UN Role Won't Fix the U.S. Mess in Iraq
By William Pfaff
Thursday 04 September 2003
PARIS - The Bush administration and its supporters continue to react to the deteriorating situation in Iraq with shock and denial. Denial is to be expected from the intellectual authors of the war, such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld (leaving aside our phantom vice president, Richard Cheney).
It is less easily understood from those in the opposition who, like the administration, are taking refuge in remedies that have little chance of being adopted, such as placing the occupation under nominal UN authority, with the United States still in charge.
US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says the Bush administration is "considering" a US-commanded multinational force endorsed by the United Nations.
The idea is that India, Turkey, Germany, and even France would send troops to Iraq for a UN-approved occupation -- still under US command -- allowing part of the American force to be rotated out.
With such an arrangement, it is thought, the governments convoked to a donors conference in October would make financial pledges to reconstruction, which L. Paul Bremer, head of the occupation authority, says will cost "several tens of billions" of dollars.
International agreement to a force under Security Council political control is imaginable but currently irrelevant; the Bush administration has no intention of yielding authority over Iraq's occupation and reconstruction or over the nature of such political institutions as may eventually emerge.
The administration may, of course, find these ambitions turn to dust, as did its illusions about how cheap and easy it would be to take over Iraq (an undertaking initially promoted as self-financing or even profitable, because of Iraq's oil).
The question about any UN solution is this: Why should countries that were opposed to the war assume responsibility for its painful consequences? Washington may be misreading the support the French, Germans, and other Europeans have given to the notion that the UN can solve the Iraq problem. The Europeans do not have in mind the same solution as Richard Armitage.
French President Jacques Chirac told his annual ambassadors' conference last week that while the risk of chaos in Iraq makes security a priority, the European Union must insist on a central role for the UN.
"The transfer of power and sovereignty to the Iraqi people themselves is the only realistic option," he said. "It must be started without delay, in the framework of a process upon which the UN alone can bestow full legitimacy." Once this framework is established, he added, the international community can make its "effective and entire contribution" to Iraq's reconstruction, "in a way that must be defined with the Iraqis themselves."
That is not what Washington is saying. The "old European" heavyweights called on to contribute troops and reconstruction finance nonetheless are not going to agree to an arrangement that leaves the United States in effective control of Iraq.
However the politically incorrect question must be asked: Why should an occupation and reconstruction sponsored by the UN -- with or without the United States in military command -- be expected to work any better than the present unhappy arrangement?
A UN-endorsed multinational force might be politically more acceptable in Iraq, and would certainly be more acceptable to other countries -- but the primary problem today is not political acceptability but restoration of security and order.
There is no particular reason to think that a multinational or UN force could restore order and rebuild political and economic infrastructure any better (or any less worse) than Americans are doing.
The UN may not even be more acceptable politically, given that a great many in Iraq have over the last decade learned to see the United Nations as the agent of a policy of sanctions and penalties demanded by the United States.
President Chirac and others are concerned for the plight of the Iraqi people. This is a worthy sentiment but draws a curtain over the responsibility the Iraqis themselves bear for their present condition.
Saddam Hussein was an Iraqi leader, not some dictator imposed from the outside. Once installed, he obviously became hard to unseat. But Iraqi elites and the Iraqi people permitted him to take power, and many collaborated with him.
Any society not under massive foreign occupation has a revolutionary option. The Iraqis exercised it against their king in 1958 (as the Iranians did against their shah in 1979). The Iraqis did not exercise it against Saddam Hussein.
Iraqis themselves were also responsible for the looting and destruction that followed the war, with ruinous consequences for the country's hospitals, civil infrastructure, and cultural institutions.
The United States invaded Iraq because it chose to describe it as a threat to the United States and to the region. It turned out to be neither. The Bush administration, like the Iraqis, now confronts the consequences of what it has done. It does not like them. Neither does anyone else.
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