Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) yesterday warned President Bush not to appoint an American civilian administrator to oversee the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, saying such an appointment's symbolism could further damage the United States' image in the Muslim world and complicate postwar diplomacy throughout the Middle East.
The Democratic presidential candidate spoke a few hours before Bush began to outline his thinking about Iraq's future. Lieberman urged the administration to begin now to plan for reengaging in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict immediately after a possible war with Iraq and to take the initiative to pressure Syria and Iran to prevent weapons proliferation in the region even after Iraq is disarmed.
He also said the administration should "waste no time" in preparing, with other countries, for the prosecution of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and others, "whose crimes must not go unpunished."
Lieberman has been one of the administration's strongest Democratic allies on Iraq, having long ago called for military action, if necessary, to dislodge Hussein from power. But he has criticized the administration's diplomacy, and he used his speech before a Council on Foreign Relations audience in Washington to apply lessons learned in Afghanistan to the future of Iraq.
"We made the war [in Afghanistan] our own, and the subsequent peace thereby became far too much our own, as well," Lieberman said. "We have to go to extraordinary lengths to recover from this mistake." He added that the consequences of failure in Iraq would be "more severe" than in Afghanistan.
Lieberman criticized the administration for waiting this long to begin to talk publicly about its plans for administering Iraq after a conflict. He said U.S. officials should be moving to develop plans for securing or destroying Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, to deploy an international security force, to restructure Iraq's debts and to swiftly end United Nations sanctions that have been in place since the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
"America obviously has an important role in postwar Iraq, but not a singular one," he said. "This should be a genuine ensemble production, not, as I fear the administration envisions it, a play with one lead player and a dozen character actors who are offered bit parts."
Rather than an American civilian administrator for Iraq, Lieberman proposed the appointment of an international administrator. Without offering names, he suggested a government official from an Arab country. He also said U.S. military presence should end as quickly as possible after hostilities end. To do otherwise, he said, "would put America in the position of appearing to be an occupying power, not a liberator, and it may well widen the gulf between the United States and the Arab world."
To knock down suspicion that a U.S.-led war against Iraq is designed to take control of that country's oil reserves, Lieberman said the administration should develop a plan now for handling those reserves. "Iraq and Iraqis must own and manage their own oil resources," he said. If Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization is up to the job, he said, it should continue to oversee the country's oil markets. But at least initially, he said, the United States should help assure that income from Iraqi oil is reinvested in the country's reconstruction.