White House rethinks rejected Iraq advice

Thursday, November 13, 2003

WASHINGTON -- After largely ignoring advice from Europeans, the United Nations and members of Congress, President Bush and his inner circle now must sift through some of those very suggestions in search of a way to kick-start the transfer of power in Iraq before the country spins out of control.

"We have to become, for a moment, a country that is consulting and listening, not doing," said Ray Shonholtz, director of Partners for Democratic Change, an international group that helps build civil institutions in transitional societies. "The more we control how this Iraqi democracy is going to move, how it's going to be shaped, who is going to sit in seats of decision-making -- the less likely we will see a robust democracy."

Some U.S. lawmakers complained Wednesday that they have been barely consulted about Bush's plans for putting Iraqis in charge, and don't like being left in the dark. Newly minted Eastern European allies lodged the same complaint as they cried foul over their business interests getting sidelined on lucrative reconstruction work in favor of U.S. companies.

The demands of France, Germany and Russia for a quick U.S. handoff to the Iraqis went unheeded -- until it became a condition for a second U.N. resolution that Bush needed to lend credibility to the Iraqi occupation. This week, the French took great delight in the cover article on a U.S. political journal that proclaimed, "The French Were Right."

"It is a policy in need of a major overhaul, and they don't listen to the people who've talked to them," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Some experts say the best way for Bush to fix the problem is to focus on key pieces of early advice: Placate allies' concerns. Respect the choices made by the Iraqi people. Turn control over to the United Nations.

One idea under consideration is to follow the Afghanistan model, and name an interim leader who would have the authority to govern Iraq until a constitution is written and elections are held.

"There is still too much violence in the country for people to sit down and write a constitution. So it looks to me very much like a no-win situation," said Johan van der Vyver, who served as a liaison to the African National Congress as South Africa was developing its post-apartheid constitution. "I cannot even contemplate the possibility of President Bush withdrawing, or ceding controlling power to a non-American agent."

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan advocated a speedy handoff by the United States, according to a clear timeline.

"We have to take it a step at a time, and we think the early transfer of power would be helpful to everyone," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Wednesday.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: