U.N. repairs

Posted: Apr 21, 2003 12:00 AM
The concern by the United Nations to have a hand in Iraq has high-minded aspects, if you look hard enough. There are people in the U.N. bureaucracy who reflect the idealism of the old-time one-worlders, and they seek to repair the breakage effected by the vote -- the non-vote, as it happened -- on Iraq. They are saying to themselves, We must not permit the division in the Security Council, which resulted in the United States and Great Britain taking unilateral action in Iraq, to evolve into a permanent schism. If the U.S. were permanently to detach from the United Nations, the effect would be something like the pope defecting from Rome. If he did, he would take the Vatican with him. If the U.S. departed the U.N., the U.N. would have left only real estate in New York.

So the repair men stress the range of services that the United Nations can provide in Iraq. These are, if not overwhelming, certainly palpable. There is a U.N. bureaucracy for health services and medical services, and there are ad hoc U.N. enterprises that bear on peace-keeping.

Several factors obtrude on the scene, beginning with the major political point, which is that the United States-Great Britain coalition is obviously not going to yield central direction of a reconstituted Iraq into U.N. hands. The enterprise brought off by the Bush administration rests on a logic the Security Council, prodded by France and Germany, refused to accept. It was that the Iraq of Saddam Hussein had become a regional threat and was prospectively an international threat. That line of sight is blurred by such reservations as the French had, which everybody now knows, were less concerned over Iraq's malicious designs than over the U.S.'s benevolent designs.

Mr. Bush has begun the trading, nodding to the United Nations to say it was now time to lift the sanctions imposed during the armistice. Their purpose was to deprive Saddam Hussein of all of the income he'd have had from the sale of that much of his oil he had not succeeded in burning up in the last, spiteful days in 1991 before the U.S. victory. What then happened, in the ensuing years, was a relaxation in the ban, designed to permit revenue sufficient to buy food and medicine -- the oil-for-bread program. There followed then an extravasation of Iraqi oil, via tankers and pipelines, with Syria a major purchaser and middleman.

All of that, says Bush, should be repealed, inasmuch as Iraq now threatens nobody, no thanks to the United Nations. But the question of course arises, with the end of the sanctions, what use, and by whom, is the renewed flow of oil to be put? On this point the United States treads a delicate line. We are correctly determined not to profiteer from the defeat of Saddam. On the other hand, the cost of the reconstruction of Iraq is hardly ours to bear alone. To divert Iraqi oil revenue to a fund drawn down to rebuild roads and bridges, electrical plants, mosques and democratic palaces is clearly justified and should take priority.

Should the United States be reimbursed the $2 billion monthly cost for maintaining our military in Iraq, to effect pacification as needed? We get to certain refinements of the question: What is to be done about contracts involving oil or material for extracting and refining it? Many of these, we know inexactly, are obligations incurred by Saddam to Russia and France. France is a substantial creditor, shipping goods and materiel to Saddam, resulting in a debt ... of Saddam? Or of Iraq?

Interesting points here. If any goods detected in Iraq were proscribed under the sanctions provision, these are hardly to be classified as debts to be repaid. But what of the others? Turbines, refinery parts, guns, airplanes. Are these residual obligations of the new Iraq?

If there were a Solomon on the scene, he might decree that the cost of bringing Saddam down -- $50 billion, to use a round figure -- should be passed around with some reference to the per capita wealth of beneficiary nations, and to their proximity to Iraq. The closer you are, the greater your benefit from the neutralization of Iraq. "A" for close geographic propinquity -- Turkey, for instance; "B" if a nation is within 500 miles; "C" within 1,500 miles, "D" farther away. As for relative wealth, put down "I" for Rich (Saudia Arabia), "II" for Moderately Rich (Iran), "III" for poor (Egypt).

Thus Germany would contribute as a C-I nation, along with France; Russia, B-II; Saudi Arabia, A-I; Syria, A-II; the United States and Japan, D-I; Egypt, A-III. The exact classification of individual nations is a subject the United Nations could profitably study, using all its resources as to calculate wealth, and a simple atlas to reckon proximity.

On the matter of Hans Blix and his weapons inspection, the operation could now be canceled, sparing the United Nations that expense. Donald Rumsfeld put it wisely when he said we will no longer look for WMD sites; we will look for people who can tell us where they are. Their location can then be relayed to the United Nations, for its files.