U.S. at bay? or U.N.?

Posted: Sep 08, 2003 12:00 AM
There's no question that the administration misjudged the extent of the Iraq problem. That problem is the problem of Iraq, No. 1, and No.2, the problem of our allies and of the United Nations. The doom box is loud and vibrant, e.g., the Daily Telegraph, whose Daniel Johnson reports a meeting at 10 Downing Street between Jack Straw, foreign secretary, and Tony Blair, prime minister, and speaks of "confidential advice to the foreign secretary" which "depicts a country on the brink of collapse." Readers were told that "participants at the meeting were invited to think the hitherto unthinkable: 'We are at risk of strategic failure in Iraq.'"

That isn't going to happen, though we have to acknowledge that there are allies out there who rather wish it would happen. They call this Schadenfreude, which is the pleasure covertly taken from adverse developments. Hear now the tone of the editorial in India's Hindustan Times:

"America has found out at last that the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Five months ago it short-circuited a debate in the U.N. Security Council when it found it would not be able to secure approval for invading Iraq, and went ahead with its plans anyway. But the Bush administration has since discovered that toppling Saddam Hussein was the easy part. Thus, it now proposes to go back to the U.N. it had so haughtily ignored to seek a resolution authorizing the setting up of a multinational force to stabilize Iraq, a task which the predominantly U.S. occupying force has found well beyond its capability. The truth is that before deciding to go back to the U.N., Washington solicited nearly every country it thought it could leverage, India included, for troop contributions for Iraq. But it drew a blank."

The Bush people have to maneuver through swampy ground. It is of course not correct that we ignored the United Nations. We operated under the auspices of several U.N. resolutions. Legally, it having been established that the government of Saddam Hussein had not lived up to its obligations under the peace treaty of 1991, the old war was still in force, its sanctions continuing. But it is true that a French veto threatened, this time around, and that threat forced the U.S. to proceed without the ultimate formality of an ad hoc Security Council resolution. To charge that we traduced the U.N. by declining to accept a French veto on strategic policy is to say more than history is likely to hold.

But it is true that we would be glad for more help than we are getting. Nations that have useful peacekeepers at their disposal probably aren't going to come in to do their share about the collegial problem in the Mideast. The administration acknowledges this by the verve with which we are setting up an Iraqi governing council to take over as much of the burden as can be shared.

The crystallizing position of our summer friends is that they wish U.N. authority to replace U.S. authority in Iraq. The French and the Germans are pretty direct on this point, and the U.N. bureaucracy is itching for authority.

It isn't immediately obvious just what points of contention there would be between the U.S. and the U.N. in the management of the Iraqi problem. Oil revenue, perhaps, though any surplus is many years down the road. What would threaten joint action is the importunate voice of Muslim fundamentalism. Kofi Annan is not built to press his own views athwart the hard opposition of non-Western opinion.

The Bush people are no doubt prepared, if necessary, to get on with the true liberation of Iraq without help, even from those neighbors who would most profit from a detoxified Iraq. Jordan's Al-Dustur reports that "The American adventure has reached its impasse. The American arrogance has been stripped of its peacock feathers." What would the Jordanian paper recommend? What was that paper saying in 1991 when Jordan sided with Saddam Hussein?

The Bush appeal for United Nations cooperation should be carefully made. Experienced observers will soon see that any failure in Iraq owing to a failure of other nations to discharge collegial responsibilities will damage the United Nations far more gravely than any clerical inattention to it by the United States. The sacred ideal of joint action is at stake.