By JOHN F. KERRY
In the coming weeks the president and Congress will take actions with serious consequences for our standing in the world, Middle East peace, our strength and security at home and the lives of hundreds of thousands of U.S. personnel in Iraq. The challenge is great; we must get it right.
There is no easy way out of Iraq. Despite presidential proclamations, the mission is not accomplished, and it won't be soon. While the administration foolishly promised that American forces would be welcomed as liberators and return home in months, the reality, as so many warned, is far more complicated.
Iraq's ethnic, tribal, religious and political divisions pose a challenge for forging a new government under the best of circumstances. As long as Iraqis see us as "occupiers" rather than "liberators," they will not unite under an American-imposed government or even begrudgingly accept a large American military presence.
That is why since President Bush declared an end to the fighting, more than 150 Americans have died, along with religious leaders, United Nations officials, and countless Iraqis. There are too many interests, too willing to use violence, to expect
that the killing will end soon.
The cost of occupation and reconstruction is also disturbing. Before and during the war, the administration grossly underestimated the cost of the operation with predictions ranging from the ludicrous "oil self-financing scheme" to about $50 billion. One Bush official estimated a total cost of $100 billion to $200 billion; he was fired.
Now a year later, Congress will likely have appropriated over $160 billion, and the nation is on track to spend $350 billion to $400 billion over five years.
The Bush administration has only now begun to admit the magnitude and nature of the problems we face in Iraq. President Bush was right that Saddam Hussein needed to be held accountable. But he was wrong to believe America could wage the war and win the peace alone.
America's military - the greatest fighting force ever assembled - carried the burden of war without faltering, and Saddam and his henchmen are scattered. But a peaceful, stable Iraq will require a government trusted by the governed, laws that are enforced, freedoms that are protected and the rebuilding of the nation's infrastructure. The burden of peacemaking must be
shared by the international community - not America's military alone.
I have called for the president to seek a new United Nations resolution that would authorize America to command a Multi-National Force - drawn from allied armies around the world - to keep the peace. They will hunt down terrorists and provide a security presence in the streets. Some should come from the Arab world so that Iraqis see fellow Muslims working for
peace in their land.
This resolution would also shift responsibility for the creation of an independent Iraqi government and for reconstruction to the United Nations. Putting governance and rebuilding Iraq under the authority of the United Nations would change our role from an occupying force to protectors of U.N.-sponsored security, making it easier to increase international participation and funding, both military and civilian.
Such a resolution would mean that we could begin a process of bringing home some of our troops and reducing the threat to those still serving in Iraq. It would open the door to sharing the economic cost of reconstruction among many nations. And it would show the Iraqi people and the rest of the Arab world that rebuilding Iraq is not an American occupation but an international campaign.
It will be a great test for Secretary of State Colin Powell to secure such a resolution. Prior to 9/11, the president derided international cooperation. With 30-second sound bites of blustering unilateralism he scuttled environmental and arms-control treaties that took years and hundreds of countries to create.
Even after 9/11, Cabinet officials sought to divide our oldest allies with divisive and regrettable posturing about an "old" and "new" Europe. Success now will require a great philosophical change by the president and his administration - and if they fail, America will pay a price in treasure and blood.
Congress must also move in a new direction. The cost of Iraq can no longer be ignored. Already we're shortchanging homeland security, education, health care and many other needs to pay for Iraq and President Bush's unfair tax cuts. Senator Joe Biden and I have offered legislation to repeal tax cuts for individuals whose income are in the top 1 percent, and use the savings to pay for President Bush's $87 billion request for Iraq.
With 130,000 troops sacrificing every day in Iraq, terribly unfunded domestic programs and historic debt growing in Washington, it is an equitable and responsible proposal. And I am confident that these patriotic Americans are prepared to sacrifice as well.
To win the peace in Iraq and support for this endeavor at home, the administration must put away its pride and rise above earlier disagreements with our allies, pursue a meaningful U.N. resolution, and pay for this operation without increasing the debt for future generations of Americans.
JOHN F. KERRY is a U.S. senator from Massachusetts and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.