Outside View: Between Oz, Mess-o-potamia

By WILLIAM DANVERS, Outside View Commentator  |  June 24, 2005 at 2:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- The situation in Iraq is somewhere between Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" calling it "Mess-o-potamia" and President Bush and his team's rosy analysis declaring all is well. The response over what to do about Iraq has depended on which school of thought you embrace. What is needed to restore public confidence - 52 percent of Americans now say they don't think the war has made us safer -- and to begin the process of extricating ourselves from Iraq without leaving the Iraqis in the lurch is a grand bargain between the administration and Congress, Democrats and Republicans, about what must be done and how to do it.

First of all, a series of benchmarks should be established that will initially help the United States draw down the level of its military and, over time, economic involvement. Those benchmarks should be clearly defined, as should the steps required to reach them. The time for sloganeering is gone. There needs to be a sober acceptance that we cannot cut and run in Iraq, but neither can we stay indefinitely without a road map leading to our leaving.

What the administration should ask for in agreeing to a bargain with Congress, including Congressional Democrats, is support for what needs to be done to ensure that at best Iraq is a success and at the very least it does not fall apart when we leave. What Congress in general and Congressional Democrats in particular get with such an agreement is accountability on the part of the administration through regular reports on the real progress that is being made and how that progress helps us achieve certain agreed upon goals. The country would benefit from the striking of such a bargain.

A first, crucial benchmark that must be developed and agreed upon is the number of Iraqi security forces needed to make Iraq secure enough to allow U.S. troops to come home. The agreement must include a definition of what the various kinds of Iraqi security forces are, what their role is, how many are needed, how long it will take to train them, how much it will cost and who will do the training. As part of this process, we must ask if there are more creative ways to train the troops that could speed up the process. For example, could the training take place outside Iraq? Could we rely on friends and allies to do the training, particularly if it is done outside? Once all agree on these details, there should be regular reports to Congress, which are also made available to the public, describing the security situation in Iraq. In exchange for this kind of candid analysis, there must be the acceptance that the road ahead will not be smooth and setbacks can be expected, but that is no reason to leave.

In order for Iraqis to feel that their future is worth investing in, there must be demonstrable progress on the economic front. Simple benchmarks that measure the impact that changes in the economy have on the daily lives of Iraqis are what is important. The creation of jobs, the number of homes that have electricity and running water and how much and in what way U.S. aid for non-military purposes has been used to help ordinary Iraqis are all examples of the kinds of measurements that should be part of a more micro-economic assessment of the situation in Iraq. The more Iraqis feel the benefits of a stabilizing economy, the more they are likely to work with U.S. and Iraqi forces against those who would undermine that stability.

On the political front, every effort needs to be made to ensure that Iraq moves forward with the writing of a constitution and is headed toward the election of a more permanent legislature and executive branch of government. As part of that effort, there must be a regular assessment of the level of participation of the major ethnic and religious groups in Iraq at all levels of government. If there is some sensitivity about U.S. involvement in the writing of the constitution, then the international community must get more involved in helping the Iraqis take on this difficult task. And while this task is indeed difficult, sticking to election timetables are key to making progress.

There should also be regular reporting on the status of international help to rebuilding Iraq. That includes not only the number of foreign troops there, but how other nations are helping the Iraqis and in what context, as well as what the United States is doing on all fronts to get international support for this effort. As part of this reporting, there should be a discussion of innovative ways the U.S. government is attempting to solicit broader support from the international community.

These benchmarks and reporting requirements should be assessed on a regular basis. Congress should exercise strict oversight over the process, and the administration should agree to cooperate fully. Such a cooperative relationship may be the best way to help the Iraqis and to begin to extricate ourselves from what is a very difficult, dangerous and expensive undertaking.


(William Danvers has worked on international issues for nearly a quarter of a century, on Capitol Hill in the House and Senate, at the State Department, at the White House National Security Council, at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. For the past five years, he has served in the private sector as a consultant.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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