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Defense commitment essential to role in rebuilding Iraq

Bob Tippee

The US Department of Defense made the right decision when it excluded from Iraqi reconstruction contracts companies based in countries opposing its operations.

The decision will remain right as long as soldiers from the US and its coalition partners are risking their lives defending the reconstruction effort.

It might take a while for that condition to change.

Until they're willing to commit troops to Iraqi security, France, Germany, Russia, and Canada shouldn't expect to work in Iraq as prime contractors.

Officials of those countries don't see it that way. They're wrong.

While coalition soldiers, supporters, and contractors are getting attacked, injured, and killed, the priority issue isn't fairness of contracting. It's security.

The important standard isn't international involvement in the reconstruction effort. It's who defends whom and how well.

The indignation expressed by countries excluded from US contracts overlooks something important: Warfare is still under way in Iraq.

The excluded countries chose last March to watch the warfare from the sidelines. To complain now about the view from the sidelines is hypocritical.

Protests against the Pentagon's decision say excluding opponents of the Iraqi invasion is no way to repair frayed relationships.

Well, first things first.

The military leaders still appropriately in charge of work in Iraq—appropriately because, to repeat, warfare remains under way there—have worries larger than popularity abroad.

To them, the moral imperatives of military leadership must take precedence over diplomatic sensitivities related to international business.

One of those imperatives is that no one should perish while defending work that profits countries unwilling to participate in the defense. That the Pentagon limited its exclusion to prime contracts is, against this principle, too conciliatory.

"If a country decides to contribute forces to Iraq," said Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita in an announcement of the decision, "[its contractors] would immediately be eligible for consideration."

That statement annuls complaints that the US is using Iraqi contracts to punish countries that didn't join it in driving Saddam Hussein from power.

And it's precisely the right condition for participation in Iraqi reconstruction until warfare ceases.

(Author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)


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