors will indicate what other nations will contribute. Wealthy nations like Japan should be generous. In the region itself, the Saudis should be forthcoming. While countries such as France and Germany opposed the war, they should not be excused from helping build a better life for 23 million Iraqis.

While the US had reason to resent the lack of support in the Security Council from some of its allies, such as France, the UN can still play a constructive role in Iraq's reconstruction. Various UN units are skilled in the provision of humanitarian aid and have long been active in Iraq.

The UN has also had substantial experience in providing multinational peacekeeping forces. These are usually lightly armed troops who are most effective in areas where the warring sides have fought themselves to a standstill. They are not effective combat units where heavy fighting persists. The best example of this is the use of peacekeeping forces in Europe, where heavily armored NATO forces - with covering air power - were necessary to undertake major military missions, but where UN peacekeepers could perform a useful peacekeeping role once conflict had subsided.

Recognizing the need for advice in Iraq's postwar reconstruction period, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Ambassador Bremer recently called upon a team of experts, headed by John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to review the situation. When the experts reported last month, they urged "turbocharging" the reconstruction effort and expanding it to include funding and personnel from other countries and institutions.

The current effort, they pointed out, is being led by an institution - the Department of Defense - with relatively untested capacities. The US government, the experts argued, must change certain "business as usual" practices. The effort needs "more resources, personnel, and flexibility," if we are to "get this right." "Getting it right" is not going to happen overnight.

John Hughes, editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News, is a former editor of the Monitor.

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