Five Postwar Suggestions for George W. Bush

The invasion of Iraq has deeply divided Americans. It has alienated our allies. It is already providing volatile new ammunition for Islamist terrorist groups searching for impressionable young men willing to blow themselves up just so they can take a few of us along with them. It's a grim situation, but it isn't too late for the Bush Administration to minimize the damage created by its reckless and illegal war, now that we're committed to it.

A year and a half after invading Afghanistan, the United States is about to seize control of another volatile, strategically vital patch of Muslim real estate riven by ethnic and tribal fault lines. As before, in its war against the Taliban, administration officials are issuing grandiose assurances about noble intentions.

"We will deliver the food and medicine you need," Bush promised Iraqis. "We will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free...The day of your liberation is near."

Only a few hard-right Republicans really believe in Bush's newfound interest in liberating the oppressed peoples of the world. Antiwar Americans, most international leaders and the overwhelming majority of the world's population still hold that the war is motivated solely by lust for Iraq's vast oil reserves. One U.N. Security Council diplomat explains his colleagues' reasons for voting no: "No one wants to alienate the United States but you can't ignore polls showing 80 percent opposition to the war," he said.

Opinions of America are even worse among Arabs, who note that the only countries that Bush has invaded -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- and is thinking of attacking -- Iran and Syria -- are Muslim. Arabs conclude that Bush -- a self-described "born again" Christian fundamentalist -- is waging a 21st century crusade against Islam. Only six percent of the Egyptian public holds a favorable view of the U.S. This in a country where scholars at the Islamic Research Academy declared that "If the enemy steps on Muslims' land, jihad becomes a duty of every male and female."

Bush's clash-of-civilizations rhetoric, sprinkled liberally with Old Testament imagery, hardly reduces tensions.

Nonetheless, both America's image abroad and Bush's popularity here could improve dramatically if the former governor of Texas were to take the following steps to make the war look more like liberation and less like exploitation:

1. Promise to Lay Off the Oil.

Aggressive elements in the administration suggest that a new post-Saddam government of Iraq -- a toothless American puppet, similar to Afghanistan's Karzai -- should rip up its oil contracts with France's TotalFinaElf and Russia's Lukoil in order to get even for the UN vote. Houston-based Halliburton Co., where Dick Cheney served as CEO, is reported to have already secured a $4 billion deal to put out well fires and rehabilitate sanctions-ravaged refineries. And Bush is already scheming to raid $40 billion in the now-defunct UN oil-for-food program to finance postwar reconstruction.

"How do we protect the oil facilities and bring in companies and material to sustain and improve those facilities without being criticized for taking over oil or giving the appearance of somehow taking the oil?" asks Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy adviser at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

Simple. Bush should pledge to honor all existing contracts, even -- especially -- with companies from countries that didn't support the war. More importantly for a leader whose top officials are nearly all former execs of big oil, Bush ought to prohibit sweetheart deals of any kind. Competitive bidding, not a cozy relationship with the White House, ought to determine which outfits get new contracts. And the people of Iraq, not the oil companies, ought to receive most of the proceeds in the form of direct payments.

2. Guarantee Iraq's Territorial Integrity.

On March 21, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul warned that Turkish forces plan to invade the Kurdish zone of northern Iraq to eradicate "terrorist activity." If unchecked, a Turkish incursion could lead to a new war with the Kurds, and the beginning of the end for a unified Iraqi state. Bush must issue two declarations, one guaranteeing full autonomy for Iraqi Kurdistan and the other an intent to respect and defend Iraq's present-day borders.

Arabs will rightly blame the U.S. if one of their richest nations disintegrates into civil war. Any invader, whether it's Iran or Turkey, must be driven out by American forces. And we can't allow warlords and tribal chieftains to create fiefdoms within Iraq, as has occurred in Afghanistan.

3. Let the Iraqis Choose Their Own Government.

Bush claims that he wants to establish democracy in Iraq. Now he has to make good on that vow. That means creating the conditions that would allow free elections -- peace and economic stability, reconstruction, a free press, open electioneering, recognition of political parties from across the political spectrum, including Saddam's Ba'ath Party -- to occur. Bush shouldn't be tempted to repeat the Florida 2000-style backstage antics that manipulated the results of Afghanistan's loya jirga -- after decades of strong central rule, Iraq needs a popularly elected president, not a puppet.

4. Rebuild Iraq.

Few Americans understand how badly we botched our occupation of Afghanistan. Hardly any know that U.S.-occupied Afghanistan has been reduced to pre-Taliban-style warlordism, that rape gangs rule the nights, that the stonings of adulterers continue, and that not one house has been rebuilt with international assistance -- not even in Kabul, the one city ruled by the central government. But the rest of the world knows -- and that's why they'll be watching us in Iraq. We have a second chance to get things right -- but it's going to take billions of dollars and several hundred thousand troops at least a decade to get Iraq back on its feet. But that's the least we can do after subjecting the country to 12 years of brutal economic sanctions.

5. Get Out.

If we're really going to be taken seriously as liberators and proponents of democracy, we'll allow the popularly elected leaders of Iraq to lead their country into the post-Saddam era, whether or not we care for their politics. And we won't tell them what to do or how to do it.

Ted Rall is the author of "Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan."

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