Bush's path to reelection runs through Iraq
WASHINGTON — This is likely to be the period that tries the soul of the Bush administration. The assassination of Izzedine Salim, temporary head of the Iraqi Governing Council, makes clear that the mighty American war machine cannot assure the safety of the designated leaders who are supposed to be entrusted on June 30 with some form of sovereignty less than truly sovereign.
Secretary of State Colin Powell offers assurance that the new authority can send away coalition forces whenever it wants, but this is hyperbole. If anything, in the short term the 130,000 American troops already there are likely to be reinforced by, among others, US troops from South Korea.
To win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, the authorities have to be able to show the restoration of utilities, services, and schools. But some independent contractors are being scared off by assaults like the beheading of businessman Nicholas Berg and the dragging of the bodies of four American contractors through the streets of Fallujah.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the cost of providing security for contractors working on reconstruction has risen sharply in recent weeks and is expected to increase further. The US Agency for International Development says contractor security costs have roughly doubled since last fall and now account for 20 to 25 percent of overall spending.
Protection costs are expected to rise further in coming weeks, reducing money available for reconstruction and sending the administration knocking at the door of Congress for supplemental appropriations.
There appears as yet no significant tendency to pull out of Iraq prematurely - as the US pulled out of Afghanistan once the Soviets were defeated in 1988, leaving that unhappy country to its civil war and its warlords. But separatist aspirations among Shiites and Kurds could become a problem in Iraq, too.
President Bush has a long way to go in Iraq between now and the November election. The problems of transferring authority are not only practical, but emotional.
Mr. Berg's grisly beheading, for example. You can read about it, but you can't see it on American television. The video shows five masked men standing behind the kidnapped American businessman, who came to Iraq to fix communication antennas. One of the men reads a statement about avenging Iraqis suffering in prison at American hands. Then Berg is pushed, screaming, to the floor and decapitated by a terrorist chanting, "God is great." The whole scene is projected from a website - the latest wrinkle in terror technology.
In Ramallah, Palestinian terrorists display the remains of a captured Israeli soldier offered in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. The remains can be seen on Al Jazeera television.
If the purpose of terrorism is to terrify, video offers great rewards. Two years ago Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal correspondent, was beheaded on camera by terrorists in Pakistan.
Photo terrorism goes back further - to 1984, when William Buckley, CIA station chief in Lebanon, was taken hostage, his body later shown in a photograph in a Beirut newspaper. And 1989, when Marine Lt. Col. William Higgins, working with United Nations peacekeepers, was tortured and hanged on videotape.
The era of terror on tape has presented TV networks with delicate problems of what is too shocking to show the American public, even when the pictures are being shown in other countries and viewed on computer screens. Voluntary restrictions have also been put on the use of video and photos made by the soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison. Some have been shown to legislators under Pentagon supervision in a secure room in the Capitol used for discussion of nuclear secrets.
But there has been little or no protest from Congress or the public. There seems to be a tacit recognition that there are some things too chilling to be seen by the public at large, as the tempo of terror intensifies in this fateful period leading up to June 30.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.