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Iraq: U.S. Says It Is Committed To Rebuilding After War

  • Andrew Tully

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush says it is prepared to undertake a massive humanitarian mission to provide food and medicine to the Iraqi people in case of war, and to help rebuild the country's infrastructure.

Washington, 11 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Even before a single missile has been launched against Iraq, the United States is lining up companies to help rebuild the country in the event of a war.

Washington's principal foreign aid office, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), says it is soliciting bids from a limited number of American companies as the principal contractors to rebuild Iraqi seaports, airports, schools, and health services.

A spokeswoman for USAID -- who asked not to be identified -- tells RFE/RL that only a limited number of bids will be accepted because of what she called the "urgent" circumstances.

The spokeswoman could not confirm a report in an American newspaper, "The Wall Street Journal," that the initial cost of the Iraqi aid is estimated at around $900 million. Nor could she confirm that one of the companies that is expected to bid for the work is Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of the Halliburton Company.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is the former chief executive of Halliburton. He resigned in 2000 and sold his stock in the company when he made his successful run for office with President George W. Bush.

For the past half-century, the United States has had a history of investing in countries where it intervenes militarily. Most prominent are Germany and Japan, which it helped to defeat in World War II, and which it helped to rebuild as economic models for Europe and Asia.

In the 1980s, the United States sent troops, then economic aid, to the Caribbean island nations of Grenada and Haiti, and to the Central American nation of Panama. Most recently, it sent its military, and its money, into the Balkans and, in late 2001, into Afghanistan.

But analysts interviewed by RFE/RL say that with the notable exceptions of Germany and Japan, U.S. postwar aid has seldom been adequate for rebuilding. And with many people around the world -- including millions of Americans -- opposing a war against Iraq, they say Bush has been careful to show that such action would have benefits broader than merely eliminating a dictator and his alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Bush will be as carefully watched for his conduct of the postwar peace as he will be for how he might wage war. That's according to Arthur Helton, the director of Peace and Conflict Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a private policy research center in New York.

Helton tells RFE/RL that U.S. aid to Kosovo, for example, was not as robust as many observers thought it should be. And he said U.S. aid to Afghanistan, which has been flowing for about a year, has not yet shown significant results: "It's quite important for the administration to demonstrably win the peace in an effort to win the war. I do believe that the administration and the military planners accept that point and are trying to ready themselves to do a better job than they have done in other places, such as Afghanistan or Kosovo or elsewhere."

Thomas Carothers agrees. He is the vice president for studies and co-director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank.

Carothers says the United States has historically felt a sense of responsibility to rebuild countries it has defeated in war. But he says Washington's interest in such countries wanes early, even while these countries still need assistance. Carothers says Iraq might be different: "We say that every time. We always say we're going to make it last, and usually we don't. Sometimes we do. I think that Iraq is unusually important because of its central position in the Middle East and its oil, and so [the United States will] have a greater incentive to stay involved than we've had in places that are less important, like Panama and Haiti."

Helton says the United States would likely maintain an adequate flow of assistance to Iraq after a war because it would be in Washington's interest to demonstrate to the world -- and to American voters -- that Bush is not merely interested in settling old scores with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, or gaining control of Iraq's oil.

Carothers says the Bush strategy is meant to placate public opinion not only after a war, but beforehand, as well: "Bush has really tried in the closing weeks of this to emphasize that the U.S. intentions are good, [that] we're going to help the people of Iraq. So he's got to come through now with some ideas, some talk about how much aid there's going to be. So it's absolutely part of the plan to convince the public this is a good thing to do in a broader sense."

And Helton says there is another prewar consideration for Bush -- to remind nations with seats on the UN Security Council that they may lose both financially and in world public opinion if they are not poised from the start to support what Bush calls a "war of liberation" of the Iraqi people. Still, Helton says, the focus of the aid effort is to gain public support for the war in the United States:

"Undoubtedly that quid pro quo, that notion of joining to consolidate to win the peace, is a leitmotif in those Security Council negotiations. But I think the precise issue is more directly addressing what might be seen as soft support [for war] among the American people."

Helton says the help of a rich and powerful nation, such as France or Germany, during a war with Iraq would greatly ease the burden that is now being borne primarily by the United States and Britain. And he says such help would be equally welcome in postwar Iraq. Both France and Germany, however, oppose U.S. military action against Iraq at this time.