December 13, 2003
By Robert T. Grey, Jr.
Chicago Sun Times
In his memoir, A World Transformed, former President George Bush in discussing the Gulf War made the following observation: ”Trying to eliminate Saddam would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. There was no viable exit strategy we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that one hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in the bitterly hostile land.”
The current president should have taken heed of his father’s counsel. He did not, and as a result America is less secure today than before invading Iraq, we lost international support, and the chaos in Iraq has become a grave threat to international security.
We Americans now face the prospect of a prolonged involvement there, which will cost us dearly in lives and money. Cutting and running or premature withdrawal are not valid options. They would make the situation even worse than it is now and be a victory for terrorists of all stripes.
It is equally clear, however, that the administration’s now stated objective of helping the Iraqi people create stable institutions, which will enable them to control their own destinies without coercion from within or without, cannot be done by us alone.
Perhaps we can restore order there acting alone, although even this may prove to be impossible. Beyond that, however, unilateralism won’t work.
Simply put, Iraqis, others in the Arab and Muslim world and in the world at large are deeply suspicious about the United States’ intentions in the Middle East. The conflicting, belligerent and often naive statements of the present Bush administration both before and after the invasion have heightened these suspicions.
Clearly, the only way to overcome these suspicions and to get the linguistic, cultural and organizational skills in place to succeed in Iraq is to turn primary responsibility for the country’s reconstruction and rehabilitation over to the United Nations and to work in partnership within the rest of the international community for as long as it takes to get the job done. As one who worked long and hard in the trenches to help build the international consensus, which led to the successful conclusion of the Gulf War, I know this can be done. Others want to help because failure threatens their security as well as ours. A renewed and aggressive American commitment to work with others to move the Israeli/ Palestinian peace process forward will be necessary as well.
The lesson is clear: Unilateralism is not working. The United States must return to working collectively with the international community and in accordance with the international standards and norms, which we helped create. When we Americans make a mistake, we must have the courage to admit error and make adjustments. This is perhaps the only way we can reach the goal we share with the rest of the international community: a free and stable Iraq governed by its own people. This effort can succeed if President Bush and his advisers follow the same course that his father did. Success is still possible if we are willing to make it a collective one. Let’s hope the administration’s decision to seek a new Security Council resolution on Iraq signals a return to the policies of George Bush Sr.
Robert T. Grey Jr., a former ambassador for the Bill Clinton and current Bush administrations, is director of Bipartisan Security Group, a program of the Global Security Institute.