Six months after President George W. Bush declared an end to the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has taken another step forward in the rebuilding of Iraq.
Thirty-three billion dollars was pledged at the international donors conference in Madrid to put Iraq back together again.
It's an effort some see as cleaning up the mess America made while others label it an example of early 21st century nation building. It is, many argue, the right thing to do for a people brutalized by a terrible regime.
For administration foreign policymakers the tens of billions put on the table represents (as so often is the case in matters related to Iraq) another chance to see the glass half full. For critics at home and abroad, however, the glass half-empty scenario will be noted as the legacy of Madrid.
The international community is used to such exercises. Raising money to rebuild the Balkans, Haiti or Afghanistan can all be used as models to one degree or another. A few nations take the lead, cajoling and squeezing millions or billions out of capitals from Tokyo to Riyadh to Ottawa. International financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund step up to the challenge pledging to guarantee loans and account for the spending of huge sums and the letting of contracts.
And the United Nations puts the "international" stamp of approval on the exercise, claiming for itself a role in the process and, at the same time, providing enough political cover for many governments who do not want to be seen as simply taking orders from Washington.
In this case some headlines will tell us $10-$20 billion was pledged at Madrid. Combine that with Washington's $20 billion (the amount the Bush administration is hoping to get from Congress for immediate use) and you've got more than enough to claim a good start, even to call it a success, which the Bush administration has.
Others noting the results will lead with fact that the international community did not pledge enough even to meet the needs of Iraq as estimated by the World Bank, some $56 billion over four years. Thus we have the glass half-full, half-empty prism through which the results of Madrid will be seen.
One of the complicating factors in assessing this or similar conferences is figuring out who's actually helping Iraq, in what ways and over what period of time. There are apples, oranges, pears, tangerines & plums in this fruit bowl of donations.
Some countries make outright grants, gifts of cash (Japan pledged $1.5 billion for 2004); others do it with credits or loans (the World Bank will loan Iraq $3-$5 billion over five years); and some do it with both (Japan will also loan Iraq $3.5 billion for 2005-2007).
Other countries put forgiveness of previous debt into their calculations (it's estimated Iraq's debt may be as high as $120 billion), and some talk in terms of encouraging private investment in Iraq as a way of helping the Iraqi people—and their own companies.
Asked if there was any country Washington would single out as being disappointed with the size of its contribution at Madrid, a senior State department official said, "no…the souk is still open. Why would you badmouth somebody…who you're looking to have a change of heart."
So Washington is looking at Madrid as a first step. "The door is still open," the senior official said. No unkind words directed at France, Germany or Russia, or even at the 15-member European Union, which, as an organization, pledged less to rebuild Iraq—$812 million in 2004—than it gave to help Afghanistan last year, $931 million.
Virtually every step the Bush administration has taken in its Iraq policy has been a mine field unto itself: the military buildup and lack of support from neighboring Turkey; the diplomatic attempts to build a meaningful and effective coalition through the U N; the appointment of a Governing Council which presumed to represent all factions of Iraqis; and, now, the attempt to encourage the world community to share the cost burden of rebuilding Iraq. Of course there are the deadly hazards American troops face on a daily basis in the form of booby traps, RPG rocket attacks and roadside ambushes.
The United States is stuck for the foreseeable future in Iraq and, although many countries are not happy about why or how the international community has come to this point, almost every political leader recognizes they will have to play some part in support of Iraq in the coming years. It may serve some short-term political needs to see Washington squirm, but it's in no one's long term interest to have the U.S. bogged down in Baghdad.
By Charles Wolfson