By JAY GARNER
I would be the last person to suggest that anyone has the power to predict the future, but I have been around the Iraq situation long enough to understand what likely could occur in the weeks and months after the Jan. 30 election.
None of it looks good, nor does any particular outcome necessarily suggest a clear exit for the United States. But that dilemma should not discourage the Bush administration from honing a complete strategy.
The time for thinking about easy exits expired long ago. When this nation made the decision to take the lead in using military force to topple Saddam Hussein, it accepted -- or should have accepted -- a whole host of possibilities, all of them pretty ugly in terms of their potential for instability, terrorism, anti-Americanism, destruction and casualties.
But the future does not have to unfold as has the recent past. For every likely outcome in Iraq, the United States must have a plan. And, just as important, it must have a clear sense of who is leading U.S. interests in Iraq.
Frankly, I couldn't tell you who's in charge right now. Come hell or high water, though, that blurry leadership must become sharply focused after the election.
If the best-case scenario happens -- that is, most Iraqis participate in the election, violence is controlled and the voting is reasonably free and fair -- it will not create an opening for the United States to declare "mission accomplished" and bring its troops home. Other outcomes, such as an upsurge in violence or a total collapse of the emerging Iraqi system, also are possibilities.
President George W. Bush should be drafting detailed plans to deal with any of those outcomes, with an emphasis on ending unwanted foreign intervention, encouraging political viability and stabilizing the economy.
In any event, he should declare the equivalent of a Truman Doctrine. The Bush Doctrine for Iraq would tell neighboring, meddlesome nations such as Syria and Iran in unequivocal terms that they had better stay out of Baghdad's affairs -- or else. That would give Iraqis a chance to figure out where they are headed politically.
The Bush administration should give up on its unworkable idea of a strong national government in Iraq and publicly embrace the only system that is likely to work: a weak federal arrangement with several largely autonomous provinces that allows Iraq's multiple ethnic and religious groups -- the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurds -- control over their own communities. In addition, the administration should be hands-on in the development of an Iraqi constitution that guarantees minority rights.
Then the White House should focus its attention on the welfare of the Iraqi people. You would not know it from reading most news accounts, but the Iraqi people have suffered far more from the intervention than has the United States. In fact, many Iraqis are worse off now than they were under Saddam.
We have had ample opportunity to fix that mess. With a few exceptions, we have not done much. We need nothing short of a Marshall Plan for Iraq, a great and bold initiative that would give the country's people a sense of economic security.
The plan could start with a simple and long-lasting step, the giving of $1,000 to each Iraqi family in return for a peaceful gesture, such as the turning in of a working weapon.
Oil, gas trust fund
Beyond that immediate infusion, the United States needs to look long term, toward an oil and gas trust fund -- similar to what Alaskan residents have. In the Iraqi case, a trust fund would guarantee a portion of the country's oil and gas revenues for each province and for each Iraqi. Under that structure, should terrorists attack Iraq's oil and gas sector, they would incur the wrath of the entire population. An oil and gas trust fund also would demonstrate to the Iraqi people and the entire world that the United States harbors no claim on Iraq's resources.
Further, the administration should require all contractors to employ Iraqi subcontractors. Such a step would assist in training a future Iraqi work force. As well, the United States should invite the Russians, French and others who have been shut out of Iraq's reconstruction to return based on their nations' willingness to forgive their respective portions of Iraq's debt.
Finally, the administration should focus on Iraq's unemployed youth. Those young people provide the base of recruitment for the terrorists. Again, we should look to history. Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration came up with the Civilian Conservation Corps that not only employed some 3 million young people during the Great Depression, it aided in restoring the economy and providing new infrastructure.
Such a holistic approach by the administration would not only enhance U.S. security efforts beyond the borders of Iraq, it would also present a political and economic olive branch to the Iraqi people and the future Iraqi government.
X Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner is the former director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Post-War Iraq. He wrote this article for the Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.