George Will

WASHINGTON--The task of reconstructing Iraq--more its civil society than its physical infrastructure--is entangled with the less urgent task of reweaving the frayed relations between America and France and Germany, and with the optional task of rehabilitating the United Nations.

The U.N. has proved itself unsuitable as an instrument of collective security. It is a stew of starkly conflicting political cultures, and incompatible assessments of the world's dangers and what to do about them. Hence it cannot function as a policy-making body. It can, however, be invited to help with certain brief relief and civil administration chores. This invitation should be extended for the same reason France was made a permanent member of the Security Council in 1945--as psychotherapy for a crisis of self-esteem brought on by bad behavior.

Note the verb ``invited.'' There is no entitlement for France, Germany, Russia and the U.N. They did all in their power to keep Saddam Hussein in power, which makes them accessories to tyranny and war crimes. All Iraq's debts incurred to Russia, France, Germany--U.S. officials at the U.N. say Germany was even more troublesome than France ``in the corridors,'' meaning in the prewar politics outside the Security Council--during Saddam's regime should be canceled.

Some European militaries, like Canada's, can barely be considered real military--meaning war-fighting--forces. The New York Times reports that more than half of Germany's defense budget of just $27 billion goes to salaries and benefits for personnel--a third of them civilians who, after 15 years, are guaranteed lifetime employment. Germany had to lease Ukrainian aircraft to get its peacekeeping forces to Afghanistan.

Still, such militaries can perhaps earn their keep by maintaining order in an Iraq where tribalism is reasserting itself and civil war might now fester. Besides, there is a danger that peacekeeping will diminish the U.S. military services' aptitude for their real purpose, which is war-fighting. Furthermore, the services are stretched perilously thin, and were being exhausted by the tempo of operations even before the war began.

The crisis with Iraq, which became an overdue crisis of U.S. relations with the U.N. and portions of Old Europe, arrived as the U.N. was publishing ``State of the World Population 2002.'' To the extent that demography is destiny, Europe's collective destiny, for decades, will be beyond the choice of its governments, and will be a continuing decrescendo.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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