Text size

Colin Powell has a vision. He wants the State Department rather than the Pentagon to be responsible for Iraq's rehabilitation. He and his representatives did what is customarily done in Washington to achieve goals: heavy lobbying in congressional corridors. The result is that Congress decided to transfer the sum earmarked for rehabilitating Iraq, some $2.5 billion out of a $74 billion war budget, to the State Department.

Powell believes that now that the United States' military power has been demonstrated, it is time to present the humane side. If the Pentagon was responsible for the killing, the State Department must be in charge of the rehabilitation. It is doubtful whether anyone in Iraq - or the Arab states - will notice the difference.

This is the little controversy and the small booty. The medium controversy over "the day after" is between Britain and the U.S. Tony Blair wants to give the United Nations a significant role. He believes, probably justly, that two states, rich as they may be, will not be able to accomplish such a large financial project - the rehabilitation is estimated at $80 billion to $100 billion - and an international effort is required.

Blair's position also has an ideological aspect. Even if the the war is a two-state project, it is important not to create the impression that this is a private war. Britain's political vision is much broader than that of the United States', and says that if they are speaking of a new Middle East as a result of one big war, they had better at least show that they mean it.

Blair's practical interpretation is that the political process between the Palestinians and Israel must be attended to immediately, while Bush is prepared merely to present the "road map" and Powell has already made it clear that the U.S. will not be able to force the sides to sign a peace agreement. In addition, Blair does not share Bush's position regarding the "axis of evil." His foreign minister has visited Iran and Britain has an ambassador there. Bashar Assad visited London, which maintains correct if not deeper relations with Damascus.

The difference between Britain and the U.S. may be defined as the difference between the soldier and the statesman. But that is only the medium-range controversy.

The big controversy hasn't erupted yet but its preview is already running on the screens. Russia, France and Germany no longer "aspire" to an American loss in Iraq. Russia was the most explicit, with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov explaining that an American defeat would be counter to its interests, and Vladimir Putin uttered over the weekend tunes about the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Russia. Gone is the talk to the effect that whoever started the war must pay for mending its damages. Now there are "discussions" of the need to "mend the rift between the U.S. and Europe."

Those who opposed the war sobered rapidly to the realization that if war is a bad thing, losing the loot is worse. And there will be plenty of loot in Iraq, which cannot be left to a few retired American ambassadors who will be running the state, nor to a bunch of Iraqi opposition members who will start dividing Saddam Hussein's officers' villas among themselves.

Iraq is not Afghanistan, which can offer only dust, opium and snow. Whoever rules Iraq, or pulls the strings of its new rulers, will also run its oil production and marketing, its trade relations with Turkey, Iran and the Gulf states, and be able to determine to a large extent what the Arab League will look like, if it looks like anything at all after this war. He will be able to hand out benefits to Arab states and East Asian states who will want to resume sending their workers to Iraq.

The "new" Iraq will have too much money and influence to enable its rulers to stick to the subline idea of "Iraqi oil for the Iraqis."

The battle of Baghdad is not over yet, but already one can smell the fresh ink on the applications for reconstructive work. The only question left is how much room will remain for the "democratization" of Iraq or for peace in the Middle East, in the scramble after the loot.