From the Editor

Help Wanted

On May 1, George W. Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln after a tailhook landing in a fighter jet. Below a huge banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished,” Bush declared victory in the “battle of Iraq.” The prime-time May Day event was perfectly scripted.

What the president’s advisers didn’t foresee was that by July, with dozens of American and British dead added to the casualty lists, the event would have a far less triumphal resonance, evoking instead the international distress call. Derived from the French m’aider—help me—“mayday” increasingly comes to mind when weighing the “mission” and what it “accomplished.”

On July 10, the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 97-to-0, passed a resolution calling on the administration to get help from NATO in the postwar war. In the clearest expression to date of a rising bipartisan tide of multilateralist sentiment, the measure asks Bush to “consider requesting formally and expeditiously that NATO raise a force for the deployment in postwar Iraq similar to what it has done in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo.”

“I don’t want every kid blown up at a checkpoint being an American soldier,” said Sen. Joseph Biden, the resolution’s sponsor. “This is the world’s problem, not just ours.”

Even if Biden’s logic stems from buyer’s remorse—he and his Senate colleagues overwhelmingly supported the military action—it will play well with the U.S. electorate, particularly among families of military personnel. And a stable Iraq would indisputably be a net gain for the world. But given the war’s unilateralist genesis, NATO may turn a deaf ear to his contention that it is now “the world’s problem.”

If Iraq counted as the war on terror’s second battle, nations asked to get on board in Iraq may want to revisit the first battleground to see what it presages. As a bellwether of postwar reclamation projects, Afghanistan offers a bleak prospect.

In a July 1 speech, Bush said that “the people of Afghanistan are moving forward with the reconstruction of their country and the founding of a democratic government.”  Yet Save the Children recently named Afghanistan among the world’s five most dangerous conflict zones for women and children. Hamid Karzai, who took office promising to unite his country, effectively functions as the president of Kabul. Warlords have carved up the rest of the territory. According to reports from the region, Al-Qaeda has reconstituted.

Afghanistan also sets a sorry example in the arena of international cooperation. Meeting in Tokyo in January 2002, a dozen nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank pledged $5.2 billion to postwar reconstruction—a fraction of the projected costs. The immediate needs of a devastated society quickly absorbed that sum, leaving the long-term task of rebuilding Afghanistan unmet.

International ill will over U.S. and British prewar claims about weapons of mass destruction colors the debate about a collaborative solution to Iraq’s postwar problems. If focus on Afghanistan flagged so quickly, there is little chance that belated U.S. enthusiasm for a multilateralist approach in Iraq will play well in foreign capitals.

Borrowing the rhetoric of an earlier White House occupant, Bush says that Iraqis and Afghans are “better off now” than they were before U.S. military operations in their countries. That claim is irrefutable when narrowly focused on the removal of tyrannical regimes. But its broader implications remain the bones of vigorous contention in the international press, where scrutiny of Afghanistan and Iraq finds echoes of  Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, and Chechnya.