By Bill Miller
President Bush scored dramatic victories at the UN when he challenged the world body to enforce its resolutions against Saddam Hussein, and when he unexpectedly secured the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1441, requiring that UN weapons inspectors be allowed back into Iraq. Since those landmark accomplishments, the US has been on a downhill slide that may bode ill for a protracted campaign against terrorism.
The US, arguably with the best-trained, funded, and most professional military in the world, has invaded Iraq. What led up to this drastic action? What major problems have arisen because of it? How can the US and the UN develop a strategy that will effectively rebuild Iraq, as well as deal with other international threats, such as terrorism or North Korea with nuclear capabilities?
President Bush was correct to push for disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and he was strongly supported for doing so. Unfortunately, a disconnect developed between stating a laudable goal and implementing it. The US failed to convince the world that Saddam should be overthrown and Iraq occupied. Major missteps occurred because the US used some circumstantial, bogus, and uncorroborated evidence of WMD activity in Iraq. The US unsuccessfully attempted to link Saddam with the 9-11 tragedy, as well as undermined the UN inspection process by not sharing information, ridiculing the inspection process, and not allowing sufficient time for inspections.
Just imagine if the US, rather than issuing unrealistic deadlines and demands, had taken the tack of a gradual military buildup in Iraq through 2003, thus continuing to pressure Saddam; giving the Security Council and inspectors more time than was requested; and selecting a final deadline of January 2, 2004, to complete the inspections-with the ultimate threat of military action as a last resort. Although France and Russia have economic interests and historical ties with Iraq, they would have been pressured to accept this reasonable plan. Instead, the US became impatient with the UN, balked at the lengthy Security Council debates, built an international coalition, and took unprecedented military action by invading a country that had not directly attacked the US.
President Bush insisted that Iraq possesed weapons of mass destruction, the weapons posed a direct threat to the US and its neighbors, the UN inspections were ineffective, and war was inevitable to make Iraq disarm.
The US has cobbled together a Potemkin Coalition of 45 or so countries that appear powerful in numbers, but, after looking behind the facade, is really a group of economic and military lightweights, except for Australia and Britain. The coalition will offer little military support to fight in Iraq and minuscule financial assistance to pay the projected $200 billion to $1.8 trillion cost of the war and occupation, 95% which will be borne by the American taxpayer, according to many foreign policy experts. Most of the coalition leaders are in a Catch-22 since their citizens (as did most Americans until the invasion began) oppose armed intervention without UN authorization. Yet, this coalition is led primarily by 'political elites' that do not reflect the democratic will of the vast majority of their citizens, except in the US, Israel, and the UK.
Another more devastating and worrisome development is the massive negative international public opinion emerging against the US. Overseas, US governmental policies have reached an all-time low. Polls show the bulk of the world views the US as an imperialistic, hegemonic aggressor stealing Iraqi oil, ignoring international law (which it has done in violation of Article 51 of the UN Charter), and illegally deposing Saddam Hussein (who is not highly regarded even among Iraqis nor people opposing the US).
Two 'shock and awe' campaigns are presently underway: a military one in Iraq and the other consisting of how disdained US foreign policy is viewed overseas. A shocking tsunami wave of opposition is racing at incredible speed worldwide that is potentially damaging to the campaign on terrorism because the US needs strong international cooperation and coordination to combat Al-Qaeda and other foes. Also, at some point, this immense reservoir of resentment may be transferred to how foreigners deal with American businesspeople, tourists, and students abroad.
To compound the negative perception held by many foreigners, many of the media joined the Bush Administration in demonizing and vilifying anyone, especially the French, who did not agree with them. When Congressman Representative Bob Ney, (R-Ohio) lobbied to have 'French fries' changed to 'Freedom fries' in the House of Representatives Cafeteria, a poignant message reverberated in many areas of the world reminding foreigners of the 'Ugly American' from the 1950s, who was caricatured as uninformed and incompetent in dealing with foreigners and insensitive to their concerns.
Not to be an apologist for French intransigence and its enthusiasm to rein in the US's Iraqi policy, but how would Americans have reacted if the French had led a boycott against American goods and products when the Bush Administration arrogantly and arbitrarily undertook unpopular policies and thumbed its nose at the world? For example, when the US boycotted the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty, aggressively undermined the International Criminal Court (which now could be helpful in prosecuting an international criminal, such as Saddam), and, potentially fueled the nuclear arms race by withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. The most recent foreign policy 'faux pas' included scuttling an agreement whereby poor countries could buy lower-priced generic drugs to combat AIDs and other diseases that are destroying their societies, as well as wrecking a global health agreement to reduce tobacco consumption worldwide.
Some of the ironies of the Administration's policies are that eliminating Saddam may not reduce terrorism because Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda could more easily recruit Islamic fundamentalists as terrorists and, while the US is still the military and economic superpower, France has been elevated internationally as the moral superpower because of its David vs. Goliath stance at the UN.
What can be done to stem the negative perception of the US, keep America's military out of harm's way except when it is only the last resort, develop a comprehensive strategy with the UN to confront major international challenges, and win the campaign against terrorism, which is really the ultimate goal? For starters, the US should:
-- involve the UN immediately (which President Bush has mentioned doing) , especially in the area of social and humanitarian programs, in the rebuilding of Iraq;
-- give the UN a substantive role in administering a post-military Iraq because, if not, the US will be viewed as a colonial power and it's occupation of Iraq will not be legitimately accepted by the majority of the world;
-- work aggressively to repair the tattered relations with the French, Russians, and Germans, who will be absolutely critical in confronting future terrorism and security issues. Iraq is just a blip on the radar screen in the antiterrorism campaign. International cooperation is absolutely critical to hammer out an effective strategy to deal with Iran and North Korea, both of which pose a greater danger to the US than does Iraq;
-- highlight America's right to self-defense and drop this inflammatory pre-emptive strike policy which is in violation of the UN Charter and international law. If the US can launch a pre-emptive strike, why can't North Korea if it feels threatened?
-- realize that the UN is still the US's number 1 international ally. UN agencies are vital to combat terrorism in many ways, such as moving aircraft, ships, and mail (without anthrax) safely around the world. Also, all of the 30 plus UN agencies are of great assistance to the US in achieving its foreign policy goals, such as combating environmental degradation and fighting diseases, curbing the flow of illegal drugs, promoting international trade and economic development, and enhancing human rights.
The proverbial 'food fight' at the UN Security Council vividly shows how countries and leaders can be childish, immature, and often lose sight of the 'big picture.' The UN is much broader than one resolution on how to disarm Iraq. Reckless talk of abandoning the rule of law, going-it-alone, and forsaking the ONLY international organization that brings the countries of the world together to resolve their problems, is sheer folly. The UN, although it has shortcomings, is still the only game in town, and there is no better alternative. Today, even with the bickering at the Security Council, the UN has proven to be more responsible and relevant than at any point during its 58-year history, and it will not follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, the failed League of Nations. The only sustainable, internationally supported, and well-paved road to peace that President Bush accurately touts, be it in Iraq, North Korea, or Israel, runs directly through the UN.