Cohen urges international force in postwar Iraq

Ex-defense chief calls war effort `extraordinary,' but says others must help

Postwar Iraq

April 26, 2003|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

The three-week war in Iraq represented a "truly extraordinary" achievement of the U.S. military, but the United States now needs to get over its anger at the French and other countries that opposed the war and assemble an international force in Iraq as soon as possible, former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told a meeting of the Greater Baltimore Committee yesterday.

Speaking to 100 businesspeople at the Wyndham Hotel, Cohen said that although the United States is the world's only superpower, the wisest foreign policy is to act as if there are other centers of power.

When a country gets too big and indifferent, "other countries, even your friends, start to form little coalitions against you," he said.

Cohen, who was defense secretary during the Clinton administration, is chief executive officer of the Cohen Group, a Washington-based international business consulting firm. He was joined yesterday by Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and now vice chairman of the Cohen Group.

They were in Baltimore at the request of Piper & Marbury, the law firm with which the Cohen Group has a partnership, to discuss their views on the military action in Iraq and its aftermath.

Ralston, who spent 37 years in the Air Force, said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the entity best equipped to take over peacekeeping in Iraq.

He pointed to the lesson of Bosnia, where eight years after the war, only 1,800 American troops remain there - less than 10 percent of the original U.S. force. "That's because NATO carried 90 percent of the load," he said.

Ralston said a misperception exists that NATO is divided and has "ceased to function." In fact, he said all 18 members of NATO agreed to proposals by the United States and Turkey for ways to protect Turkey during the war in Iraq, and NATO troops have performed the peacekeeping role well all over the world in recent years. "That is not a fractured organization," he said.

Among the key challenges in Iraq, Cohen said, is how to respond to the Shiite Muslims who want a theocracy rather than a democracy.

In some areas, Shiite leaders have stepped into the power vacuum created by the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime and taken on all sorts of civil duties, from directing traffic to preventing looting. Some have also called for the Americans to leave Iraq. Should the Iraqis choose a government based on religion, Cohen said, "A real question is, `Can we say no?'"

Any democracy in the gulf region must happen in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary manner, he said, adding that Unites States would be frustrated in any attempt to remake Iraq and its neighbors in the American image.

On the doctrine of pre-emption, which some members of the Bush administration advocate as a way to fight terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Cohen said the doctrine has a place when a country has good intelligence that an attack on that country is imminent. In other words, pre-emptive strikes are acceptable if a country is truly threatened.

But the United States needs to use the doctrine with caution, he said, or it risks lowering the threshold, inviting other countries involved in conflicts - countries with nuclear weapons such as India and Pakistan - to rationalize preemptive strikes.

Or, closer to home, North Korea against the United States.

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