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Rebuilding Iraq

A time for humility

A Boston Globe Editorial, 4/15/03

    Rebuilding Iraq


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PRESIDENT BUSH and his senior advisers have shown they are willing to brandish a big stick against Saddam Hussein; now they will have to muster the wisdom to walk softly. The virtues needed for the postwar period will be the humble comportment Bush promised in foreign policy when he first took office and the shrewdness to keep in sight the nation's long-term strategic interests.

Within Iraq and for the region, the Bush team will need to keep the promises it made during the run-up to the war. Above all, Washington must help make possible a democratic government in Iraq that respects human rights and the rule of law. But US officials will have to strike a difficult balance. Even as they help Iraqis overcome 35 years of terror and suffering, Americans will have to confine themselves to the role of democracy's enablers, not imposers of an American fiat.

Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair must also live up to their pledge to shepherd Israel and the Palestinians toward the negotiated peace envisioned in the road map drawn up in cooperation with Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations.

If there is to be meaningful progress in Mideast peacemaking or in the fostering of Iraqi democracy, hawks in the administration will have to refrain from loose talk about toppling other nasty regimes in the region. Syria under Bashar Assad has been following an erratic course, cooperating closely with the CIA in the war against Islamist terrorists but indulging in a dangerous collaboration with Saddam, once the bitterest enemy of Assad's father. Bashar also continues to facilitate the provocations of Hezbollah, the Iranian-guided Lebanese Shiite militia that still fires across the Lebanese border into Israel.

Saddam's fall can have dramatic effects on Damascus. The example of representative government in formerly Baathist Iraq will be alluring to Syrians, who may know now what they are missing but will then have next door a proof that the goal of popular sovereignty is attainable.

Similarly in Iran, US military threats can only retard a popular movement to replace theocratic rule with democracy. That yearning has been fed by the corruption and incompetence of Iran's clerical hard-liners. If Iraqi Shiites -- 60 percent of that country -- achieve self-government, their precedent will have a powerful effect on Iranian Shiites.

This is the time for Washington to sheathe the sword and repair frayed relations with Russia and Germany and even France. Their leaders have conducted policies based on the worrisome notion that it is more important to counteract the overbearing American superpower than to liberate Iraqis. If those leaders are to resume being partners or allies, the Bush team will have to show sage consideration for the interests of other states.

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