Bush administration deserves some praise

In a rare and long-overdue display of rational thought, the Bush Administration this week bowed to intense political pressure and asked the United Nations to assume a vital role with the peacekeeping and reconstruction of Iraq.

The initiative is several months too late, but welcome nonetheless. Major combat operations ended four months ago, and Coalition forces have controlled Baghdad for 147 days, but post-Saddam Iraq is still a disaster. Anarchy reigns, terrorism has exploded in the region and soldiers are still dying at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, personnel issues have stalled the mission to introduce a democratic government to the country.

As military morale plummeted and tours of duty languished indefinitely, the need for international assistance grew more and more obvious. Despite that prevailing sentiment, the administration hawks have been loath to admit the unforeseen difficulties that have undermined Coalition efforts. They have also resolutely refused to consider international assistance —- until now.

The recent deployment of U.S. soldiers to Liberia, coupled with apparent miscalculations within the Pentagon, has left American forces perilously thin. Add the relative dearth of military power within the 46-member Coalition, and the war effort quickly appears overwhelmed and understaffed.

CNN reported Wednesday that Secretary of State Colin Powell has already introduced a resolution detailing international involvement to the U.N. Security Council, and that member nations were receptive to the idea. While the United States would maintain its “dominant role” and lead any multinational peacekeeping collective, the initiative provides for an increased role for other nations in political and economic matters. The tentative agreement also provides 9,000 troops as peacekeeping agents. This group, stationed Wednesday in south-central Iraq, should not represent the full military commitment of the United Nations, but the move eases the short-term burden on Coalition soldiers and establishes a foundation for future contributions of manpower.

While the need to stabilize Iraq is likely the foremost motivation for President Bush’s change of heart on international involvement, the move should also prove to be a political boon for the president. In recent months, politicians on both sides of the war debate have decried the administration’s planning and execution, and prominent foreign authorities have sharply criticized America’s conduct in the months before and after the war. Democratic presidential candidates Howard Dean and John Kerry have catapulted themselves into the national consciousness by highlighting the president’s foreign policy bungling and apparent disregard for the obligations of the post-war climate.

The widespread disapproval has made Bush seem vulnerable for the first time since 9/11. At this time last year, Bush was all but re-elected, but recent months have found his support waning, even among proponents of military action in Iraq. If this olive-branch move succeeds, the incumbent will have made an important step in addressing his critics and ensuring for himself the second term his father fumbled away. Any progress in peacekeeping will allow Bush to continue to gloss over his awful domestic record, which can only be a positive for the first president since Hoover to preside over a net-loss job economy.

Bush has done a masterful job of making the war on terror the only issue of his presidency. The American people generally have accepted this rationale, and rapid positive developments in Iraq will likely give Bush the immunity he needs to coast to another four years.

While political calculation was surely a factor in the administration’s decision to include the United Nations in Iraq, even critics must acknowledge that this is a step in the right direction for America and Iraq. Stabilizing Iraq and building international consensus are two vital objectives, and this resolution is the first step toward meeting both goals. For once, the administration deserves some praise.