Hard Work, Indeed

Editorial

Los Angeles Times

October 5, 2004

President Bush and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi do their best to paint Iraq as a land of blue skies and sunshine, and never mind the beheadings, kidnappings, oil pipeline explosions and suicide car bomb attacks that kill dozens of Iraqis and foreigners at a time. The newly emphasized goals of the invasion, once the weapons of mass destruction turned out not to exist, included implanting democracy in the "Greater Middle East," starting with Baghdad, and creating an economy more capitalistic than socialistic. But there are indications the Bush administration is belatedly waking up to reality.

Bush doesn't admit the goals have changed, but some of his top advisors do. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Congress recently that Iraq had never been peaceful and perfect and it wasn't likely to get there. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice last month said the administration would settle for an elected Iraqi government that could defend itself. Those are welcome pullbacks from the overly op timistic visions that Washington proclaimed soon after the initial military success.

Bush continues to stress the goal of a "free and peaceful Iraq," hardly an objective anyone can quarrel with. In January, Vice President Dick Cheney called for "promoting democracy throughout the Greater Middle East and beyond." Again, a worthy pursuit, but now swamped by Iraq's rising violence.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report last month, based on extensive interviews and research in Iraq, that after decades of rule by Saddam Hussein, wars and U.N. sanctions, Iraqis did not expect much after last year's invasion. That's about what they've received: not much. Hussein is gone, but many can't leave their homes without fearing criminals motivated by money or revenge — or hatred for those helping the occupying forces. Yet the center also found Iraqis felt that because of its wealth, the U.S. would improve their country greatly; that hasn't happened.

Congress approve d a stunning $18-billion aid package to rebuild Iraq, yet only $1 billion of that has been spent, and more than $3 billion will be diverted to security following a realistic assessment that insurgents must be defeated or they will tear down whatever is built and kill those doing the reconstruction.

Iraq would benefit from stability and democracy. But to get there, the U.S. has to get more Iraqis into jobs — police, truck drivers, teachers, oil field workers — to let them feed their families and deprive the guerrillas of support. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has suggested what needs to be done: decentralize government, protect the country's judges and lawyers, get more international help, provide more direct assistance to Iraqis. It is one of several groups that warned before the war of what could go wrong. The administration ignored those warnings; it should listen now.