May 23, 2003
Senators Sharply Criticize Iraq Rebuilding Efforts
ASHINGTON, May 22 — Democratic senators assailed the Bush administration's postwar reconstruction effort in Iraq today, peppering Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz with complaints about the planning and execution of the strategy. Even Republicans joined in, offering pointed criticisms of the administration's performance.
Lawmakers have been stewing for weeks over the administration's failure to consult in depth with Congress about the costs, methods and goals of rebuilding Iraq, and some of those frustrations boiled over at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The concerns from lawmakers underscored the challenges facing the administration not only in Iraq, but also in maintaining support in Congress, allied capitals and among the American public for the difficult and dangerous postwar mission.
"I am concerned that the administration's initial stabilization and reconstruction efforts have been inadequate," said Senator Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican who heads the committee. "The planning for peace was much less developed than the planning for war." Mr. Lugar said the physical and political reconstruction of Iraq could take at least five years.
In a particularly testy exchange, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the panel's senior Democrat, berated Mr. Wolfowitz for the administration's failure to acknowledge publicly that the postwar efforts would cost billions of dollars, require years of involvement and get the United States bogged down just as it is in the Balkans.
"When is the president going to tell the American people that we're likely to be in the country of Iraq for three, four, five, six, eight, 10 years, with thousands of forces and spending billions of dollars? Because it's not been told to them yet." Mr. Biden said. "I don't know about you, but home constituency doesn't understand that. They think Johnny and Jane are going to come marching home pretty soon."
Mr. Wolfowitz said the pace of reconstruction was hard to pre- dict. "It's possible that things will go faster," he said.
When he tried to discuss Iraq's resources for rebuilding the country — notably its enormous oil fields — Mr. Biden cut him off.
"What are the resources?" Mr. Biden demanded. "For us just to get to the point where we're talking about increasing to 1 million barrels per day export, there's going to be a need for a $5 billion investment in the oil fields to get to that point."
In his opening statement, Mr. Wolfowitz acknowledged that security, especially in Baghdad, was still a problem, but he said that media reports of looting, lawlessness and violence in the Iraqi capital overlooked improving conditions there and in other Iraqi cities.
He reaffirmed the administration's long-term commitment to rebuilding Iraq, and ticked off a list of initial successes, from the availability of electricity in Basra all day long for the first time in 12 years, to the reopening of primary schools throughout Iraq.
"We cannot afford to fail," Mr. Wolfowitz told the senators. "We cannot afford to allow Iraq to revert to the remnants of the Baathist regime that now ranges throughout Iraq in their desperate bid for influence and power."
But even as he sought understanding for the difficulties confronting a monumental rebuilding task that has been under way for only a month or so, Mr. Wolfowitz was greeted with skepticism from many senators.
Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, said in a statement that "we may have underestimated or mischaracterized the challenges of establishing security and rebuilding Iraq."
Democrats were far more punishing in their assessments.
"It is very hard to fathom what the administration's strategy is with respect to the immediate stabilization of the situation, let alone the longer-term reconstruction of Iraq," Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, said in a statement.
Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, accused the administration of squandering a well executed military campaign with "a half-baked plan for reconstruction."
"Answers from the administration about the scope of the job, and the likely requirements in terms of U.S. manpower, resources and time, remain vague at best," he said in a statement.
Mr. Wolfowitz acknowledged that the administration misjudged how quickly qualified Iraqi police officers could be trained and assigned to duty and that Pentagon officials erred by not having Jay Garner, the first civilian administrator, brief lawmakers more fully before leaving for the Persian Gulf in March. Otherwise, Mr. Wolfowitz gave a spirited defense of the Pentagon's planning for the war's aftermath.
He said he stood by his criticism of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, who suggested in February that it could take "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" to stabilize Iraq. Mr. Wolfowitz said he interpreted that to mean 300,000 troops or more, and the Pentagon did not envision needing that many.
Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who joined Mr. Wolfowitz, said there were 145,000 American troops in Iraq with 18,000 more from the Army's First Armored Division on the way. Beyond that, General Pace said, there are no plans to increase American force levels. There are also about 20,000 British troops in Iraq.
Mr. Wolfowitz also defended a decision by L. Paul Bremer III, the new civilian administrator, to delay the selection of an interim civilian Iraqi authority until security improved and American officials took more time to vet Iraqi representatives.
"If the situation in Iraq is somewhat messy now," he said, "it's likely to seem even messier as Iraqis sort out their political process."