Don't go wobbly, George

Posted: Aug 25, 2003 12:00 AM

Suddenly, all the “smart people” have an idea for advancing the war on terror while cutting our costs, reducing the burden on over-stretched American forces and affording enhanced legitimacy to our counter-terrorism initiatives: Seek a new UN mandate authorizing an expanded international operation in Iraq.

 Notably, this was the theme du jour of the Sunday talk shows, as a gaggle of legislators, retired generals and former officials took turns endorsing such an approach.  If only the Bush Administration -- and, in particular, Donald Rumsfeld -- were not so hung up on the United Nations, the drumbeat went, the U.S. could readily secure heretofore absent international support for the occupation of Iraq.  Large numbers of foreign troops would become available, without compromising the principle of unified command.  And the American taxpayer could be spared the prospect of being solely responsible for an investment of untold additional billions to try to rebuild Iraq faster than Ba’athist and/or Islamist terrorists can sabotage its infrastructure.

 Some of these Sunday morning luminaries cited as evidence of the feasibility of their suggestions a precedent: the UN’s authorization for American-led NATO forces to stabilize post-war Bosnia.  There is one significant problem with this analogy, however:  Iraq is no Bosnia. 

 There is, after all, an ongoing war in Iraq, albeit one involving less than “major combat operations.”  Unlike Bosnia, what is involved is considerably more than keeping once-warring factions apart and allowing international bureaucrats to perform open-ended nation-building assignments.

 Instead, as the past fortnight’s deadly terrorist bombings, infrastructure attacks and serial ambushes of American and British forces make clear, there is an active conflict underway that is taxing the world’s two finest militaries.  It is not a place for usually well-meaning, but generally not terribly competent, “blue helmets.”

 If there were any doubt about this reality, it should have been vaporized along with the UN’s headquarters in Baghdad.  International personnel -- be they military or civilian -- are going to be treated as fair game by those bent on returning Iraq to one form of despotic rule or another (sectarian or theocratic). 

 In fact, the only hope the United Nations has of being able to perform its self-assigned humanitarian functions on behalf of the Iraqi people is for the Coalition forces to succeed in defeating the enemies of a Free Iraq.  This should motivate the organization’s Secretary General. Kofi Annan, and every member of the Security Council to support America’s efforts to stabilize and secure the country.

 Unfortunately, a number of those on the Council -- notably, France, Russia and China -- and at least some among the UN bureaucracy appear no more interested in seeing the United States succeed in those efforts than are several of Iraq’s neighbors.  Coalition officials have charged that Islamists and other terrorists are entering Iraqi territory from Syria (which is, as it happens, currently also a Security Council member), Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Presumably, they are being allowed to do so to further these countries’ shared interest in preventing a democratic, peaceable and prosperous pro-Western nation from emerging from the ashes of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny.

 Even if the UN Security Council were actually able -- and willing -- to regard Washington’s objectives in Iraq as both compatible with the best interests of the Iraqi people and conducive to those of the larger international community, there is one further reason for not adopting the Bosnia model:   The people of Bosnia-Herzegovina seem likely to remain under UN suzerainty for years, if not decades, to come. 

 The only hope of sparing Iraq a similar fate is by allowing the responsibility for rapidly establishing the institutions and mechanisms for Iraqi self-governance to remain in the hands of an American-led civil administration truly committed to achieving that goal at the earliest possible time.

 This is not to say that the United States should go it alone or eschew international help where it can be obtained without compromising the mission or its prospects of early achievement.  In fact, the Bush Administration is doing neither; it has already secured the support of dozens of nations and is continuing to enlist more on terms conducive to success. 

 Arguably the most addled advice about military burden-sharing to emanate this week from one of the Sunday morning quarterbacks came from Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  He would not only like to see an international mandate for operations in Iraq.  He would also like one authorizing the deployment of U.S.-led NATO forces into an environment that would, if anything, likely make the Sunni triangle seem tranquil by comparison:  The Senator wants American and other Western military units to be used to separate Israelis from Palestinians and to help subdue the latters’ terrorist factions.
 In fairness to Senator Lugar, he is not the first to come up with or to espouse this lousy idea.  Still, it should be clear that if the United States is anxious to avoid shouldering more military burdens, particularly in connection with difficult, urban campaigns against Islamist and other foes willing to die in order to kill Americans, there is a better option than the one he proposes.  A far more sensible division of labor would be to let the Israelis deal with the Palestinian front in the war on terror than for the U.S. to try to get more help on surely less-than-satisfactory terms in Iraq while strapping on an inherently impossible new task: serving as the protector of Palestinians while conducting military operations against their embedded militants.
 President Bush has done the American people and the world a great service by re-establishing a principle very nearly obscured by recent practice: The legitimacy of an American foreign policy initiative derives from its justness, wisdom and congressional approval, not from the vagaries of UN Security Council resolutions.  Now is no time to go wobbly on that principle.