Last semester, I annoyed friends and passersby by waving anti-war petitions in their faces. But lately, I realized that I agree with Bush on some aspects of his Iraq policy. It sickens me to learn that a Senate majority voted to convert $10 billion of Iraq grants into a loan. Moreover, many congressmen refused to sign onto the $87 billion proposal for rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan. In response to Congress, Bush did the right thing. He implored Congress to pass the reconstruction bill and keep the funds for Iraqi rebuilding a grant (The Washington Post, 10/17).
Our government has used lovely-sounding rhetoric, promising to make sacrifices for Iraq. Now, the nation must make good on the word of its elected spokesmen. To prevent even greater chaos and misery in Iraq, the United States needs to press on with reconstruction. Yet to pursue its promises for democracy in Iraq, the United States needs to make radical changes in its reconstruction policies.
Even though I believe the United States should never have gone to war, it is shortsighted to call for an end to reconstruction. Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, explained that she refused to give into “an $87 billion bailout of a failed Iraq policy” (The Washington Post, 10/17). But pulling out would be the greatest failure of all: consigning Iraqis to an impoverished, hopeless situation. Some of my fellow anti-war protestors have advocated a United States pullout. Noting that the government obscured the truth to lead us into war, they hold that the United States reconstruction will also rely on deceit. The argument against occupation, however, shows a refusal to think through the consequences of a United States pullout.
If the United States extracted its soldiers and dollars from Iraq, the consequences would be horrific. Crime would soar on a much greater scale than seen after the fall of Saddam. There would be no threat of an occupying army to deter criminals. A bloody struggle to fill the power vacuum would arise between the best-organized elements of Iraqi society (including influential Shiites and former Baathists). The Kurds would likely attempt secession, sparking bloodshed along their border with other Iraqi provinces. Skirmishes might even erupt along the Turkish border.
With empty coffers, destroyed infrastructure, a shattered judicial system and an extinct governmental structure, the nation would sink into complete collapse. Even if the United States withdrew and paid reparations to Iraqis, the nation lacks the administrative structure to invest or distribute the money. Squabbles over the juicy stack of dollars would just divide the country further. My pessimism does not stem from a patronizing view of Iraqis or Arabs; rather, it arises from observing history.
Thousands of Iraqis demonstrate every week against the United States occupation, and reconstruction efforts cannot ignore their condemnations of America. Yet many Iraqis do not demonstrate; they most likely yearn for security and prosperity, willing to support the United States government if it makes good on its promises. Moreover, Iraq lacks a democratic structure: It does not have parties, a press or other institutions necessary to channel debate. On the other hand, if the United States allowed for greater Iraqi authority in the reconstruction, more Iraqis would accept foreign occupation.
By no means do I encourage anti-war forces to shut up and support the United States’ chosen methods of reconstruction. We peace supporters must lead the campaign for fundamental changes in the Iraqi reconstruction. Meanwhile, backers of the war need to scrutinize their trust of Bush’s foreign policy. As they call for the spread of democracy, they must criticize the United States’ inept and unjust tactics.
The United States needs to start reform by expanding local democratic institutions. Soldiers must quickly devolve authority to neighborhood councils, as they have done in scattered areas. These councils could distribute local funds, outline municipal laws and select members of a nationwide governing body. By focusing political organizing and providing an outlet for grievances, elected local councils would establish a strong foundation for a future democratic Iraq. As the Gorbachev-era Soviet reformer Aleksandr Yakovlev has argued, the United States cannot impose the rule of law from above. Instead, the occupation must involve Iraqis themselves in establishing a judiciary. Iraqi-run local courts should try Baathist functionaries and those who have committed crimes against Iraqis during the occupation (The New York Times, 5/3).
The United States also needs to involve native Iraqis in the highest levels of government. David Ignatius reports that a shadowy “Program Management Board” spends Iraqi oil and assets as it wishes (The Washington Post, 10/19). This board reports to the American Paul Bremer, and includes only one Iraqi. Instead, the United States should give authority over Iraqi assets to the United Nation’s Development Fund for Iraq on the condition that elected Iraqis serve on that fund’s board.
The United States needs careful scholars of Iraq to shape policy, and fluent Arabic speakers to mediate between soldiers and Iraqis. These recruits can flag counter-productive tactics, such as the attempt to destroy rebels’ hiding places by uprooting farmers’ beloved orchards (islamonline.net, 10/17). When the occupation undertakes such harsh operations to suppress rebels, it loses sight of a more important goal — calming the fury that leads to resistance.
Finally, the United States will spark international outcry and further loss of Iraqi trust if it converts grants for rebuilding into loans. Following the United States’ cue, Iraq’s creditors will refuse to forgive crippling debts accumulated under Saddam. People across the globe will see the loan as a greedy ploy — further fuel for worldwide anger at United States intervention. Arabs will see the loan as yet another reason to elect and follow those who single-mindedly condemn America. Ironically, America’s own democracy goads congressmen to vote for the shameful loan scheme. They fear that their constituents will oppose the grants. Yet the majority of Americans supported the war and the occupation. To fulfill the promises backing its arguments for war, the nation must spend the money necessary to do an effective and fair job.
I still distrust America’s ability and commitment to build Iraq into the kind of nation that would justify the costs of the war. The difficulties are great, the costs grave: international ill will, billions of dollars and, most importantly, tens of thousands of civilian and military casualties. Bush is right to press on with reconstruction. The suffering in Iraq would be exponentially greater without United States presence. For the sake of both Iraqis and our nation’s credibility, we must first reform reconstruction.
Sarah Gustafson is a junior in Branford College.