COL 2 senators predict long U.S. occupation of Iraq

Lugar, Biden report on trip, say rhetoric must change

Two U.S. senators have raised a serious question that also is on the minds of most Americans.

It is the question of how long the Bush administration's experts believe it will take the United States to bring order to Iraq and turn administration of the country over to the Iraqis.

The question was raised by Sens. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, and Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, after they returned from an inspection trip to Iraq. Lugar is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Biden is its ranking Democrat.

In separate appearances on Capitol Hill, both accused the administration of failing to level with the American people about the probable duration of the effort to create a functioning government and an economy that can sustain Iraq's 25 million people.


The senators also challenged Bush to solicit help from NATO and from the United Nations in stabilizing the country. According to a Knight-Ridder Newspapers report, they said the administration needs a long-term plan that will require stationing troops there for many years and will cost billions for reconstruction.

Lugar was quoted as saying, "This idea that we will be in just as long as we need to and not a day more -- we've got to get over that rhetoric. It is rubbish. We will be there for a long time."

The senators' criticism carries more than the usual weight because it is bipartisan and because Lugar has had long experience in dealing with foreign relations.

In some respects, the administration's struggle with postwar conditions in Iraq is not surprising. The architect of the war on Iraq was Paul Wolfowitz, a deputy Defense Department secretary who is not known to have any special knowledge or experience in Iraq or the Middle East. His thesis was that the United States could win a quick war, which has been accomplished, and then turn Iraq into a democracy that would be on our side and would be a leading power in the Middle East.

The turmoil that has followed the war and the resistance of the Shiites -- a majority of the population -- to American political leadership apparently were not expected.

Of course, the U.S. forces' task has been vastly complicated by the looting and sabotage that immediately followed the war and by more recent armed resistance from some remaining sympathizers with Saddam Hussein. In addition, the administration's tendency to pursue an aggressively unilateral foreign policy makes it difficult to call for assistance from countries such as France and Germany.

; Lugar and Biden are right: The administration should acknowledge the difficulties that lie ahead in Iraq and that the occupation won't end soon. Doing so would prepare the country for the hard decisions needed for committing troops and funds for what is likely to be a long process of nation-building. ;

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