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[casi] Iraqis on the Sidelines

Iraqis on the Sidelines

Published: October 24, 2003


In pressing their request for nearly $20 billion for reconstructing Iraq,
Bush administration officials have been invoking the Marshall Plan, as
President Bush himself did when he addressed the United Nations General
Assembly last month. L. Paul Bremer III, who heads the Coalition Provisional
Authority in Iraq, did the same when testifying before Congress. In fact,
however, such invocations are highly misleading, and the Congressional
conferees who are shaping the final version of the Iraq appropriation bill
would do well to review what made the Marshall Plan a success - and how the
Bremer plan may be headed for failure.

The Marshall Plan's hallmark was the requirement that European countries
work together to devise a plan for postwar reconstruction. Remember George
C. Marshall's words in 1947: "It would be neither fitting nor efficacious
for this government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed
to place Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of the
Europeans. The initiative, I think, must come from Europe."

The goal was not only to rebuild Europe but also to encourage former
adversaries to form partnerships that could endure after United States
assistance ended. The plan succeeded so well that Europe has followed the
road of cooperation all the way to the European Union.

But Marshall's central insight is missing in the proposal before Congress.
Under the Bremer plan, Iraqis need not do much of anything except sit back
and watch American occupiers and contractors decide how to rebuild their
country. There is no requirement that Iraqis - Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish,
Turkmen - resolve their differences and together plan to rebuild. That means
there is no opportunity to improve Iraqis' capacity for standing the country
on its own feet.

The Bremer plan recalls the cold war era, when the United States pumped
billions into corrupt dictators' coffers and asked questions later. A return
to this failed approach is odd in an administration that promised last year
to revolutionize foreign assistance through the Millennium Challenge
Account. To get Millennium Challenge money, a country's government and its
nongovernmental organizations will have to work together, will have to
relate their program requests to their larger national development
strategies, and will be held accountable for the results.

The Millennium Challenge philosophy should be applied to Iraq's
reconstruction. The Iraqi Governing Council, and the Iraqis themselves,
would decide where the money was needed most. Iraqi businesses would be in a
better position to compete directly for contracts, and hiring local
companies through transparent bidding procedures would help control costs.
Instead, under the current plan, Mr. Bremer and the coalition authority will
dole out contracts worth almost double what the American government spends
annually on all foreign assistance, and the United States will be no closer
to establishing a united and self-sufficient Iraqi government.

The Marshall Plan was also devised to be finite in cost and duration.
Congress authorized and appropriated the money after careful review each
year. The goal was to give Europeans a limited window of opportunity, not a
limitless gravy train, and to give the American people a clear voice in the
plan's operation. In contrast, the $20.3 billion proposal for Iraq and
Afghanistan is a multiyear request masquerading as an "emergency"
supplemental, meaning that lawmakers get to vote only once, and after a
relatively hurried period of consideration.

More important, the money is but a small fraction of what will be needed to
rebuild Iraq. Last month, the Bush administration estimated the cost of
reconstructing Iraq could be as much as $75 billion. Bush officials say,
optimistically, that $12 billion of that could come from Iraqi oil revenues,
and hope American allies will provide the balance. Yet only a little more th
an $3 billion in grants had been pledged by yesterday, the start of donors'
conference in Madrid. Shouldn't lawmakers know where the balance of
reconstruction funds will come from before they approve the first
installment? That doesn't mean, however, that they should bend to pressure
to transform some of the proposed grants into loans, which would further
cripple an Iraq that already has more than $100 billion in debt.

We cannot afford to fail in Iraq. Congress has a responsibility to examine
the president's request thoroughly - and it should heed the central lesson
of the Marshall Plan and use Mr. Bremer's billions to help unite Iraqis in
rebuilding their country.

Susan E. Rice, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, was assistant
secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration.

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