The United States should sit down with all the allies it can muster, especially from the Arab world, to consider all the underlying causes of distress; causes like distorted religious beliefs, misunderstanding of American motives, the Palestine problem, a lack of economic opportunities, and political oppression.
In the 2000 campaign, then-candidate Gov. George W. Bush of Texas shunned "nation building" as overly aggressive, wasteful, and inefficient. He said the United States should be more "humble" as a great power.
Conservative supporters like Rumsfeld, Cheney, Pearle and Wolfowitz were at the same time pushing for "regime change" as a policy, and still are. But "regime change"-- forcing out a government of a foreign nation because we believe it to be dangerously undesirable for whatever reason -- necessarily requires that "nation building" follow . . . and that's the rub.
The Taliban in Afghanistan was a relatively easy regime to oust with our dominating military power, as was Saddam Hussein's tyrannical government in Baghdad, but now Bush's worse fears expressed in 2000 confront us, as real and daunting challenges. We are committed to "building nations" for occupancy by others, in both Afghanistan and Iraq and so far we have not been able to say Bush's 2000 dire assessment won't prove to have been accurate.
Fighting continues in Afghanistan although we have long since claimed the political credit for victory in another one-sided war. Recently, American soldiers were killed in the constant daily attacks reminiscent of the ceaseless hostilities in Israel. Our attempt at creating a new government under President Hamed Karzai is still floundering without its own army or even police force.
Five thousand intervention peacekeepers in Kabul and more than 11,000 other soldiers including Americans, are still fighting the war to find and punish al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and what remains of the fierce Taliban forces. Our presence has continued to generate virulent hostility from the locals as reports of the killing of innocent Afghans circulate throughout the embattled land; while not a mile of roadway has yet been reconstructed.
Nothing about what has happened in Iraq in recent days suggests that nation building will be easier there. We are monopolizing the process of reconstruction, awarding all the major contracts to do all the reconstruction we describe, at a price we set that will produce a total cost as high as $100 billion, which we expect Iraq to pay out of their oil revenues.
But Iraq is already heavily in debt in the amount of hundreds of billions of dollars, and needs many billions more to repair its badly damaged oil fields and to build a social infrastructure with hospitals, schools and economic underpinnings.
We also insist on controlling the process of regime design by importing Iraqi exiles to help lead it. These exiles may or may not have local support and will be subject to American military officials designated by the American political structure. Altogether, this seems a dubious way to assure a new regime "By Iraqis for Iraqis" in President Bush's words of promise.
We can leave the matter there, doubting the efficacy of our current efforts or we can be more positive and consider a change in strategy.
Why not put aside for the moment our exuberant unilateralism and sit down with all the allies we can muster, especially from the Arab world, to consider more deeply all the underlying causes of distress of those we are trying to liberate; causes like distorted religious beliefs, misunderstanding of American motives, the Palestine problem, a lack of economic opportunities, and political oppression.
Having agreed on the causes, we can get specific about helping to eliminate them by preventing Saudi Arabians from financing madrasahs that promote violence, providing humanitarian aid and helping to strengthen the economy with financing for building economic infrastructure -- factories, plants, schools, technological equipment, trade in Palestine and throughout the Middle-East.
If we insist on excluding our traditional allies out of pique, a desire to keep all the spoils of war for our own corporations, or simple arrogance -- we will diminish the chance of success and raise the prospect of our ultimate responsibility for failure
Mario Cuomo served as governor of New York State from 1982 to 1994. He is with the law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher.