The world press on the U.N. in Iraq

Asia Times: Turning to the U.N. may be the only way Bush can save his presidency.


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Compiled by Laura McClure
July 23, 2003 12:47AM (UTC)

Hong Kong, Jim Lobe in Asia Times

Make no mistake: U.S. President George W Bush is in big trouble.

Whereas a week ago, Americans were talking about the dread "V" word -- for Vietnam -- this week the dreaded "W" word -- for Watergate -- was back in vogue, even as the "V" word was still in use. Watergate plus Vietnam is about the worst combination for a sitting president that anyone could possibly imagine.

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And the almost daily announcement on the news that another U.S. soldier has been killed in an attack in Iraq ... recalls nothing so much as the daily reminders on the evening news 23 years ago that killed the presidency of Jimmy Carter: "Day 385 of the American hostage crisis in Iran."

Short of a miracle -- such as the discovery of a cache of weapons of mass destruction in an Iraqi mountainside in circumstances that clearly indicate that it was under Saddam Hussein's control as of March 18, 2003, or the return of robust U.S. economic growth that can quickly bring the unemployment rate down to five percent -- there is probably only one way that Bush can save his presidency at this point.

But the cost in personal pride and policy will be extremely high.

To save his administration, Bush must now essentially abandon the aggressive unilateralism that has dominated his foreign policy since even before 9/11; ask forgiveness from U.S. allies who refused to join his "coalition of the willing" in Iraq; and return to the United Nations Security Council for a new resolution that will give the world body control over the occupation...

There are signs that Bush realizes this, particularly after meeting with Annan. Before this week, Washington showed little interest in returning to the U.N. for a new resolution...

Annan himself was encouraging. Diplomatic sources pointed to his statement Wednesday in which, after noting the divisions that existed in the Security Council before the war, he stressed that "Now that the war is over, we should focus on stabilizing and building a peaceful and prosperous Iraq."

"It's getting more and more obvious that the [Security] Council's leverage [vis-à-vis Washington] is increasing," said one source who noted the growing sense in the U.S. capital that the optimistic predictions of the hawks had put the president in serious peril.

The question is, what will be the U.N.'s price for bailing the administration out, and will Bush be willing to pay it?

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United Kingdom, Martin Woollacott in the Guardian

The disconnect between the American view of reality and that of other countries can be amazing. Reports speak of "calls" from congressional committees -- shocked by rising estimates of occupation -- for "more international sharing" of those costs. Such calls are made as if international help was available on tap whenever the U.S. should choose to turn the faucet. There seems to be scant understanding, despite everything, of the way in which American resistance to cooperation with others, not only on Iraq, might induce in them a reluctance to cooperate with America. Sen. Edward Kennedy would not make this mistake, and yet even he can speak of the "best trained troops in the world" tied down in policing in Iraq as if it was self-evident, first, that they are in fact well trained, and, second, that others, not so well trained and more disposable, should take their place...

The Indian government's decision not to send an army division to Iraq, while not absolutely final, is a big blow to the Pentagon, since India and Pakistan represented its main hope for large contingents of well-trained soldiers that would be relatively cheap to maintain in Iraq...

Pakistan may well follow India in deciding not to send troops unless there is a U.N. or other international mandate, because the Iraq war was even more unpopular there than it was in India. If so, the attempt to internationalize the occupation force will continue as a comedy involving a cast of tiny contingents requiring so much American and British logistical and other help as to be hardly worth having. They may provide some politically useful diversity, but what the U.S. thinks it needs now is not political cover but a lot of the military heavy-lifting to be done by others, so that some of their own men can go home. There are only about a dozen armies in the world which can provide such help and, at the moment, none of them are coming to the party...

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But the fine line between raising the U.N. profile beyond the point at which it would not be acceptable to the U.S. administration, and giving the world body a role which would assuage the doubts of countries who do not wish to be seen as just propping up the Americans, will be a difficult one to tread...

The chances remain high that Iraqi reconstruction will in time turn the corner, but probably without much help from others. In that case, America and Britain and the new Iraq will be alone with their success, but it would be better for all if such a success were a more general achievement.

Saudi Arabia, Editorial in the Arab News

Ordinary Iraqis are only a few short months out from under a regime where an absolutist dictator and his henchmen held the arbitrary power of life or death over them. In the early days of the occupation, people could dare to hope that the old regime had gone once and for all. Yet many still refused to believe that the nightmare was over.

