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Do What It Takes in Iraq

From the September 1 / September 8, 2003 issue: The United States must be serious about its "generational commitment."

Sep 1, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 48 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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That's why calls from members of Congress to "internationalize" the force and give the U.N. a preeminent role are unhelpful, and really beside the point, at this critical juncture. Senator Biden is correct to say that "we have a hell of a team over there, but they don't have enough of anything." But he's wrong to suggest that a meaningful part of the solution would be "to internationalize" this. And when Rep. Mark Kirk says that "every international peacekeeper brought in is a chance to replace an American," he's raising false hopes among the American people. Such calls for "internationalization" also signal to Iraqi Baathists and Islamic radicals an inclination on the part of the United States to cut and run.

It's true that, unfortunately, we don't have many troops to spare, either: We should have begun rebuilding our military two years ago. And it is true that increasing the size of our forces, both in Iraq and overall, is unattractive to administration officials. But this is the time to bite the bullet and pay the price. Next spring, if disaster looms, it will be harder. And it may be too late.

* WHERE IS THE MONEY? The same goes for the financial resources the administration has sought for Iraqi reconstruction. It is simply unconscionable that debilitating power shortages persist in Iraq, turning Iraqi public opinion against the United States. This is one of those problems that can be solved with enough money. And yet the money has not been made available. This is just the most disturbing example of a general pattern. The Iraqi economy needs an infusion of assistance, to build up infrastructure, to improve the daily lives of the Iraqi people, to put a little money in Iraqi pockets so that pessimism can turn to optimism. There has also been a stunning shortage of democracy assistance, at a time when, according to surveys taken by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Iraq is undergoing an explosion of political activity.

We understand the administration's fear of asking Congress for the necessary funds for Iraq. The price tag, which may be close to $60 billion, will provide fodder for opportunistic Democratic presidential hopefuls who are already complaining that money spent in Iraq would be better spent in the United States. But, again, the time to bite the bullet is now, not six months from now when Iraq turns to crisis and the American campaign season is fully underway. If Rice and others are serious about making a "generational commitment" equivalent to that which followed the Second World War, then this is the necessary down payment.

* WHERE ARE THE PERSONNEL? The American military is not alone in facing a shortage of people in Iraq. Everyone returning from Iraq comments on the astonishing lack of American civilians as well. Until recently, only a handful of State Department employees have been at work in Iraq. The State Department, we gather, has had a difficult time attracting volunteers to work in Iraq. This is understandable. But it is unacceptable. If the administration is serious about drawing an analogy with the early Cold War years, it should remember that the entire U.S. government oriented itself then to the new challenge. We need to do the same now. The administration must insist that the State Department pull its weight. Indeed, we need to deploy diplomats and civil servants, hire contract workers, and mobilize people and resources in an urgent and serious way. Business as usual is not acceptable. Getting the job done in Iraq is our highest priority, and our government needs to treat it as such.

These are the core problems the Bush administration needs to address. Success in Iraq is within our reach. But there are grounds to fear that on the current trajectory, we won't get there. The president knows that failure in Iraq is intolerable. Now is the time to act decisively to prevent it.

--Robert Kagan and William Kristol