Looking for Help in the Wrong Place

  • Share
  • Read Later
The idea is in the air. With America's armed forces stretched thin around the globe and its sandblasted soldiers grumbling that they want to go home, why not share the burden of bringing security to Iraq? In the White House Rose Garden last week, President Bush urged other nations to contribute "militarily and financially" toward creating a "free and secure Iraq." The Administration seems to think that it can get such help without a new U.N. Security Council resolution. But don't count on it. Under Security Council Resolution 1483, legal authority in Iraq is held not by the U.N. but by the occupying powers, the U.S. and Britain. As long as that is the case, nations like India, France, Russia and Germany won't send in their troops. Even NATO is unlikely to get involved without a resolution granting more power to the U.N., because without one, 17 members of the alliance would be expected to dance to the tune of just two others — the U.S. and Britain. So it's hardly surprising that diplomats at the U.N. say they expect talks on a new resolution to start soon.

Which raises the question: Is an expanded role for the U.N. in Iraq a good idea? The U.N. is staffed with devoted public servants. It is rooted in high ideals, and some of its many fans continue to go all misty-eyed over them. But if the world learned anything in the 1990s, it was surely that the U.N. doesn't work miracles. You don't bring peace to a violent land just by sending in a multinational force wearing blue helmets. True, some missions have been successful, like the Australian-led stabilization of East Timor. But from Somalia, where a humanitarian effort turned into a doomed attempt at nation building; to Rwanda, where U.N. forces failed to prevent a genocide, despite ample warnings that it was coming; to Bosnia, where the Dutch component of a peacekeeping contingent stood by while thousands of Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered in Srebrenica, the record of multilateral forces has hardly been distinguished.

Mind & Body Happiness
Jan. 17, 2004

 Coolest Video Games 2004
 Coolest Inventions
 Wireless Society
 Cool Tech 2004

 At The Epicenter
 Paths to Pleasure
 Quotes of the Week
 This Week's Gadget
 Cartoons of the Week

Advisor: Rove Warrior
The Bushes: Family Dynasty
Klein: Benneton Ad Presidency

CNN.com: Latest News

This should not be surprising. Fighting wars is a difficult business. Success depends on an identity of goals between soldiers and their political masters, and a clear chain of command. That's hard to achieve when a force is made up of various nationalities. Even friends don't always agree. There are no closer allies than the U.S. and Britain, but when U.S. General Wesley Clark, then Supreme Commander of NATO forces, asked the British in June 1999 to stop Russian troops from taking control of Pristina airport at the end of the Kosovo war, London bluntly refused. (The precise words of British General Mike Jackson: "Sir, I'm not starting World War III for you.")

So what's to be done? When I spoke to him last week, Clark — who favors a U.N. presence "on top of things" in Iraq to give the occupation international legitimacy — said frankly, "You're not going to get real war-fighting capabilities from the U.N." But in at least some parts of Iraq, war fighting is exactly what's still needed. The model to aim for is an improved version of the one the international community stumbled on in Sierra Leone three years ago. A ragtag multinational U.N. mission policed relatively peaceful areas of the nation, while an independent British force outside U.N. command crushed a rebellion with efficient gusto. In Iraq it is possible to imagine a situation in which a U.N. force, with help from retrained Iraqi soldiers and police, would keep the peace in Kurdistan, where the war against Saddam Hussein was always popular, and in the largely Shi'ite south. But as Clark says, "We're not going to hand over the Sunni triangle"--the area in which most of the attacks on coalition forces since the end of formal hostilities have taken place--"to anyone." In this scenario, then, the dangerous work would continue to be done by American soldiers.

That is as it should be. Whether or not the Administration seeks a new Security Council resolution and gets more foreign troops into Iraq, a central truth will remain unchanged. Iraq is an American show. The decision to go to war there was a U.S. decision. The victory in that war was a U.S. victory. The overwhelming number of non-Iraqis who have died in the war were American. If Iraq becomes a model democracy in the Islamic world, the credit, deservedly, will go to the U.S. If Iraq becomes a theocracy or dissolves into ethnic violence, the blame, no less deservedly, will be laid at Washington's door. If the Bush Administration is queasy at the prospect of such risks and rewards, it should never have embarked on this adventure in the first place. And if Americans are unhappy that their leaders have placed members of the armed forces in so dangerous a situation, and want to get them home, the remedy lies in the voting booth — not in a tall building on the bank of New York City's East River.