Now with every new attack against the Americans, their worst fears are being reinforced. Unable to find Saddam and his sons, seemingly ever more powerless in the face of a guerrilla war by Baathist diehards, the coalition forces are facing increasingly stiff resistance.

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Unless by sheer luck the U.S. runs down the Iraqi dictator and his sons or deals a stunning blow to the structure and leadership of the guerrilla movement it is facing, the future for Washington's Iraqi policy looks bleak.

The Coalition's best way out of its bind, which the British seem to appreciate better than the Americans, might be to hand over peacekeeping to the United Nations.

But by now it may well be too late for such a move. It is likely that a multinational U.N. force would be even less effective against Baathist diehards than the occupation forces. Three months ago a U.N. security force might have been able to win enthusiastic Iraqi support. Today the continuing bloodshed and instability may have eroded any goodwill toward further experiments. As so many people warned Bush, the process of stabilizing Iraq and establishing a working administration there -- let alone a liberal democracy -- is to be infinitely more difficult than the invasion.

Germany, Gerhard Spörl and Bernhard Zand in Der Spiegel

The United States can claim that the U.N. and NATO have lost their significance, and it can even divide Europe into regions friendly and hostile to America, into a new and an old Europe, but their unilateralism quickly and drastically imposes limits...

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The United States has overtaxed its own strength. During the current fiscal year, the Bush administration faces a deficit of 455 billion dollars, one third more than predicted. Stationing 148,000 troops in Iraq costs 3.9 billion dollars a month. Millions of Iraqis are more dependent than ever on the distribution of food and medical aid.

Just how much reconstruction is costing is concealed by a tangle of numbers that even the U.S. Congress has found difficult to decipher. The occupying power still has about 7 billion dollars for non-military purposes at its disposal. This includes 1 billion from development funds, 1.7 billion from frozen Iraqi assets in other countries, and 1.6 billion from oil business concluded before the war.

Under the Geneva Convention, the occupying power is responsible for all problems in the occupied country and, therefore, must pay the associated costs. Until now, the Bush administration has viewed other countries' efforts to have a say in the matter as meddling, regardless of whether these efforts have come from Europe or the United Nations. This is beginning to change. During the past few days, there has been talk of distributing the burdens associated with ongoing work in Iraq over the next four years. The 1991 Gulf War is inevitably being used as a model. At that time, Japan, Germany and the Gulf states assumed 52 of the 61 billion dollars in costs. It was the golden age of checkbook diplomacy...

But now the Europeans are also insisting on what they were denied immediately after the war -- a truly significant role for the United Nations in Iraq. This time the circumstances are more favorable. As the political, monetary and military fiasco in Iraq grows, the Bush administration, bent on attaining dominance, will be all the more forced to be willing to compromise.

India, K. Subrahmanyam in the Times of India

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Washington has to accept the U.N.'s role in stabilisation and reconstitution of Iraq's polity not only because its own military resources are inadequate, but because the Iraqi governing council nominated by the U.S. administrator wants to derive its legitimacy through U.N. recognition. When the U.N. gets involved in the stabilisation process, the modalities have to be worked out about the command and control over forces operating in Iraq under a U.N. mandate and the forces led by Washington as an occupying power.

Obviously, the U.N. cannot undertake the role of an occupying power, which involves tracking down Saddam Hussein and eliminating the remnants of Ba'athist resistance. That responsibility is entirely Washington's ... Only the U.S. has the high technology intelligence-gathering capability and superior firepower to tackle that task...

If there is a U.N. mandate to deploy forces in Iraq, what would India's international obligations be? The U.S. committed an aggression in launching the war, but that is so much water under the bridge. It is not in the interest of India, the international community or the Iraqi people that the task of reconstituting Iraq's polity and bringing it back to full sovereignty should be delayed. Now the focus should be on restoring quickly sovereignty to Iraq. Harping on Washington's domineering style and refusing to take part in a U.N.-mandated stabilisation would deprive India of a role in shaping Iraq's future development...

The Americans want to deploy the forces of other nations in areas where there is no trouble so that they can concentrate on the guerilla war in the Sunni areas. Deploying Indian forces in the Kurdish region would reassure Turkey and Iran since they are worried about the Kurdish secessionism...

New modalities have to be worked out to coordinate the roles of the occupying power and the U.N. Once that is accepted, New Delhi should do everything possible to help in Iraq's stabilisation.


Compiled by Laura McClure

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