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TUESDAY, AUGUST 2, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Post-war report merits attention of president

A task group of the Council on Foreign Relations buried some nuggets in its report on "winning the peace," but it takes a good shovel to find them.

The 65-page report devotes 22 pages to miscellaneous matters, such as biographical information about the 26-member task force that created it. Remove the biographical stuff, platitudes, self-praise and statements of the obvious and the report could fit on a Post-It note.

Those remaining nuggets are good enough, however, that President Bush might do well to affix that note to his refrigerator.

The theme of the report, "In the wake of war: Improving U.S. post-conflict capabilities," is that America failed to come up with a workable plan for post-war Iraq, and that we should begin now to prepare for our next exercise in nation-building.

More so than its specific recommendations, the report's underlying thesis is valuable. Iraq-type conflicts will become increasingly common. Rather than approach post-war reconstruction at the last minute, the authors said, America should begin now to establish concrete and durable guidelines for future reconstruction efforts.

The report concluded that the Bush administration's use of the Defense Department for peacekeeping operations in Iraq was a mistake. They would leave that job to the State Department. They would tap the national security advisor as the coordinator of civilian-military relations during post-war reconstruction.

One of the report's more interesting suggestions is that the U.S. Agency for International Development handle post-war, day-to-day reconstruction.

In future conflicts, the State Department should assign civilian USAID employees to military brigades so reconstruction efforts can begin early, the report said.

The authors also emphasized the pre-conflict and post-conflict role of the United Nations. They recommend that the United States rely on the United Nations for peacekeeping operations not because it is better, but because it is cheaper.

The report is far from earth shattering, but its effort to begin a dialogue for future unplanned but inevitable regime-change efforts could help us avoid the Iraq-style morass that plagues us now.

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