By Rep. Duncan Hunter
Over the next year, the United States will undertake the final phase of its most difficult foreign policy challenge in decades: transforming a war-torn country with a history of brutal tyranny and a Stalinist economy into a free nation with economic vitality, religious tolerance and political stability.
There is much good news from the reconstruction effort. Crude oil exports are up sevenfold from last summer. Power generation will soon surpass pre-war levels. Ninety percent of Iraqi children are to receive routine immunizations by year's end. Nearly half a million new jobs have been created in Iraq, the country's new currency has stabilized, and the Baghdad stock exchange is to open later this month.
Although the situation remains serious in parts of Iraq, particularly the so-called "Sunni Triangle," the security outlook is also improving. Iraq is well on its way to meeting its personnel needs for both internal and external security posts. U.S. force requirements will decline as more Iraqi recruits make their way to the country's city streets and border lines.
The United Nations has the opportunity to play an important role in this multilateral reconstruction effort. For starters, Secretary-General Kofi Annan could encourage much-needed humanitarian assistance and financial donations from the international organization's wealthiest members, including France and Germany, who have yet to open their checkbooks. He could also encourage troop contributions from militaries with unique capabilities to offer.
This type of work is what the United Nations does best.
Also, the United Nations might consider pressuring regional governments to halt their support of foreign fighters operating in Iraq. Some of these insurgents have been captured with official Syrian documents stating jihad, holy war, as their reason for travel.
Annan's recommendations on how to choose a new provisional government will be considered by Iraq's stakeholders. But the Iraqi people working with the U.S.-led coalition are most able and qualified to determine Iraq's best path to democracy.
Even if the United Nations were capable of taking responsibility for such a large-scale project, handing over authority to its bureaucracy would likely delay a smooth transition to democracy.
A U.N. takeover at this late date would add another layer of red tape, slowing the decision-making process. Internal factions opposed to democratic progress might also attempt to play U.N. officials against the coalition and its Iraqi supporters - much like Saddam Hussein divided the Security Council in the years leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Ultimately, real security and legitimacy can only come from the Iraqi people. Speaking recently on the handover during a Middle East Television Network interview, President Bush said we "look forward to working with the United Nations to help the process along, to add some international legitimacy to what the Iraqis think is necessary to move the process toward a new constitution and elections."
The United Nations still has a chance to contribute meaningfully and positively to the reconstruction effort in Iraq. Like many Americans and Iraqis, I hope it does.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is a 12-term and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Readers may write to him at 2265 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.
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