Buildings that were destroyed by three weeks of American bombs must now be rebuilt; projects that never got off the ground because of almost 25 years of megalomaniacal tyranny from Saddam’s regime should now be commenced. And, of course, a transition towards representative Iraqi self-government should begin as soon as is feasible.
The most immediate priority for Iraq is water. Reports over the weekend suggested that Iraqis were so desperate for water that they were drinking from the sewage-infested Tigris. After the people have water, they will need flour. And then they will need sugar. Humanitarian agencies are already working tirelessly inside Iraq to distribute these essentials. They need—and, to are large extent, they are receiving—both financial and administrative support from the American government.
Of course, in the long run, Iraqis will not live by bread alone. Only a transition towards a form of representative self-government will ensure the lasting stability and prosperity of their country, and a ruler who is seen by ordinary Iraqis as an American puppet will have no chance of survival. President Bush used a number of different justifications for invading Iraq, but he ultimately rationalized his policies as a way to liberate the Iraqi people, as shown by choosing to label the project “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” True freedom, however, will never come for the Iraqis as long as they feel that they are under the yoke of an imperialist foreign invader.
Using the inspiring example of the Marshall Plan, under which the U.S. poured money into Western Europe in the wake of World War II to ensure its long-term stability, the Bush Administration should recognize the moral and pragmatic imperatives to pour money into Iraq. Corners must not be cut as they were in Afghanistan, where, due to an administrative oversight, no money at all was allocated for reconstruction during last year’s budget. Care must be taken to rebuild Iraq in a way that will stand the test of time. It would be unwise for any contracts to be awarded in exchange for donations to American political parties instead of purely on merit. Creating a stable country virtually from scratch takes a long time and a great deal of money. America skimps on these responsibilities at its peril.
It makes sense that the reconstruction of Iraq should take place under the auspices of what Bush termed “the coalition of the willing.” The coalition began a war in Iraq without support or approval of the United Nations (U.N.). It must now bear the financial and technical burden of rebuilding the country it conquered. American and British troops are already on the ground in Iraq, and it makes sense for them to lead the immediate reconstruction effort. Waiting for a U.N. force to be assembled and shipped to the Middle East would cause a potentially damaging delay in returning Iraq to stability.
Moreover, it is disingenuous to launch a war against the wishes of the U.N. and then preach the gospel of internationalism afterwards. Nations that did not support this military action should not have to pay to clean up after it, and idealists are sorely mistaken if they believe some form of U.N. involvement in Iraqi reconstruction will convey retroactive legitimacy for the American-led unauthorized preemptive action. Of course, there should be broad international consultation, especially involving Iraq’s regional neighbors, about how to proceed. America would be foolish to act unilaterally and ignore international opinion on the best way forward in rebuilding Iraq. Paying attention to the views of other countries—most of all those in the Middle East—is the best way to rebuild both Iraq’s shattered cities and America’s tarnished international reputation.
Shock and awe has passed, but the struggle in Iraq is anything but over. The coalition decided to act militarily, the coalition defeated Saddam and now the coalition must rebuild Iraq. It must do so with patience, sensitivity and an unwavering determination to stay until the job is done properly. Only then can anyone deem Operation Iraqi Freedom a success.