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Published: 2/16/2003

The post-war muddle

It took a long time for Congress to even question the Bush Administration directly about plans for Iraq, post-Saddam Hussein, and the answers are less than reassuring.

The penetrating queries, at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, brought only sketchy responses, indicating that the White House is relying more on wishful thinking for what happens should the U.S. succeed in ousting Saddam.

The Bush plan, such as it is, apparently envisions a quick military victory followed by pacification of the country, and a military governorship to last at least two years, after which the government would be handed over to Iraqis committed to democracy. But details are elusive.

“How this transition will take place is perhaps opaque at the moment,” Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman admitted to the Senate panel.

“There are enormous uncertainties,” added Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense. “The most you can do in planning is develop concepts. That's our problem. We have been thinking this through as precisely as we can, given the uncertainties.”

Left unanswered by the two were key questions: What will the military operation and subsequent reconstruction of Iraq cost? Will the U.S. bear the entire cost or are allies expected to help? What if Saddam destroys his oil fields? Who pays?

The closest thing to an answer to any of these was Mr. Feith's categorical denial that the U.S. wants Iraq for its oil. Mr. Grossman said the U.S. “will demonstrate to the Iraqi people and the world that the United States wants to liberate, not occupy or control Iraqis or their economic resources. Our guiding principle is that Iraq's oil belongs to the Iraqi people.”

We'll see. The “uncertainties” the two officials acknowledged might conspire to change policy.

Given what has transpired in Afghanistan over the past year, Americans might well question whether President Bush has a clear idea of his objective in Iraq. The U.S. routed the Taliban from its lair, but Afghanistan is not close to being under control of its official government, and the Bush Administration has shown little interest in or inclination to pursue the necessary mechanics of nation building.

The inability of the President and his lieutenants to articulate what it is they want to accomplish in Iraq suggests that they do not have a clear idea themselves.

If that's the case, the United States will be lucky to avoid a disaster, either in military conflict or its aftermath.



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