More than U.S. needed to rebuild Iraq

Posted: Sep 09, 2003 12:00 AM

The key to winning a war in America is to distill a complex and terrible situation into a few inspiring images. A single grainy clip of a smart bomb crashing down a chimney in a foreign land can solicit emotions of patriotism so pervasive that they send citizens pumping their fists in defiance of a dictator they hadn't even heard of a few weeks before.

When President George W. Bush unleashed hell on Iraq, he no doubt had some pretty images in mind, like the streets of Baghdad lined with Iraqi citizens waving American flags or UN inspectors uncovering weapons of mass destruction.

All the administration had to do was manufacture a few good images and we could make the war seem great. This is why they ducked their heads and plowed through the international scorn. They fully expected to supplant the horror of war with images so patriotic that they would make France's and Germany's opposition seem shortsighted and propel the administration into a second term.

That's not to say the war on Iraq was about image. If you have a chance to stop Hitler at the Rhine, you do it. The same applies to Saddam. The man is evil. He was manufacturing biological and chemical weapons and desperately trying to build a nuclear bomb. He has used weapons of mass destruction on his neighbors and against his own citizens. (Is there any doubt he would do so again if given the chance?)

My point is that TV images hold sway over the masses and, therefore, dominate politics in a democracy. So it doesn't matter that the president said from the onset that this would be an arduous and lengthy campaign. The things that solicit knee-jerk responses from voters are the images plastered on their TV screens. Presently, they're seeing U.S. soldiers being shot and killed. Lacking those few good images to legitimize the preemptive attack, the war in Iraq now threatens to drag down the Bush administration into a PR black hole (regardless of the fact that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan made the world safer).

The administration admitted as much when they announced a new plan to solicit additional funds from Congress and ground support from the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq is rapidly devolving into chaos. This is, of course, the danger of democracy. It places extraordinary faith in the mob. When I ask citizens of Zimbabwe or other East African countries why they don't push harder for democratic rule, the response is always the same: they feel physically safer with a dictator in place. A dictator dispatches well-trained military commanders to maintain social order. A democratically elected official employs police who are laughed at by the thugs who stalk the streets. It doesn't matter how brutal the dictator is. Without a legitimate heir apparent and a strong infrastructure, a bad situation can quickly turn into a holocaust.

This is the lesson that the Iraqi people are now learning. And it is a dangerous one. If we lose the faith of the Iraqi citizens, the area will become a breeding ground for terrorism. The influence Iran exerts will grow. And Anti-western sentiment will become so pervasive as to threaten the stability of several Arab states.

Plainly, more servicemen need to be brought in to restore order. Plainly, this requires the help of the United Nations. The problem is that France and Germany had significant economic ties to Saddam. In their view, America's war on Iraq was bad business. Hence, all of their shrill anti-American rhetoric. A peaceful democratic Iraq will reveal the selfishness and shortsightedness of their opposition to the war. Consequently, they're content to stay on the sidelines and chirp; "I told you so."

So what to do?

The administration is going to have to eat crow and cede some control of the rebuilding process in Iraq. Something along the lines of the Serbia model, which would transfer political control in Iraq to a UN administration. The United States would retain military control of the country. That's bad news for the neo-cons intent on using Iraq as a staging area to remake Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria and who were so eager to go it alone after the UN failed to produce a second resolution.

But the alternative is to continue to let U.S. soldiers die at a rate of one per day, while Iraq slides ever further into a black hole of religious tribal factionalism. We haven't the available resources to sustain this rebuilding process on our own. Failure to acknowledge that would be disastrous for the war on terror, for Mideast stability, and, as the administration to its credit is now realizes, the presidency.