RECONSTRUCTING IRAQ….Never one to let a challenge slip by, I clicked over to the Washington Post yesterday to read an op-ed by OxWife Rachel Belton in which she argues that a multinational coalition is a bad way to go about nation building:

Coalitions diffuse responsibility. When Bosnia failed to arrest war criminals, each coalition member could blame its compatriots. No one felt responsible for ensuring the legitimacy of the coalition — or the success of the country.

….Reconstruction efforts often become the battlefields for unconnected struggles between coalition members. To gain the upper hand, “internationals” dissipate their time and energy playing politics against one another.

No real argument so far. In fact I might even go further: some members of a broad coalition might be actively hoping for failure as a way to prove that they were right to oppose the war all along. Not a pretty thought, but an all too human one, I’m afraid.

Unfortunately, while Belton lists several knocks against international coalitions, she fails to address their biggest positive: they provide a broad acceptance of the effort that the United States is almost certain to lack on its own. In fact, the occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II, which she uses as examples of unilateral nation building by the U.S. military, actually contradicts her thesis. Both of these reconstruction efforts, even if they were led by the United States, had the full support of nearly the entire World War II coalition, and that was key to their success. Legitimacy was never an issue.

More important, however, is that World War II is simply a lousy historical parallel. Comparing the conclusion of a 4-week war in Iraq with the conclusion of the longest, bloodiest, war of the 20th century just doesn’t wash, and I’m surprised to see a comparison like that from a serious writer. Kosovo and Afghanistan are better examples, which she sees as failures of international cooperation, but which strike me failures of will instead. We simply haven’t been serious enough about them.

The growth of democracy in the former Iron Curtain countries is another reasonable parallel, but this doesn’t fit her thesis and therefore doesn’t get mentioned. These countries have done quite well, and a big part of the credit has to go to the EU, which provided aid, technical assistance, and the promise of eventual entry to the EU club. In this case, an international organization did quite well.

In the end, though, it turns out that Belton and I partly agree:

The United Nations and other international organizations are staffed by many capable, intelligent, well-intentioned people. They should be encouraged to run humanitarian relief efforts in Iraq and should create a broad, multilateral coalition to control Iraq’s oil revenue to expunge the accusation that this has been a war for oil.

That’s exactly right, and for the right reason: giving the UN control over oil revenue would prove ? at least partially ? that we went to war for the right reasons, and like it or not, this is something that a large part of the world doesn’t believe. In the real world, this is a compromise I could live with for now.

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