Moral hazard

The Bush administration invites the U.N. to dive into the quagmire.


Published July 20, 2007 1:26PM (EDT)

Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador to Iraq and now to the United Nations, has an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times today in which he basically makes the case to punt the entire thorny mess of Iraq's political impasse to the United Nations.

He says that with the "right envoy" and the "right mandate," "in the role of mediator, [the U.N.] has inherent legitimacy and the flexibility to talk to all parties, including elements outside the political process." He then basically says it should be put in charge of ending the civil war, solving all the problems in the region and bringing about peace in the Middle East -- all the things the U.S. has failed to do. It's quite a turnabout for an administration whose last U.N. ambassador once said that "if 10 floors of the 38-story U.N. headquarters building were eliminated, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

But the truth is that George W. Bush has always seen the U.N. as having an important role to play in Iraq. Yes, he was a teensy bit miffed when the U.N. refused to pass a resolution explicitly endorsing the invasion, but he never thought it shouldn't be involved. Recall his words in this press conference in the Azores, just days before the war began:

Let me say something about the U.N. It's a very important organization. That's why I went there on September the 12th, 2002, to give the speech, the speech that called the U.N. into account, that said if you're going to pass resolutions, let's make sure your words mean something. Because I understand the wars of the 21st century are going to require incredible international cooperation. We're going to have to cooperate to cut the money of the terrorists, and the ability for nations, dictators who have weapons of mass destruction to provide training and perhaps weapons to terrorist organizations. We need to cooperate, and we are. Our countries up here are cooperating incredibly well.

And the U.N. must mean something. Remember Rwanda, or Kosovo. The U.N. didn't do its job. And we hope tomorrow the U.N. will do its job. If not, all of us need to step back and try to figure out how to make the U.N. work better as we head into the 21st century. Perhaps one way will be, if we use military force, in the post-Saddam Iraq the U.N. will definitely need to have a role. And that way it can begin to get its legs, legs of responsibility back.

It's still somewhat startling to hear him outright lying at that late date, saying the administration might not use military force, isn't it? (To think that people still rail about Bill Clinton lying to the American people.) But that quote shows that President Bush always wanted the U.N. to be involved in postwar Iraq -- but for its sake, in order to help it "work better."

You see, the administration isn't trying to slough off its failures by suggesting that the U.N. take over the thankless task of political mediation now that the U.S. has so thoroughly mucked everything up that you'd have to be insane to want to get involved. Not at all. It is trying to help the U.N. get its "legs of responsibility" back. This is a generous effort on the part of the Bush administration to allow the U.N. to get swallowed up in the Iraq quagmire the body refused to endorse in the first place for its own good.

I don't know if the U.N. cares about "moral hazards," but if it does, this would be one. Bush and Tony Blair told the U.N. to go Cheney itself back in 2003 when it would not go along with their absurd plan to invade even as inspectors found no evidence of a threat. Now the administration wants the U.N. to step up and fix the problems it created with its own arrogance and hubris. You certainly couldn't blame the U.N. if it told the U.S. to Cheney itself right back. For its own good.



Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Iraq Middle East United Nations War Room