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Back to School
War in Iraq: Rebuilding
With Susan Rice
Brookings Institution Senior Fellow

Friday, April 11, 2003; 10:30 a.m. ET

What role should the United Nations play in Iraqi reconstruction? What is the best way to bring elected government to Baghdad? Should the United States and coalition partners take the lead in rebuilding the country or allow the international community the authority over Iraq's future?

Brookings Institution senior fellow Susan Rice was online to discuss the role of the US, its allies, and the UN in post-Saddam Iraq.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

The transcript follows.

Susan Rice: The images of looting and lawlessness in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities underscore the difficulty of the challenges ahead for US forces and civilian administrators. The tasks of maintaining law and order and of providing humanitarian assistance and constituting a legitimate government are too complex and costly for the United States to undertake alone. We need urgently to act to fill the security void that is emerging or risk the rapid loss of whatever good will we may have garnered. And we need to transition as quickly as possible these law and order responsibilities to other competent international actors and, of course, ultimately to legitimate Iraqi authorities as quickly as possible.

Bethesda, Md.: Americans are among the most generous people in the world. If a call to the American people were to be made, we would respond with billions in aid.

Which organization would be the most efficient is bringing aid to the Iraqi people? Where can donations be sent where it can be used most effectively without fear that administrative costs or shenanigans will divert its purpose?

Susan Rice: I agree that Americans are a generous people and now yet again is a time for that generosity to come to the fore. Despite efforts by some senior administration officials to minimize the humanitarian challenge at present, it is in fact enormous. There is an urgent need for portable water, hospital supplies and other emergency provisions. Many of the traditional relief NGOs have been reluctant to work in Iraq under US military authority and have thus far been unable to operate due to security concerns. However, the UN system and UNICEF in particular have made early and aggressive efforts to aid the Iraqi people. UNICEF is one of the most effective international organizations, and I would encourage tax deductible contributions to UNICEF through the US Fund for UNICEF -- an organization that I know well. Other organizations like Oxfam have also begun to raise money for this purpose and have good track records in other emergency context.

Alexandria, Va.: How much of a cut of Iraqi oil revenues should the US take?

Susan Rice: The U.S. should not take any cut of Iraqi oil revenues for its own purposes. The Administration has made clear that it intends Iraq's oil wealth to benefit and belong to the Iraqi people. Once oil production has fully resumed, the revenue will be needed desperately to meet the humanitarian and reconstruction needs of the Iraqi people and should be used for that sole purpose. Any effort by the U.S. to take a cut for U.S. coffers would be obscene and reinforce perceptions throughout the world that our motives in entering Iraq were other than those stated.

Lyme, Conn.: Now that a government has fallen, who is in control? Who sees to it that the police force shows up for work, that whatever utilities are operating continue and the ones that are down are repaired, that food is shipped, etc. How much is the country in disarray, and what will it take to at least restore order, utilities, food, etc.?

Susan Rice: Under international law and the Geneva Conventions, the US is, as the occupying power, in fact responsible for controlling and - at least in the short term - governing the country. The country does indeed appear to be in disarray and the task of restoring law and order and basic services is an enormous and daunting one. The US and Britain seem not to have sufficient forces in country yet to protect key civilian infrastructure, like hospitals, and to prevent widespread looting. Undoubtedly, we will seek to salvage as much of the former police force as we can find who are acceptable to the people of Iraq, but we should expect that the process of forming new police forces will be difficult and slow. In the meantime, those tasks will fall to coalition forces. Our reluctance or inability to fulfill that responsibility could well be the biggest short-term impediment to achieving our objectives of stability and eventually democracy.

On the humanitarian side, we have failed thus far to do as we set out to - to win hearts and minds through effective provision of key goods and services. We need urgently to find ways to restore electricity and water and make sure it is distributed effectively.

Milano, Italy: Dear Mrs. Rice,

to avoid winning war but loosing peace, the USA must involve the United Nations in peacekeeping and rebuilding activities and strive to understand the Iraqi People. For this, I think, Americans can learn by English experience of an age-old colonialism.
What do you think?

Thank you very much

Susan Rice: I agree that to avoid winning the war but loosing the peace we need to involve the United Nations, NATO and other partners in peacekeeping, policing and reconstruction activities. And we need, as you suggest, to do so with sensitivity to the needs and concerns of the Iraqi people. I am concerned by the US government's apparent reluctance to fully involve more experienced actors whether in the UN system, in Europe or elsewhere. I don't, however, believe that our model ought to be a colonial one - whether English or otherwise. That would be a setback for US interests and our image around the world.

Glenmont, Md.: Every nation rebuilding project by the UN has been a disaster (Bosnia, Kosovo, E. Timor, etc.). However, US has a proven record (W. Germany, Japan) of rebuilding. The US owes the UN nothing. Why are we having this debate?

Susan Rice: I disagree with your premise. The UN has not failed miserably in Kosovo, East Timor, and Mozambique -- instances where with U.S. assistance these nations are now far better off than they were prior to the outbreak of conflict. There are valuable lessons to be learned from such UN experiences. The U.S. has not succeeded alone at nation-building for over a half century, as experience in Somalia underscores. The U.S. needs the UN and others to share the costs and burdens of peacekeeping, law enforcement, reconstruction and democracy-building. Iraqi oil revenues are far from sufficient to pay for these tasks. Moreover, few Americans want , I believe, to see U.S. forces bogged down indefinitely and largely alone in a very complex situation, if not a potential quagmire.

Washington, D.C.: The Bush administration -- and more particularly, the Pentagon -- has vowed to maintain control over the process of reconstruction in Iraq, delegating to the UN the task of addressing humanitarian needs.

In view of the administration's track record in Afghanistan, and its stated reluctance to get involved in state-building more generally, how likely is it that we will succeed in establishing a stable, democratic government in Iraq? How would you recommend that the administration proceed to maximize the likelihood that reconstruction is successful?

Susan Rice: To maximize our likelihood of success, the US is going to have to remain committed to and focused on reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq for many years to come. This administration and future ones will need to demonstrate a longer attention span than we have in Afghanistan, and we will have to embrace rather than evade the essential tasks of peacekeeping and nation building. We would be wise to involve as early as is feasible the UN and key allies in the complex tasks of democracy building and reconstruction, and we would be wise to help foster organic internal processes for selecting a new national leadership in Iraq, as the international community did in supporting the loya jirga process in Afghanistan. We can not be seen to select or anoint new Iraqi leaders. We need also to be to be exceedingly careful with the Americans coming in under General Garner to assume governance roles in Iraq.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company