President Bush meets Monday in Northern Ireland with British
Prime Minister Tony Blair for talks that will include the
politically touchy topic of Iraq's postwar reconstruction - an issue
that is hardly settled in Washington.
The fierce battle, which is playing out between the State
Department and the Pentagon over who will win what reconstruction
role, may look like insider politics, but its impact will be widely
felt. The outcome will largely determine everything from how a
multibillion-dollar Iraq remake is paid for and which Iraqis gain
the upper hand in a postwar government, to how America deals with
the world for years to come.
"These are uncharted waters for the United States. We don't know
what we're getting into, but the route we take will influence so
much - even who our friends are and how the United Nations functions
in the future," says Charles Dunbar, a former US ambassador to
several Middle Eastern countries.
White House moves
The White House took steps Friday to calm speculation swirling
around the reconstruction question. National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice said that an "interim authority" planned for
tapping Iraqis will include those both inside the country and from
the exile community.
The US will take the lead in both immediate relief work and long-
term reconstruction, she said, because the US and coalition
countries have paid for that right "with life and blood." The
international community, especially the UN, will have a role to play
- although Dr. Rice said it is "yet to be determined."
The White House envisions the Defense Department as the lead
force in the reconstruction effort, with Mr. Bush already
designating Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon to
spearhead post-conflict relief and rebuilding work.
In essence, Mr. Rumsfeld wants Iraq's reconstruction to be - and
to appear to the world, for the purposes of the all-important public-
relations battle - a largely American affair. This vision allows
little room other than a humanitarian role for international
agencies such as the UN, which the Pentagon's civilian leadership
views as having not only lost the "relevancy test" Bush laid out for
it, but also worked against America's security interests.
In some ways, it's a classic "to the victor go the spoils" vision
of postwar planning. Pentagon planners, backed by Vice President
Dick Cheney, believe the remodeling of postwar Iraq is too important
to trust to "failed" institutions and dubious friends. Rumsfeld also
favors a central role for Iraqi exile groups that the Pentagon has
built a close relationship with over recent years. That includes the
Iraqi National Congress and its leader, Ahmad Chalabi.
The State Department scenario, which Secretary of State Colin
Powell talked up with European allies in a quick trip across the
Atlantic last week, envisions a broader role for international