Jewish World Review May 12, 2003 / 10 Iyar, 5763

Jim Hoagland

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Consumer Reports

No time for mixed messages | Dear Mr. President,

You worry less about sending mixed messages than do most politicians and other members of the chattering class. In fact you seem to revel in the practice. So it was natural that you would choose as your man in Baghdad L. Paul Bremer III, who is everyday "Jerry" to his pals and a retired foreign service officer who brings a hawkish outlook to diplomacy.

Governing by paradox is very much your style. You show no concern about the incessant internal warfare that both divides and drives your national security team. You seem, to the less attentive, to split the differences between your feuding diplomats and warriors -- yielding to Colin Powell on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and to Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney the rest of the week.

But a true paradox contains the appearance of constant contradiction rather than the thing itself. And so it is with you: You consistently side with Powell on style and process, as you did in going to the United Nations to lay out your case on Iraq. But you delivered Rumsfeldian substance there and stuck to it through the difficult preliminaries and the war. Under the turbulent surface was a unity of command and thought that served you well over the past eight months.

It will be important to continue that unity in this next, perplexing phase of replacing Saddam Hussein's dictatorship with a representative, functioning Iraqi government. Bremer is a good choice for many reasons, including the ones of image so vital to Powell. But there is one person whom Bremer cannot replace in the giant sorting out of Iraq that has begun awkwardly and much too slowly. That person is you.

Yes, you need to pivot from war abroad to the U.S. economy, for the sake of the country and your reelection ambitions. But you have either deliberately created or allowed to flourish a divided national security apparatus that only you can now bring together on major questions. Iraq is not a turnkey project that can be handed off even to the most talented and resolute of subordinates.

A huge vacuum quickly developed behind the swift U.S. military victory in Iraq. As a matter of political strategy, your team chose last fall not to train the thousands of Iraqi exiles who could have been useful as interpreters, military police and interlocutors with local authorities as American units swept forward.

The reasoning seemed clear: Large-scale training would have made it more difficult to maintain that you had not yet decided to go to war. It would have also seemed to favor exiles in the postwar situation. But not taking this step has incurred heavy costs on the ground, where the pre-Bremer team has floundered in episodically chaotic conditions and is drifting toward significant accommodation with the previous regime's henchmen.

Such expediency, if you permit it, will again tie your hands across the region, where authoritarian Arab regimes fear the influence of a representative Iraqi government. They count on their friends, allies or clients in the U.S. diplomatic service to prevent that outcome. Fortunately, Bremer does not come from those ranks, and his reporting to Rumsfeld should help unify American efforts to bring genuine political change in Iraq.

But you must not become decoupled from events in Iraq. You can't leave it to Jerry.

You took the high road in making at the United Nations a moral case for the use of U.S. power to depose a uniquely recidivist criminal regime. You now have a heavy obligation to follow policies in postwar Iraq that flow from and credibly support the high standards of morality and justice you enunciated in going forward with the intervention.

That means, among other things, making sure that there is not a scintilla of wrongdoing or impropriety in the letting of reconstruction contracts to U.S. firms. That means putting new emphasis in your energy policies on cutting American dependence on imported oil through fuel conservation. That means not even flirting with human rights abusers from the old regime, as U.S. officials have done in meeting with Ali Jabouri, the former warden of Abu Ghraib prison, and other Hussein ex-henchmen.

Mr. President, I apologize for the intrusion and for practicing on you the art of journalism, which is to state the obvious in a loud voice. But it is important to your having done the right thing on Iraq so far to keep on doing the right thing now. No non-Iraqi has as great a stake as you have on a just outcome there. On that there should be no mixed message.

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05/05/03: The case for patience on North Korea
04/30/03: Eroding Principles
04/28/03: Wars tailor made
04/25/03: De-Baathification, root and branch
04/21/03: Victims of civic passivity
04/14/03: Three miscreants
04/11/03: Saddam's final mistake

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