John F. Kerry's four-point plan for Iraq proposes ambitious solutions to accelerate the military transition, refocus reconstruction and ensure that democracy takes root, all while lessening the burden on the United States by bringing in greater foreign aid and support.
U.S. experts on Iraq generally laud the goals, applaud the idea of a national debate on Iraq and endorse the principles outlined in Kerry's long-awaited plan. But they also question whether some of his proposals are realistic -- or even all that new. The Bush administration has already tried several of the Kerry suggestions but failed to pull them off.
The premise in all four points is that Kerry will be able to mobilize an international community that has been alienated by President Bush's strategy of preemptive strikes and by U.S. defiance of close allies and the United Nations. "We have divided our friends and united our enemies. And our standing in the world is at an all-time low," Kerry said in a feisty speech at New York University. "We must make Iraq the world's responsibility, because the world has a stake in the outcome and others should share the burden. . . . I'm convinced that with the right leadership, we can create a fresh start."
But analysts questioned whether any American leader will be able to mobilize greater international participation, given the current dangers in Iraq and domestic political considerations in countries that have resisted earlier U.S. requests to play a role.
"Kerry lays out nice suggestions but I have no reason to assume they'd work any better, in the sense that there's no sign that the international community is willing to contribute to stabilizing Iraq or helping with security even if there is a leadership change in Washington," said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq expert now at the National Defense University.
The Democratic presidential candidate specifically called for NATO to adopt Iraq as one of its global missions and NATO allies to provide training for the new Iraqi police and army. Kerry said the United States should convene a summit of major powers and Middle East leaders to jointly craft solutions to help rebuild the Iraqi military and jump-start the economy.
As president, Kerry also said he would "internationalize" reconstruction by encouraging other countries to help develop Iraq's oil industry, rather than locking them out -- a reference to the Bush administration's denial of contracts to countries that opposed the war. And to ensure Iraq's first democratic elections are held on schedule, Kerry said he would recruit allies for a security force to protect the U.N. election staff and hold a conference of Iraq's neighbors to win an agreement to respect Iraq's borders and pledge non-interference in Iraqi affairs.
Kerry's proposals provide a "much more plausible way to move forward," said Larry Diamond, a Stanford University expert on democracy who worked for the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq. "We need to involve our allies on the ground in a more effective way. The symbolism of that is important, and he has more ability to do that than Bush at this point."
But the Bush administration has tried to organize a U.N. protection force for the election staff but found no country willing to contribute, even after pleas from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Bush's foreign policy team, backed by the new Iraqi interim government, has appealed to allies for troops to either help stabilize Iraq or train its new military, with marginal results. NATO, already stretched thin with missions in Afghanistan and the Balkans, has shown little interest in a major role in Iraq. And former secretary of state James A. Baker III has toured the world appealing for debt relief for Iraq, eliciting pledges to consider partial relief but yielding no tangible results yet.
Kerry's plan, like the Bush administration's strategy, is vulnerable because of the messy security situation, analysts say. "The reality is that, whoever is president, we're not going to get other countries to play a major role in an ongoing insurgency," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Security. "NATO, regional allies, other countries simply aren't going to commit troops to this kind of mission. It's not their problem."
A key difficulty is not the number or quality of training programs, but the Iraqis' commitment to defend their country after newly trained troops deserted or failed to fight during deployments last spring, Cordesman added. "It's easy to talk about sweeping changes, but it's hard to go beyond what [Gen. David] Petraeus is doing now" in U.S. training programs, he said.
Several U.S. analysts say Kerry is correct in faulting the Bush administration for a year-long delay in dispersing $18.4 billion in aid, which has left Iraqis facing high unemployment and personal insecurity on top of the growing physical dangers. But since the June 28 handover of responsibility for Iraq policy from the Pentagon, the State Department is now reconfiguring the program to channel more funds faster, with more Iraqi input, to generate jobs -- a proposal similar to Kerry's.
In light of the administration's recent "backtracking" on Iraq policy, "Kerry advocates things Bush is already doing but maybe not doing well enough -- speeding up training, attempting to get reconstruction going and sticking with the election," said Phebe Marr, a U.S. Institute of Peace fellow and author of "Modern History of Iraq."
"The main difference is getting international support and I have no doubt that Bush would like the support Kerry is advocating," she said, "so the issue boils down to whether Kerry can get it."