What a Difference Four Years Make
By Bill Miller
Support, both domestic and international, for the Bush Administration’s unpopular war in Iraq is eroding faster than the New Orleans’ levees under the ferocious battering of Hurricane Katrina. Interestingly, the United Nations, an organization whose vast majority of 192 member states opposed the US-led invasion, is actively lending a hand to shore up the political and humanitarian landscape, as well as the economic and social development of that ravaged country.
Prior to the war in Iraq, most UN members correctly believed that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), nor did he participate in the murderous 9-11 attacks. Hussein was not an imminent threat to the US or Israel and did not have an operational link to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
Flashing back to 2002-03 during the buildup, most Americans probably have three vivid memories of interactions between the US and the UN: 1) President Bush was fond of challenging the UN to be “relevant”; 2) the UN Security Council withheld a resolution that the US desperately needed to provide legal and moral cover for the invasion; and, 3) a horrific explosion destroyed much of the UN Headquarters in Iraq and killed over 20 of the UN’s best and brightest international civil servants.
What a difference four years make. Today, President Bush, Secretary of State Condi Rice and Bush Administration heavyweights have apparently come to the conclusion that the UN is absolutely crucial to achieve success in Iraq, as well as in other hotspots around the globe.
After the explosion at the UN headquarters in Baghdad in August of 2003, the UN took a low profile. So low, in fact, that some UN observers complained it had abandoned the country. Such was not the case. Predictably, the US media did little to dispel the abandonment myth because they were either not knowledgeable of the UN’s assistance or they did not want to give the UN any credit. UN bashing talkshow hosts and anti-UN publications, it seems, were quite happy to perpetuate the myth and to denounce the UN for not doing its fair share.
Even though the war was not sanctioned by the UN, was a war of choice, and was widely viewed as an illegal invasion of a sovereign country, UN members and UN agencies arrived at the inevitable conclusion that it was imperative to help innocent Iraqis adversely affected by the conflict; re-build the country’s physical and human infrastructure; and establish a democratic government that would govern for the benefit of the people.
UN agencies have played a major role in helping stabilize the situation and improve the quality of life for many Iraqis.
Just a few examples of the UN activities include:
-- The UN and Iraq recently launched an “International Compact with Iraq”, which is a partnership with the international community over the next five years. The Compact will bring together countries and international organizations to help the Iraqi government develop a democracy, a sustainable economy, good governance principles, professional security forces and a respect for the rule of law;
-- The UN has been the key player in planning and implementing the three democratic elections held in Iraq and in developing an equitable national constitution;
-- The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched one of the largest lifesaving drives, with over 8,000 immunizers, across Iraq to immunize 3.9 million Iraqi children from ages one to five to avert a potential outbreak of measles, mumps and Rubella. UNICEF supports other basic services in health and nutrition, water and environmental sanitation, and child protection.
-- UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) estimated that there are 1.9 million displaced Iraqis internally and over two million living in other states, primarily in Jordan, Egypt and Syria. UNHCR is assisting 50,000 non-Iraqi refugees in Iraq and aiding 200,000 Iraqis in neighboring countries.
-- UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) assists Iraqis in safeguarding and reconstructing their cultural heritage by retrieving looted art treasures and preventing vandalism of cultural artifacts and sites.
Aldous Huxley, the British author who wrote Brave New World, once stated that “facts do not cease to exist because they have been ignored.” The facts are that the US Administration totally ignored the findings of Dr. Hans Blix, head of the UN’s Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in Iraq, that there were no WMDs. To compound the problem, the US launched a preventive strike against Iraq which is widely viewed as illegal (as opposed to preemptive action against a foe that is authorized under international law). The Bush Administration had already decided to invade Iraq, prior to getting authorization from the US Congress and the UN, according to former CIA Director George Tenet in his book, At the Center of the Storm.
Tenet confirms many lingering suspicions regarding the duplicitous and mendacious process that allowed little, if any, substantive discussion about the actual threat posed by Saddam, such as the cherry picking of information, a reliance on inaccurate sources and information about WMDs, and the lack of ethics and incompetence of several Bush Administration policymakers.
What are some of the lessons for the future?
1) Although the Bush Administration has a legacy of misinformation and disinformation in depicting the threat from Islamic radicals and anti-American forces, it still has considerable clout and partial credibility at the UN. The US’s leadership role helped develop the coalition of resources of UN agencies and countries to assist the Iraqis;
2) More frequently, the Iraqi invasion is being depicted as the most disastrous foreign policy blunder in US history. That mistake has fueled the conflict with Islamic fundamentalists, made the US Government more unpopular (and even hated) around the world, diminished the US’s role as a Superpower, weakened the US military, fomented more instability in the Arab world, sharply increased the US debt and cracked the veneer of an invincible US military (remember the missile climbing a chimney in the First Gulf War). On every front, except a saturation bombing campaign, the US’s hands are tied if it tries to deal militarily with North Korea and Iran.
3) Recently, the Iraqi Parliament, which now is in sync with public opinions taken in polls of the Iraqi people, passed a resolution declaring that the US is an occupying force and calls for a specific timetable for withdrawal. Where were the American media in reporting this earth shattering event?
4) The UN, even with its imperfections, is the “go-to” international forum to resolve future problems. As former Secretary of State Madeline Albright said about the UN, “…it is indispensable…”
The chaos in Iraq is intensifying. It is serving as a recruiting tool for Islamic radicals and is destabilizing many parts of the Middle East. The chaos will likely contribute to even more bloodshed and conflict both within and outside of Iraq. Sixteen UN agencies have been providing assistance to the Iraqi people since 2003. Not only should the UN be thanked profusely, it should also be listened to since it has been right about almost all the major findings concerning Iraq. As former Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said in his aphorism, “A page of history is worth a volume of logic.” The UN has the history, the ideologues and fanatics have the logic.
Bill Miller, former Chair of the UN Association of the USA, is the accredited Washington International journalist covering the UN.