View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Nicholas Kristof is at it again. Today's column cuts the US a little slack about handing out ricebags, and then goes on to get the rebuilding process exactly wrong. Kristof raises four points:
  • How much do we involve the UN?
  • Who from the US oversees Iraq?
  • What Iraqis do we hand power over to?
  • How long do we stay?
    Only on the last question - arguing for staying long enough to make sure democratic changes have real roots - does Kristof come even remotely close. On the other three he whiffs so badly you can feel the breeze from Baghdad.

    Kristof argues that the US military should be in charge of the physical reconstruction, while handing over the job of designing the political structure to the UN. This is exactly backwards. The last thing we need is international bureaucrats in charge of designing a government, which we rebuild bridges. No, the UN is marginally competent at handing outfood aid, and a political system we design and nourish should be able to kick them out when it's ready to.

    Kristof argues that the State Department guys, despite all their flaws, and best-suited to run the show over there. But the State Department is technically competent without vision. Putting diplomatic retreads over there is almost the same thing as asking in the UN.

    Finally, Kristof conflates the short-term political design with the long-term one. In the short-term, there's nothing the matter with making it clear that we have certain favorites. In fact, it's probably essential to making sure that democratic reforms take root, and that democratic institutions get a chance to develop. This is an entirely different matter from who wins the first Iraqi election for president. Nobody is talking about appointing a President-for-Life, and the best way to avoid getting one is to let the exiles, who've absorbed democracy from within, help set the tone and teach the country how to make them work.

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