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New Spin Won't Fix Iraq

October 07, 2003

Although President Bush asserted Monday that the Iraqi "security situation is getting better," his creation of the Iraq Stabilization Group, based in the White House, spoke more loudly and truthfully.

With U.S. troops under attack in Iraq and Afghanistan and Bush's poll numbers plunging, the White House wants to exert direct control over events overseas and how they're sold to the American people. But it will take much more than new spin to make the Afghan and Iraqi interventions accomplish their key aims -- to keep these far spots from sowing terrorism that strikes at the U.S. and its allies.

Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor who will head the president's new group, should quash bureaucratic infighting and let the State Department direct the Iraq rebuilding. That effort has been handled by the Pentagon.

But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the military, so far, have grossly underestimated how hard it will be to restore the oil fields, pump the gas and turn on the lights and phones in Iraq. Rumsfeld also has been clueless and dismissive about getting allies to help. Diplomacy is not his forte, and he and his generals need to step back and let experts in this area get to work.

It will be helpful that L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the occupation authority, gets to put one of his deputies on Rice's policy group, giving him a link to Washington independent of the Pentagon.

At the same time, Rice's group also will include a media campaign. The administration argues that Iraq is a success story and that the media isn't reporting it. That's just wishful thinking and suggests that the White House has been seduced by its successful campaign for the Iraq war, in which Americans largely took it on faith that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that those devices posed an impending threat.

The weapons, however, have yet to be found, and doubts are mounting about U.S. intelligence and administration assertions that the illegal weapons would be used swiftly against the world. This is not after-the-fact doubting but a lingering, significant credibility concern, especially as nearly 200 U.S. soldiers have died since Bush declared that major combat ended in Iraq on May 1 and as the White House asks a reluctant Congress to come up with $87 billion more for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though Turkey has signaled it soon may send some troops to Iraq, the U.S. effort to get a helpful resolution at the United Nations seems to be foundering. There's no sign of new assistance, money or troops from major allies, even with the president's recent tepid and lecturing appeals. U.S. voters rightly grow more restive by the day, and the White House should realize that no amount of spin and bureaucratic maneuvering can easily stifle that.

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