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U.S. Asks Allies To Assist In Rebuilding

Amid civil collapse and mounting chaos in Iraq, the Bush administration moved yesterday to enlist allied support for postwar reconstruction and financing and announced details of meetings of Iraqis that U.S. officials plan to organize inside the country to consider Iraq's future governance.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon had given the State Department a list of urgent needs from other countries, including police officers. Officials said the administration also was seeking doctors and nurses as well as engineers to help rebuild bridges, roads and buildings.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in an interview with Dutch television, asked European countries to contribute peacekeeping forces, a prospect he also raised last week at NATO headquarters. U.S. diplomats have contacted more than 65 nations in recent weeks to ask for assistance and 58 have expressed support, a State Department spokesman said.

I should be cautious about accepting any reports on this issue, since there are so many rumors flying and so many different people with different ideas about how it will be handled. Nevertheless, if this article can be believed, the Pentagon and State Department have a much more realistic attitude toward rebuilding Iraq than some hawkish commentators. A popular line is that, since other countries didn't help with the war, they shouldn't get to help with the reconstruction. The implication in this argument is that rebuilding a country is a prize or bonus, and that getting to rebuild is something that has to be earned through the hard work of war. Other countries shouldn't be able to mooch off our military effort.

For corporations that stand to profit from providing post-war services and goods, there may be some truth to the hawkish commentators' view -- though that's balanced by the fact that it was the US Army and Marines, not Haliburton, who did the work of invading Iraq. But for nations, rebuilding is hard work. Harder than war, particularly war against a weak third-world state. It will cost lots of money and political capital to put Iraq right. It will be tempting for other countries, after having their opinions brushed aside in the decision to go to war, to say "You made this mess, so it's up to you to clean it up." Hopefully they won't. There's little to be gained by refusing to help (and in fact I expect the bigger hurdle to be the US not wanting as much help as the world wants to offer), and much to be gained by a broad cooperative effort. One of the big challenges facing the reconstruction is making sure it doesn't come off as America imposing a government on Iraq, a challenge that can be mitigated by a more multilateral approach.


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