Washington on a Quest for a Strategy
By Jean-Louis Turlin
Saturday 23 August 2003 On its face, Washington's position is contradictory. On the one hand, the United States demands more troops and more money from the international community to stabilize and reconstruct Iraq. That's the gist of the proposed resolution that they want to submit to the United Nations shortly. On the other hand, the Pentagon continues to assert that the American-British coalition has adequate troops. "Having too many troops presents a clear risk", asserts General John Abizaid, the head of the American army's central command.
In fact, the Americans are aware of the necessity to beef up security, but also of the negative impact of their too great visibility (140,000 soldiers) on the ground. They also see the political and financial cost (four billion dollars a month) of an occupation more problematic than foreseen. Hence the desire to internationalize the peace-keeping force, all the while keeping it under their control. However, events could well constrain Washington to choose (between these objectives).
That was roughly the lesson to be retained by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who succeeded one another for two days at the UN's New York headquarters. The closed door discussions included a double challenge: technical, with regard to the ways to guarantee security after the Wednesday attack that cost the life of UN special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 23 other people; and political, to enlarge the international mobilization that the Americans and their British allies desire.
Jack Straw will have once again played the conciliator between Washington and Security Council member countries which demand a major role for the UN and a distribution of responsibility. The international organization's Secretary General, Kofi Annan, rejected sending in the blue helmets, but proposed an intermediate solution: constituting an international force of the type that operates in Afghanistan, with three different commands under an American umbrella. John Negroponte, the United States' permanent representative to the UN, declared that he "would not close the door" on this route. However, for the moment, the Pentagon continues to insist on sole command. He believes that the problems of the last few days only make that more necessary.
In a more general way, Washington's exploitation of the attack against UN personnel to relaunch an appeal to good will has been poorly received at the UN. A French official even qualified it as "cynical". Washington saw it as an opportunity to force the hand of the recalcitrant among potential donors of enough troops to make a difference, those who could send 10,000 soldiers each, such as India, Turkey and Pakistan. However these countries, confronted with public opinion hostile to the war, are no less inclined to demand a solid international mandate before exposing their troops to the risks Wednesday's attack demonstrated.
So the United States will have to revise their script before submitting a new resolution proposal to the Security Council. CNN quoted a high Bush Administration official according to whom, "it's all a question of semantics. If we can write a resolution that gives countries the cover they want to send troops, of course we'll do it." It remains to be seen whether these words have the same meaning in Washington as they do in New York. Kofi Annan speculated yesterday that it would be "very difficult" for the Security Council to adopt a new resolution demanding the consignment of troops to Iraq unless the Anglo-American forces agreed "to share not only the burden, but also a decision-making role and its responsibilities."
Thursday, Colin Powell dodged the real question of internationalization by repeating that some 30 countries already furnish 22,000 soldiers. However, of this total, Great Britain represents half. Senator Joseph Biden compares the debate on internationalization in the Bush administration's interior to a "continuous war". Will the president put an end to it by coming down in favor of a broader UN mandate, knowing that internationalization is not only a question of troop strength, but also of powers? Perhaps there will be a response in the speech on Iraq he gives Tuesday in Saint Louis.
Translation: Truthout French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
Jump to TO Features for Monday 25 August 2003