A Preview of Kerry Foreign Policy

An influential Washington think tank with close ties to the Kerry presidential campaign is calling for Washington to send 25,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq, even as the U.S. supposedly gives the Iraqis more authority.

In a 12-page report released as the Bush administration formally transferred limited sovereignty to the interim government, the Center for American Progress (CAP) argued for changes in U.S. strategy in Iraq. Some of these are likely to coincide with those urged by senior State Department officials who, with the dissolution of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the establishment of a huge U.S. embassy in Baghdad, will play a much more critical role in devising U.S. policy.

That policy should be guided by several principles over the next 18 months, according to the report, “Iraq After June 30: A Strategy for Progress.” Washington should ensure that the return of sovereignty should be genuine; U.S. aid and other operations should be more transparent; Congress’ oversight role should be enhanced; and the interim government should be encouraged to promote constructive relations with neighbors, possibly including Iran and Syria, who are interested in a peaceful and stable region.

The report, which is authored by several former senior Clinton administration officials, also echoes the current administration’s arguments in favor of persuading U.S. allies to “provide financial and military support to operations in Iraq.” Since Washington made significant concessions at the UN in getting the latest Security Council resolution, the argument goes, “the burden is now on our allies to fulfill their end of the bargain.”

Though more detailed, the report expands on Kerry’s recent stump rhetoric, and given that CAP is headed by Clinton’s former chief of staff John Podesta, it probably reflects what a Democratic administration would try to do if it were in power.

Like Kerry, it rules out any near-term withdrawal of U.S. troops, which, according to Podesta, “would be a disaster for Iraq and the Iraqi people, a disaster for the United States, and a disaster for the world.”

“Iraq today represents a greater national security threat to the United States than when Saddam Hussein was in power,” he said.

While CAP has been bitingly critical of the Bush administration’s performance before, during and after the Iraq war, the program it is putting forward may not be all that different from what the Bush State Department has now been empowered to do. Some aspects of the CAP program, on the other hand – particularly those calling for a substantial reduction in U.S. influence over aid and the economy – may be too much for the administration to swallow.

The “strategy for progress” cites challenges and threats in four major areas, including security, governance, economic reconstruction, and the treatment of detainees.

On security, the report makes eight specific recommendations, beginning with the addition of 25,000 troops to the approximately 140,000 currently in Iraq. “That has to be done,” said Lawrence Korb, a senior CAP fellow and former Pentagon official under Reagan who contributed to the report.

The report also calls for the conclusion of a status of forces of agreement (SOFA) regarding the relationship between U.S. forces, including private contractors, and Iraqi authorities. In a break from previous practice in most poor countries that host U.S. forces, details of any SOFA worked out with the interim government should be made public.

In addition, the report calls for NATO to assume a formal role in Iraq that would ensure a more sustainable force, reduce the U.S. “footprint” in the country, and open the door to broader participation by non-NATO countries, “especially moderate Muslim countries.”

“Given global attitudes toward the Bush administration,” the report notes, “this has to be viewed as a long and difficult diplomatic undertaking.”

Optimally, according to Korb, U.S. forces should report to NATO.

Other priorities include securing Iraq’s borders; increasing international involvement in the training of Iraqi security forces; reducing the number of the more than 20,000 private security contractors in Iraq; and immediately transferring the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which is tasked by the CIA to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), to the UN verification and inspection operations.

On governance, the report calls for Washington to “do everything possible to take its fingerprints off the internal political affairs of Iraq.” Podesta attacked the issuance of nearly 100 last-minute decrees by CPA chief Paul Bremer as counterproductive in that respect. “One has to wonder what Mr. Bremer was thinking,” he said.

To reduce U.S. visibility, the report calls for the appointment of a new Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to take the lead as chief international facilitator of the political transition.

More specifically, the report calls for the creation of an Iraq Contact Group made up of representatives of key countries that would play an advisory role for the new UN Special Representative; a substantial financial contribution to the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (INAMI); and confining the work of the new U.S. embassy, slated to be the world’s largest, to protecting U.S. interests there.

In that connection, U.S. personnel devoted to supporting political or economic reconstruction in Iraq should be transferred whenever possible to UNAMI.

In addition, Washington should encourage the interim government to accelerate timetables for holding local and regional elections in Iraq before January next year – when national elections are tentatively scheduled – in order to give citizens more responsibility over local affairs.

Finally, Washington should encourage the Special Tribunal for Iraq to work out an agreement with the UN for broader international participation and urge the government to remove the tribunal’s current administrator, Salem Chalabi, “in order to counter perceptions that the tribunal is an American-dominated institution designed to settle old scores.” Salem Chalabi is the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi, a former exile strongly supported by the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. The latter Chalabi has fallen out of favor with the White House and has long been distrusted by the State Department and the CIA.

On reconstruction, the report calls for much greater transparency in the awarding and implementation of contracts, and the elimination of favoritism toward large U.S. companies such as Halliburton.

More specifically, Iraqis should be given greater authority to manage, with oversight, much of the $12 billion in U.S. reconstruction aid that remains to be spent from last fall’s aid package. In addition, more contracts should be opened to allow local non-governmental organizations and businesses to bid independently, rather than through U.S. companies.

Programs that provide more jobs and basic social services, particularly for demobilized soldiers and militia members, should be given much higher priority compared to major infrastructure projects that are being handled mainly by big U.S. construction companies, according to Gayle Smith, who directed Africa affairs in the Clinton White House.

Former Secretary of State James Baker’s mandate to negotiate debt relief for Iraq should be broadened to including marshalling financial support for reconstruction, while new efforts should be made to persuade Kuwait to forgive Iraq’s outstanding reparations for its 1990-91 invasion and occupation.

Meanwhile, CPA contract records should be fully audited by the international watchdog agency established for that purpose, while the interim government should be encouraged to create an oil trust fund with a board consisting of both Iraqis and international representatives, and another independent body should be established to monitor oil revenues and how they are spent.

On the treatment of detainees in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the report calls for Washington to recommit itself to full application of the Geneva Conventions and establish a permanent committee to monitor prison conditions throughout Iraq.

“This remains a serious credibility challenge even as we speak,” said P.J. Crowley, who also contributed to the report and served on Clinton’s national security council staff.

The U.S. should also remove civilian contractors from U.S.-led interrogation teams and order an independent investigation of all U.S. prisons abroad.

Under the Geneva Conventions, the occupying power is duty-bound when the occupation terminates, as it supposedly did Monday, to release all prisoners or transfer them to the custody of the interim government, which must charge them with specific offenses or let them go, according to the report.

Copyright Antiwar.com

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.