Published on Thursday, August 21, 2003 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wanted: Presidential Plan for Iraq
by Jay Bookman
With a few exceptions, Americans of every political stripe, whether they supported or opposed the invasion of Iraq, now accept the grim reality of our presence there.
Most of us understand that by invading Iraq, we also took responsibility for its future. There is no groundswell demanding that we bring our troops home. None of the realistic contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination has made that argument, nor is there any discernible sentiment in Congress to that effect.
But there's a danger that could change -- without much warning and with disastrous consequences -- if the Bush administration does not acknowledge the true difficulty of what lies ahead and the true sacrifices it will require.
So far, it has not. In the wake of Tuesday's bombings in Baghdad and Jerusalem, President Bush did release a brief statement reasserting our determination to see the job through to the end.
"We will persevere through every hardship," the president promised. "We will continue this war on terror until the killers are brought to justice. And we will prevail."
Persevere, continue, prevail. . . . Good words, all. That statement was necessary, appropriate and no doubt heartfelt. But it was also insufficient.
Determination to persevere is critical, but it's not nearly enough. What is the plan for reversing the apparent slide toward chaos in Iraq? How do we create security in a war zone against unseen opponents just as determined as we are, especially with an occupying force that by historical standards is grossly inadequate? What will be the source of the $100 billion or more in outside capital needed to reconstruct Iraq's infrastructure and economy?
In other words, what's the plan?
The Bush administration has no response, only bland assurances that with perseverance, all will be well. It still seems transfixed, unable to shake its puzzlement that the story line in Iraq is playing out so differently than those optimistic prewar scenarios spun inside the conference rooms at the Pentagon, the American Enterprise Institute, the Weekly Standard.
Yes, it is true that Saddam Hussein so brutalized and dominated the Iraqi people that they are almost incapable now of taking responsibility for themselves. Yes, the primary blame for the absence of security and lack of basic services in Iraq should be laid on terrorists and saboteurs trying to undo every U.S. accomplishment. Yes, al-Qaida and other outside terrorist groups are probably pouring into Iraq, drawn by the chance to hit vulnerable Western targets.
All that and more is true. We're all agreed: We've got ourselves some trouble.
So what's the plan? Where are the additional troops going to come from? Where's the money going to come from? How are we going to fix this?
So far, the Bush administration has ruled out the United Nations as a source of additional manpower and money. They warn that by asking the United Nations to take a larger role in Iraq, we would also invite more complications and problems, and they're probably right. But if those risks disqualify the United Nations as our partner, what is our alternative strategy?
Leadership requires hard choices. It requires vision, an ability not only to set lofty goals but also to lay out a feasible path for achieving them. Such a plan offers hope, a way of envisioning progress from the world as it exists to the world we are trying to create.
Without such a plan, the current public consensus is likely to crumble, and the effectiveness of the United States as a force for peace and sanity in the world will be greatly diminished.
This may not be the war we were promised, but it's the war we've got.
So, Mr. President . . . how are we going to win it?
Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor.
© 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution