America takes on the reconstruction of Iraq and the challenges of a postwar world at a happy time, for it is flooded with advice, all of it good. Unfortunately, all of it is also contradictory. We must have an agenda for Iraq’s political future, but we must not behave like occupiers. We should not formally end the regime of sanctions until we have scoured the country for weapons of mass destruction, yet we should restore Iraqi prosperity forthwith. We should be wary of a fundamentalist uprising, without imposing our values. Got that?
American efforts in Iraq are proceeding along two tracks. The first might be called geo-forensic: the effort to piece together Saddam Hussein’s weapons program, and his contacts with world terrorists. Observers with MTV attention spans have shown dismay over our failure to find the chemical warheads and plague vials, all neatly labeled on shelves, as in a Bond villain’s secret lab. A little patience is in order. Hans Blix had several months to look for weapons of mass destruction, and the international community had eleven years before that. In the rubble of a regime that was surely destroying or exporting evidence as the end came, we can take a little time.
Meanwhile, Farouk Hijazi, a former intelligence official captured near the Syrian border, reportedly has evidence of Saddam-al Qaeda contacts, while the tireless Daily Telegraph has found intelligence files detailing the same thing. How could the secularist and the visionary cooperate? The same way the Bolsheviks and the Nazis did.
On the political front, Iraqis held a second U.S.-sponsored conference to discuss a transitional government. Zalmay Khalilzad, fresh from similar midwife duty in Afghanistan, co-chaired the meeting. Retired general Jay Garner, who heads the overall American advisory effort, seems to be an ideal presence — calm, tough, respectful. Iraq will want some form of federal system, like multilingual Switzerland, or the Yankee/Quaker/planter/backwoods United States. Should exiles play a role? No one should be disdained because the threat of death forced him to flee. With security, Iraqis can have a decent interval to work these questions out.
How will the world threaten Iraq’s security? Syria, the last remaining Baathist state, has adopted a meek tone: They coughed up Mr. Hijazi. Iran has not, sending in agitators to stir up Iraqi Shiites. We need to patrol the borders, take a firm line, and hope that events in Iran, which is writhing under the ayatollahs’ dictatorship, will remove the problem at the source. The French seem — slightly — penitent, moving to suspend U.N. sanctions against its beaten ally. But they do not want the program terminated until U.N. inspectors give the country a thorough look. This is a ruse to maintain U.N., and thus French, leverage. Until the old chien learns new tours, we should downgrade France everywhere we can, beginning in NATO, by shifting decisions to the French-free Defense Planning Council.
Meanwhile, at home, nothing has changed. Everyone who disliked Donald Rumsfeld still dislikes him; everyone who opposed the war rages at the peace. Yet everything has changed. In spite of naysayers, America moved, and it won. They were as wrong as they are impotent.