Road to Democracy Will Not Be Smooth

WASHINGTON -- As officials in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush battle over the shape of an occupation government that they hope will move Iraq quickly toward democracy, some cite other countries as possible models.

There are the post-World War II success stories of West Germany and Japan. But both of those already had some experience with democracy -- and the U.S. occupation of Japan lasted seven years.

There are the post-Soviet success stories of Central and Eastern Europe, although they, too, had democracy in their histories -- and they overthrew their dictators themselves.

There is the potential success story of Afghanistan, where a new government was installed last year after U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban regime. But even Afghanistan, still plagued by warlords and a crime wave, had advantages that Iraq does not enjoy, including a traditional constitutional process to choose a new leader, and an exiled king who was willing to endorse that new leader.

There is also a story of failure -- one U.S. officials rarely mention. Israel's 1982 occupation of Lebanon, which sought to install a friendly democratic regime, collapsed in the face of international opposition and local resistance.

The lessons, officials and Middle East experts say, are clear: Building democracy is not easy. It will likely take longer, and cost more, than you'd like. Get as much international help as you can. Work with local leaders, even though you won't agree with everything they do. And don't expect perfect results.

The Bush administration has added a dilemma: It wants to get U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, but it doesn't want to cede control of the country to the United Nations or any other international body.

"We will leave Iraq completely in the hands of Iraqis as quickly as possible," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said last week.

Administration officials initially told members of Congress that they hope to turn full power over to a new Iraqi government within five months of the fall of Baghdad, but now they estimate that the job will take longer.

Many Iraq watchers think the job of ensuring basic security inside Iraq -- a job that, at least initially, will fall to U.S. and allied troops -- could require years, not months. They point to Afghanistan, where U.S. and other military forces are still at work more than a year after the Taliban's fall.

"Democratization takes time," warned Joseph Wilson IV, a former U.S. diplomat in Iraq who has been critical of the administration. "You have to have the political will to be in there for the long term. ... When ideology meets reality, we'll start backtracking and ask other [countries] to come in."

The administration has been debating three basic models for its occupation of Iraq. State Department officials proposed an international effort under some form of United Nations mandate, leading to a constitutional convention. Pentagon officials, far more skeptical of the UN, proposed a "quick handoff" to an interim authority run by Iraqis chosen with U.S. help.

The third and most likely model, officials said, is a compromise. Its first stage would be an occupation that the United States would run with help from allied countries with a modest role for the UN. The U.S. military would hand over power in a "rolling turnover," ministry by ministry, to an interim Iraqi authority administering the country until elections for a permanent government.

The plan hasn't been completed or unveiled, but it is already controversial. Some members of Congress complain that it would give too much authority to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Some officials, mostly in the State Department, worry that it will lead the Pentagon to install Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile backed by U.S. conservatives, as Iraq's de facto leader -- and that such a move would backfire. Some Middle East experts worry that the plan still looks too much like a U.S. occupation government, in a part of the world where foreign occupation of any kind has often met with dogged and violent resistance.

"In the long term, no occupation is going to be acceptable," said Judith Yaphe, an Iraq expert at the National Defense University. "Iraqis are nationalists. No country likes foreigners coming in and telling them what to do."

After weeks of furious internal debate, the administration appeared to be settling on a policy that blends elements from Pentagon and State Department proposals -- but that puts the Pentagon in charge.

"The Defense Department has been designated by the president ... as the lead agency," Rice said. She confirmed that retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner would run the U.S. postwar effort, reporting to Rumsfeld.

She said the countries that sent troops to fight in Iraq -- principally the United States and Britain -- would have "the leading role" in reorganizing the country. That position conflicts with demands from France, Germany and Russia -- all opposed to the war -- that the UN take over.

One issue that may quickly push the administration into seeking more international support is the problem of policing a postwar Iraq, officials and outside experts said.

"There will be revenge killings, and there may be a violent underground opposition," Wilson said. "That means you need a significant policing operation. If you can't do it with the Iraqi police that are still in place, you're going to have to look around the world for organizations that do policing with military discipline. We did that in Bosnia."

The main message from scholars outside the administration's debates, though, is that building democracy in Iraq is likely to be far more difficult than officials seem to recognize.

"It is possible -- just possible -- that Iraq could gradually develop into a democracy, but the task is huge, and the odds are long," wrote Larry Diamond, a democratization expert at Stanford's Hoover Institution. "Rebuilding Iraq into a responsible and lawful state will be the most financially costly and politically formidable task the United States has assumed internationally in decades."