By Bill Miller
The term “shock and awe” was frequently used when the highly trained, well funded US military rolled through Iraq in March of 2003. Today, the term “shocked and awful” may be more appropriate because the violence is spiraling upward, security is breaking down, and the legitimacy for a pre-emptive invasion has virtually disappeared in the eyes of the majority of the 6.4 billion people around the world, as well as the191 UN member states. To compound the problem, the US’s credibility, authority, and moral leadership have been decimated after the horrendous Abu Ghraib photos of alleged torture, rape, harassment, and possible homicides, of Iraqi prisoners.
To his credit, President Bush, after referring to the UN as irrelevant, has logically and wisely called upon the UN—which is the only international organization that can salvage the Iraqi debacle that is perilously close to a Dien Bien Phu type of defeat, if civil war breaks out—to take over the mission to set up a governing body that can receive sovereignty on June 30.
Secretary General Kofi Annan dispatched former Algerian Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi to bring the disparate Iraqi power groups to agree upon a process to select a prime minister and president to replace a US-appointed council on June 30, and to govern Iraq until free elections can be arranged for January 2005. Brahimi, who was instrumental in brokering a peace accord in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Haiti, is probably the only diplomat who is well-respected and knowledgeable enough to pull this off. The success or failure of the Iraqi operation, ending in a semi-peaceful resolution, rests in his hands. If Brahimi is unable to bring the major players together, the US will probably “cut and run” and civil war will erupt.
With each passing day, the situation becomes more dire. What can be done to avert an Armageddon disaster? For starters:
--President Bush should request that an international conference be held at the UN to support Ambassador Brahimi’s Plan and to bring key allies, especially the G-8 and NATO countries, to help formulate a specific plan of assistance. Most countries are unwilling to send troops into a deteriorating situation and to defy their citizens who overwhelmingly opposed the Iraqi invasion. The US will have no choice but to share authority and decision-making with these countries. Even Iraq’s neighbors, who are not favorites of the Administration, must play a productive and cooperative role and sign on to a workable peace reconstruction process.
--Under no circumstances should the UN take on responsibilities that it does not have the financial and technical capacities to achieve. The UN, which wants to be of assistance in peacefully resolving the Iraqi situation, should be viewed as independent of overt US influence. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the UN have been condemned by the US Administration for not doing enough in Iraq. On the other hand, scores of other countries blast Annan for being under the US’s thumb.
--Involve various UN agencies if, and ONLY if, security can be guaranteed. It would be disastrous to have another bombing, such as the one that killed 22 UN employees in August. It is very difficult to provide humanitarian assistance in a war zone.
--Request the UN Security Council to authorize a multinational security force after the June 30 transfer of power so as to share the burden, provide international legitimacy, and reduce the US’s military role.
The situation in Iraq is made even more dangerous and difficult by poll results in Iraq and in the US. In a recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll of Iraqis, the vast majority felt the US was neither serious about establishing a democracy nor helping economically, and would have to be physically forced out.
In the US, a recent PIPA Poll indicated that 57% of the Americans believe that Iraq was supporting Al Qaeda, 38% still believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and 20% believe Iraq was involved in the horrible 9-11 attacks. Some neoconservative Administration policymakers and irresponsible media types are grasping at flimsy or nonexistent evidence and continue to recite it as factual. That type of misinformation will simply confuse the public about the actual situation. It will instill an erroneous belief that the Iraqi invasion was justified and worth the expense, regardless of what it is, rather than objectively evaluating how deplorable the situation is and what the negative repercussions are if there is not an international legitimacy and internationalization of assistance.
The same poll did reflect some solid support for suggestions as to extricating the US from Iraq. A strong 71% said the UN should “take the lead” to work with Iraqis to set up a new constitution and build a democratic government, while the same number agreed that the invasion of Iraq has not reduced the threat of terrorism. An overwhelming 77% said that the UN should coordinate the reconstruction effort, while the US should continue to command the military.
Regardless of what happens with the Brahimi Plan, the UN will emerge as a much stronger organization. Americans are gradually realizing what the world has known all along, that a multilateral approach under the auspices of the United Nations has a far greater chance of success, as opposed to a unilateral pre-emptive policy. The Bush Doctrine of Preemption is probably dead since the US military is overstretched in terms of troops, funding, and operational capabilities. Not to mention, many Americans are questioning whether the price is too high with over 740 soldiers dead, 3,000 wounded, 14,000 dead Iraqis, and a price tag that will bust $200 billion shortly.
Worldwide, the US is perceived as illegally invading a sovereign country to control the oil resources and is viewed as not having legal and moral legitimacy. The Administration would be hard pressed to rally support to counter North Korea, Iran, or even Cuba.
It is ironic that much of what is being proposed in the Brahimi Plan had been suggested over six months ago. The window of opportunity to salvage a peaceful Iraqi transfer of power is just about closed. Even if all parties buy into the UN proposal, there is still no guarantee of a peaceful resolution. If Ambassador Brahimi fails, the US will fail. There is no middle ground.