Rebuild Iraq - and mend other fences, too

It is early, but perhaps not too early, to look ahead to the postwar era. There are structures to build in Iraq and a lot of international fences to mend. The Bush administration likes to talk about a coalition waging war in Iraq, but when it comes to managing the early days of peace, it is likely to look very much like an American affair and a military affair.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others who want to be involved are being told they will have a role in humanitarian relief, but not much of a role in the rebuilding of Iraq. The government in waiting that is being assembled from retired Iraqi generals, younger anti-Saddam elements, and exiles, is, under current planning, supposed to report to an American retired three-star general, Jay Garner, now a defense contractor.

Who elected him? Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, known to his friends as "Wolfowitz of Arabia." Mr. Wolfowitz wanted this war for a long time and he is now probably the most influential person among the American warlords. The embryonic Iraqi authority over which he is presiding is called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. It is staffed by a group of Americans known as "Wolfie's people."

The Bush administration has managed so far to fight this war with Britain as its principal ally, while opponents of the war, like France, Germany, and Russia, were held at bay. Trying to refashion a coherent international community will represent a serious challenge. A French-German-Russian summit conference is planned in Moscow this weekend.

On a recent European trip, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has not been heard from in Washington very much lately, said, "I think there is a consensus that says the United Nations has a role to play." But he added, "What we have to work out is exactly the nature of that role." Which, roughly translated, means that when President Bush warned the UN last September about becoming irrelevant, he meant it. This week, Mr. Powell said the UN would have "an endorsing role to play in the interim authority"- whatever that means.

With the conquest of Iraq proceeding faster than expected, a meeting this week in Belfast provided President Bush and Prime Minister Blair with an opportunity to start tackling the problem of postwar repair of the damaged relations between America and Europe. Their statements after the meeting revealed little of the substance of their discussion, but the "vital" role for the UN that Mr. Bush promised seemed limited mainly to humanitarian assistance.

For Mr. Blair, who stood steadfastly by Bush at great risk to his own position, this is payback time. First, the British leader wants to be in the position of being able to deliver a solid role for Europe and the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq. To provide that, the president would have to overcome the strong resistance of the Pentagon. Secondly, Blair wants to improve his credibility with Arab countries and his own Labour Party by generating clear movement toward settlement of the Palestinian issue. Bush has given his support to the so-called "road map," outlining steps toward Palestinian statehood. But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, unwilling to yield on the issue of Jewish settlements, has, in effect, rejected the plan.

There are indications that Blair is asking Bush to lean heavily on Mr. Sharon. Lord Christopher Haskins, a Blair financial backer and close associate, has urged the prime minister to "stand up to America," if necessary, by introducing a resolution in the UN Security Council obliging Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders. It's hard to believe that Blair would sponsor such a resolution, inviting an US veto and a cooling of the Anglo-American romance. But all this is an indication of how the war has destabilized relations in the international community. The Belfast meeting may well mark the beginning of a postwar reorganization of relations among the major powers.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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