US policy about-face on Iraq is victory for reason

Modern-day journalism thrives on stories of conflict. Some may be tempted to interpret President Bush's midcourse correction in Iraq as the outcome of a lively battle between the "go it alone" guys at the Pentagon and the "let's get the allies in" State Department.

Sorry to spoil a juicy political story, but it's nowhere near that simple.

In his Sunday night telecast, Mr. Bush made it clear that US policy is now to "enlist the support of other nations" in Iraq, even from countries such as France and Germany, which opposed the US liberation. This is what Secretary of State Colin Powell has been preaching and urging. But this is not a clear-cut foreign-policy victory for Mr. Powell (the general running diplomacy), or a clear-cut defeat for Donald Rumsfeld (the civilian running the military).

Not all who inhabit the Pentagon are neocons. There are generals who have blistering critiques of the handling of postwar operations in Iraq. And though diplomacy is the art of compromise, there are hard-line ambassadors at the State Department who are as tough as any conservative think-tank intellectual.

When it comes to running the foreign policy of the United States, there is a diversity of opinion and agenda within the Pentagon and a similar diversity of opinion within the State Department. They argue about the options. The president makes the ultimate decisions.

As this year is a run-up to the presidential election, you can bet that political advisers like Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney played key roles in deciding what to do about Iraq. Their views would be as influential, if not more so, than Powell's and Rumsfeld's. By September next year, the president will need a buoyant economy and a good report card on his performance in Iraq if he is to be assured of reelection. Domestic politics is critical in foreign-policy decisionmaking this year.

We don't know the internal machinations that prompted Bush's reaching out to the international community for help in reconstructing Iraq, but if it was born of political necessity, it was also a victory for reason.

The war to topple Saddam Hussein went well. The reconstruction of Iraq has not. It is proving more costly in men and money than the US can reasonably afford. Thus Bush seeks the help of America's allies - traditional, as well as disaffected - to help with the burden. On the part of some of them there may be crowing, but there should be no foot-dragging. Building a prospering democracy in Iraq could have an immensely positive impact on the backward and bitter Arab lands of Islam. That is in everybody's interest. In this age when murderous and hate-filled terrorists roam, a stabler Middle East means a safer America. That is why it was appropriate for the president to call on Americans for patience and sacrifice in Iraq. "It will take time," he said. As for money, he will ask Congress for $87 billion to protect and rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq.

Inevitably, all this means a larger role for the United Nations, an organization sometimes bogged down in maddening bureaucratic torpor and political infighting. The membership of its critical Security Council is a travesty considered outdated by all except those nations that might be supplanted to make way for the newly emergent powers of our times. Yet the UN has proved masterly in providing humanitarian aid to scores of tattered countries, and adept at peacekeeping in lands reeling from war and violence. Its service in these areas of its expertise should be harnessed.

In his Sunday address, Bush paid tribute to the "compassion and generosity" of UN workers, and pledged to present a new Security Council resolution that would create a multilateral force in Iraq, led by the US. We'll see how this fares.

The White House discussions over this reworking of policy in Iraq must have been fascinating. In a new book, "The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need to Know Now," Carnes Lord, a former White House official under Reagan and the elder Bush, writes: "Leaders must resist the tendency of power to corrupt the good judgment and moral sense of those wielding it." They must, says Mr. Lord, know when to admit error or accept unwelcome advice. They must "listen to subordinates and engage in reasonable deliberation with peers."

We may not know just who said what, but that is what Bush now appears to have done in the case of Iraq.

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

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