Iraq Is in the Details

Whether the UN gives a hand clap or a thunderclap to President Bush's request for help in Iraq depends on answers to three basic questions:

Who will guide the creation of an Iraqi democracy? Whose companies will receive contracts for reconstruction? And who foots the bill for it all?

The brief war and the long occupation are now a fact - or "facts on the ground," as the Israelis might say - and Mr. Bush made clear in his Sunday speech that he's looking ahead for solutions and not back at a replay of pre-war arguments.

While the US and its allies can "go it alone" if need be, the occupation is stretching American forces globally, reconstruction costs are higher than expected, and low-level violence creates an impression of chaos. Bush was forced to ask Congress for an additional $87 billion for both Iraq and Afghanistan. To ease the burden on US taxpayers, he also seeks help in money and troops from a few more nations, such as India. But they probably won't act unless Bush and the UN Security Council can first agree on a plan for Iraq.

France and other critics of the war on the council insist the UN control the birthing of Iraq democracy and that many nations share in the handing out of contracts. While the UN might bring more legitimacy to a new Iraqi government, the US doubts it would be as effective in nurturing the process. And it would be very difficult at this point for the UN to take over a process well under way.

Rather, Bush is asking if the UN wants to reshape the Middle East. He sees Iraq as "the central front" in the war on terrorism, both in capturing terrorists who've entered that country and in setting up Iraq as a model democracy for the region. The UN can argue over the particulars, but the US won't risk losing Iraq or it will lose the war on terrorism.

The President's post-9/11 strategy of taking the fight against terrorists outside the US - "so that we do not meet [them] again on our own streets," as Bush put it on Sunday - has created a situation in which US troops are now like flypaper in Iraq and Afghanistan, attracting attacks by a few terrorists but preventing those countries from exporting terrorism. That strategy has worked so far. The UN can help refine the details, or not.

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