Iraq Policy in Crisis
New York Times | 0aEditorial
Thursday 13 November 2003
The abrupt recall of America's top administrator in Iraq, Paul 0aBremer III, for two days of urgent White House consultations signals a new level 0aof alarm among American policy makers. Anxieties in Washington surely deepened 0ayesterday after the bombing of an Italian military police compound killed at 0aleast 17 Italians and 9 Iraqis.
Administration officials, from President Bush on down, have been 0apressing Mr. Bremer to speed the transfer of sovereignty to appointed Iraqi 0aofficials and to compress, radically, the one- to two-year timetable he drew up 0afor holding elections. There is some merit in these suggestions. We have long 0acalled for a quicker transfer of real power to Iraqis, as have most of America's 0aallies. What is troubling, however, is the notion of short-circuiting the time 0anecessary to draw up a workable constitution and conduct fair elections in a 0acountry as torn and troubled as Iraq. Such thinking suggests that the Bush 0aadministration is in such a rush to bring American troops home that it has lost 0ainterest in laying the foundations for a stable democracy.
The White House recently began shifting its case for the Iraq war 0afrom the embarrassing unconventional weapons issue to the lofty vision of 0acreating an exemplary democracy in Iraq. Mr. Bush would look breathtakingly 0acynical if he seemed to be rushing the preparation for real elections with an 0aeye toward improving his own re-election chances.
A much better way to manage the process would be to transfer 0apolitical authority to a newly created United Nations administration. 0aConstitutional development and election supervision are areas where the U.N. has 0abuilt-in legitimacy and experience. Creating a U.N. administration for Iraq 0acould also help attract more international peacekeeping troops to relieve 0aAmerica's overstrained forces a need made even more urgent by yesterday's 0aattack on the Italians. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has never had much 0asupport at home for keeping troops in Iraq and may now face calls for 0awithdrawing the more than 2,000 Italians in Iraq.
The grim truth is that there are no very attractive options in 0aIraq. The administration would clearly love to be able to remove American troops 0afrom the line of fire. So would we. Yet a rushed American withdrawal without an 0aorderly handoff to the U.N. would leave Iraq open to just the kind of mixture of 0amisgovernment and terrorism that the White House waged this war to prevent.
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