Unprepared for Peace in Iraq
Editor's note: We bring you this column as part of our RePosted feature, where we dig through our archives to find opinion pieces that shed light on current events. This column was originally published on August 26, 2003.
As the situation in Iraq continues to spiral out of control, an anxious nation watches. Despite assurances to the American people that our troops would be welcomed with open arms as liberators, U.S. soldiers are increasingly being met with guns and car bombs. The bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad has clearly exposed our vacant policy in Iraq. The American people are told to be patient, that winning the peace will take time. Meanwhile, the frustration of the Iraqi people grows by the day, as does their anger. The inability of the United States even to restore basic amenities further fuels the fire.
Before the war began, I urged the president to think through the consequences. There was no doubt as to the military outcome of war between the United States and Iraq; our might was unquestioned. But I was very concerned about the repercussions that would follow, especially if we were unable to persuade key allies to join our effort.
Today I urge President Bush to review his options. It is time to ask the world community not only for assistance in restoring peace and security in Iraq but also for participation in moving Iraq toward self-government. While the secretary of state has opened a dialogue with the United Nations, it must be a true exchange and not a U.S. monologue.
What has become tragically clear is that the United States has no strong plan for turning Iraq over to the Iraqi people and is quickly losing even its ability to maintain order. The administration is stumbling through the dark, hoping by luck to find the lighted path to peace and stability.
Despite the best hopes for an Iraqi democracy, the Iraqi people and the world see only the worst fears of occupation. Instead of inspiring steps toward self-government, we witness hit-and-run murders of U.S. soldiers, terrorist attacks and sabotage. Our military action in Iraq has forged a caldron of contempt for America, a dangerous brew that may poison the efforts of peace throughout the Middle East and result in the rapid invigoration of worldwide terrorism.
The president's stubborn insistence that much of the world be shut out of real participation in the rebuilding effort in Iraq is obviously costing lives. In addition, it is costing the United States credibility in Iraq and around the globe. We promised to improve the quality of life, yet so far we have failed to deliver. As a result, increasing numbers of Iraqis see the United States only as occupier, not liberator.
Instead of giving the young people of Iraq a reason to turn away from the violence of terrorism, we have, through failures and unkept promises, fed the seeds of discontent. The inability of the United States to secure the peace in Iraq virtually guarantees al Qaeda a fertile field of new recruits.
War has proved far easier than peace. We had the weapons to win the war, but not the wisdom to secure the peace. The coalition of those who might be willing to share the burden of building a new Iraq will be harder to muster now. But the challenge is too great for the United States alone. The rapidly rising anti-American sentiment demands that an international effort be initiated before Iraq slips from decades of dictatorship to decades of chaos.
The administration's reconstruction effort is costing the American people $1 billion a week. It is costing the lives of American soldiers and of civilians from many nations. Only an entirely closed mind could fail to grasp the need for a change in course. Close cooperation with the international community might yet yield a plan for peace and security for the people of Iraq. Haughty statements and unilateral actions will not advance our cause. We must work with other countries to forge what we cannot achieve alone: a lasting peace for Iraq and, in fact, for the Middle East region as a whole.
A hallmark of true leadership is the ability to admit when one is wrong and to learn from errors. Candidate George W. Bush spoke about the need for humility from a great and powerful nation. He said, "Let us reject the blinders of isolationism, just as we refuse the crown of empire. Let us not dominate others with our power -- or betray them with our indifference. And let us have an American foreign policy that reflects American character. The modesty of true strength. The humility of real greatness." It is time for the Bush administration to swallow its false pride and return to that philosophy of humility before it is too late.
The writer is a Democratic senator from West Virginia.