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Even critics of President Bush, to their credit, were willing to see the virtue in his recent call for U.N. help in Iraq. Too bad, then, that attempts to internationalize the reconstruction effort are going nowhere.

The default rift between the U.S. and Britain and other U.N. Security Council members is as stubborn as ever, with France, Germany, and China urging a quick turnover of power to Iraqis, and Secretary of State Colin Powell calling that “totally unrealistic.” Those countries aren’t prepared to sign on to a joint-effort in Iraq without the United States relinquishing significant control and agreeing to an accelerated timetable for Iraqi self-government. The resolution drafted by Washington is essentially all quid and no quo.

It seems the hole the Bush administration has dug for itself just keeps getting deeper. Originally banking on a significant quotient of foreign troops, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday that estimates are meagre — about enough for about one division. And USA Today suggests that even that estimate might be highball. At this point, even non-veto wielding U.N. countries like India refuse to send troops into the fray — unless by U.N. mandate.

That’s to say nothing of the increased costs of the war. Even the budget-busting $87 billion figure President was an underestimate, as Vice President Dick Cheney, according to MSNBC, sheepishly conceded that the administration might have to ask for even more money.

The administration is playing all this as if it goes with the territory: war is hell, and unpredictable. But some say a little forward thinking wouldn’t have hurt. Matt Miller of Tom Paine.com says the prez’s ill-planned war effort goes beyond fiscal irresponsibility into the realm of “fiscal immorality”:

“…[T]he key point … is that since this war was conducted at a time of our choosing, there is no excuse for not having properly planned for the postwar scenario and for not having managed our international relationships to assure that the burden of Iraq’s renewal is shared, along with its benefits.”

If only the administration had listened to miliatry analysts instead of firing them. Miller points out that White House economic adviser Larry Lindsey’s firing was in part a punishment for having aired the view that Iraq would cost $100 billion to $200 billion. (The current total is about $166 million.) And Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay of the American Prospect report that the administration was forewarned about sending troops into Iraq without sufficient international support:

“… Gen. Eric Shinseki, the outgoing chief of the Army staff… before the war had warned that it would take at least 200,000 troops to stabilize postwar Iraq. To sustain such a deployment for anything more than a few months would require a significant contribution of forces from other countries — hence the insistence of many that Washington should go to war only if it had secured commitments by others to participate in the postwar phase. America might win the war largely on its own, [Shinseki and other military officers] argued, but it would require the support of others to win the peace.

Bush and his advisers would have none of it. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz dismissed Shinseki’s estimate as ‘way off the mark.’ He also told Congress in late February that it was ‘hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in a post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself.'”

Looks like Shinseki was right — and now, Daalder and Lindsay write, there are indeed 180,000 troops in Iraq. To bring them home would require putting reinforcements in their place, but “the major military powers — France, Germany, India, Turkey and Russia — say they won’t join a U.S.-led occupation force.” It’s costing the U.S. $1 billion a week to keep the troops in Iraq — and chances are they’ll be there for at least a year or two.

Little aid and fewer troops aren’t just proof of Bush’s failed cowboy unilateralism — they’re indicative of what’s really happening in Iraq. According to the Agence France-Presse, Iraq’s 2004 budget of $14 million will depend largely on foreign aid — and guess which country will likely shoulder that burden? The promise of Iraqi oil production has been thwarted by sabotage, and the country is well below its pre-war level of 2.5 million barrels a day. And weary U.S. troops are “seriously overworked,” a United Press International article on the Military.com website reports:

“Currently the conflict sucks up 161,500 U.S. troops, including 8,000 National Guardsmen — and women — and 12,000 Army Reservists. Excluding the Reservists and National Guard volunteers, that means 140,000 regular Army troops are still bogged down in Iraq, a nation of 25 million people, and Kuwait. That is a full 20 percent of the entire manpower of the U.S. Army.

Yet even with that relatively massive force there, the Army is critically undermanned for the job of maintaining security and rebuilding civic society in Iraq, as virtually all experts who are not government spokesmen agree.”


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