Rescuing Iraq Policy
President Bush will launch an ambitious campaign tomorrow night to shift attention from recent setbacks that have eroded domestic and international support for U.S. policy in Iraq, particularly the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the escalating violence, and focus instead on the future of post-occupation Iraq.
The president will open a tightly orchestrated public relations effort in a speech at the Army War College outlining U.S. plans for the critical five weeks before the limited transfer of political power June 30. The White House then intends to circulate this week a draft U.N. resolution on post-occupation Iraq, wrap up negotiations with Iraqis on an interim government and begin shoring up the coalition to ensure that other foreign forces also stay after June 30, U.S. officials said.
“There’s a sense that this week is our chance to create some movement in a different direction. We’ll start talking about the future, not the past, by focusing on the U.N. resolution and [U.N. envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi’s transition process. Sure there’ll still be plenty of arguments, but it will be about the future, and that’s a healthy change,” said a senior State Department official who would speak only on condition of anonymity.
The diplomatic campaign is a response to serious reversals over the past two months and to growing turmoil. Last week alone, the U.S.-appointed president of the Iraqi Governing Council was assassinated and a cabinet official was almost killed in a suicide bombing; in a disputed episode, more than 40 people were killed by U.S. troops at what Iraqis said was a wedding party; and 16 arrest warrants were issued for aides or associates of Ahmed Chalabi, a longtime Pentagon favorite to help lead postwar Iraq, on charges related to financial issues, leading him to sever ties with the U.S.-led coalition.
In the first of at least six presidential speeches on Iraq before June 30, Bush will particularly try to counter growing criticism that Washington has lowered the goal posts for its year-long occupation, U.S. officials said. Critics and Iraq experts have charged that the administration has backed down from its original pledge to create a strong new democracy that would be a catalyst for a broad political transformation in the Middle East and is instead settling on an exit strategy that will leave a fragile government unable to protect itself.
“He will talk about the importance of not lowering our sights and sticking to our goals of a free, peaceful, democratic Iraq, of adhering to our commitment to the June 30 transfer of sovereignty, and of an election in a January time frame,” said a White House official who insisted on anonymity.
I hope he says a lot more than that. Indeed, I’m not sure why platitudes need to be off the record.
Fixing things like this would be a good place to start:
It was after nightfall when they finally found their offices at Saddam Hussein’s Republican Palace — 11 jet-lagged, sweaty, idealistic volunteers who had come to help Iraq along the road to democracy.
When the U.S. government went looking for people to help rebuild Iraq, they had responded to the call. They supported the war effort and President Bush. Many had strong Republican credentials. They were in their twenties or early thirties and had no foreign service experience. On that first day, Oct. 1, they knew so little about how things worked that they waited hours at the airport for a ride that was never coming. They finally discovered the shuttle bus out of the airport but got off at the wrong stop.
Occupied Iraq was just as Simone Ledeen had imagined — ornate mosques, soldiers in formation, sand blowing everywhere, “just like on TV.” The 28-year-old daughter of neoconservative pundit Michael Ledeen and a recently minted MBA, she had arrived on a military transport plane with the others and was eager to get to work.
They had been hired to perform a low-level task: collecting and organizing statistics, surveys and wish lists from the Iraqi ministries for a report that would be presented to potential donors at the end of the month. But as suicide bombs and rocket attacks became almost daily occurrences, more and more senior staffers defected. In short order, six of the new young hires found themselves managing the country’s $13 billion budget, making decisions affecting millions of Iraqis.
Viewed from the outside, their experience illustrates many of the problems that have beset the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), a paucity of experienced applicants, a high turnover rate, bureaucracy, partisanship and turf wars. But within their group, inside the “Green Zone,” the four-mile strip surrounded by cement blast walls where Iraq’s temporary rulers are based, their seven months at the CPA was the experience of a lifetime. It was defined by long hours, patriotism, friendship, sacrifice and loss.
I’m hoping the story is a distortion of reality. Surely, we don’t have the equivalent of Peace Corps volunteers running major programs? The fact that the reporter calls Michael Ledeen, a rather well credentialed scholar and experienced foreign policy advisor, a “pundit” makes me rather suspicious.