REBUILDING IRAQ….I know Tom Friedman gets a lot of grief from liberals, especially over his approach to war and rebuilding, but today’s column seemed spot-on to me:

Mr. Bush talks only about why it’s right to dismantle the bad Iraq, not what it will take to rebuild a decent Iraq ? a distant land, the size of California, divided like Yugoslavia. I believe we can help build a decent Iraq, but not alone. If we’re alone, it will turn into a U.S. occupation and make us the target for everyone’s frustration. And alone, Americans will not have the patience, manpower and energy for nation-building, which is not a sprint but a marathon.

Mr. Bush growls that the world is demanding that America play “Captain, May I” when it comes to Iraq ? and he’s not going to ask anybody’s permission. But with Iraq, the relevant question is not “Captain, May I?” It’s “Captain, Can I?” ? can I do it right without allies? No.

I think that’s exactly right: I too wish the rest of the world agreed with us, but the fact is that they don’t. And because of that there’s virtually no chance that the post-war rebuilding can be done in a way that actually improves our security instead of undermining it.

It’s not just the rest of the world, either. I’m reminded of a comment last month about Friedman’s appearance on Oprah as described by Jeanne d’Arc:

The interesting thing [was the reaction] to Friedman’s suggestion that war with Iraq will have to be followed by a twenty year occupation….When the camera turned to the audience after Friedman’s suggestion, you could see the shock on their faces. Mouths open. Shaking their heads. Friedman looked increasingly ridiculous saying that this twenty-year occupation is what Americans have to be prepared for, while (mostly) women looked at him as if he were out of his mind. One man in the audience, in fact, rose to tell him exactly that. Watching the show was worthwhile if only to see Friedman get taken down.

I’ll quibble with the loaded term “occupation” she uses, but otherwise this sounds about right. Improving America’s security means fostering democracy and tolerance in the Middle East, and whether your version of this is the vast neocon revolution or a more subdued humanitarian approach, it’s going to take a long time, a lot of people, and huge boatloads of money ? and even at that it might not work. Unfortunately, the American public is not prepared for this, and George Bush obviously is not willing to take the political risks necessary to sell it. He’d rather have a dividend tax cut.