United Nations Archive 2

US and Iraq: Staring Into the Abyss


By Bill Miller

In late summer, when the Bush Administration was threatening 'regime change,' many foreign policy specialists thought this inflammatory rhetoric would destroy any effort to mobilize the UN and get unanimous international approval forcing Iraq to comply with the original UN Resolutions. The Administration scored a dramatic, successful, and unexpected victory when the UN Security Council voted 15-0 (even Syria voted aye) to require that UN inspectors re-enter Iraq and vigorously work towards identifying and disarming Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Undoubtedly, people worldwide would be delighted to see Saddam depart Baghdad and join the lines of the unemployed. What can the US do to re-define the Iraqi crisis, bring more countries on-board, and resolve the issue peacefully? For starters, the US should:

-- Drop the tired mantra of 'material breach' whenever US jets are fired upon in the no-fly zone. This provocation has been on-going for nearly eleven years and the world community does not believe that it legally and morally rises to the level of justifying an armed invasion.

-- Permanently abandon the inflammatory and illegal threat of 'regime change' since it made Allies extremely nervous. This threat was a violation of international law. Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter have provisions that clarify whether there is a material breach of a resolution. Authorization for force would be a last resort.

-- Ratchet down the rhetoric and re-define the ill-conceived Bush Doctrine's concept of 'pre-emption.' Pre-emption means that the US can take a first military strike against any country that it perceives as being a threat. That doctrine exists in international law (Article 51 of the UN Charter); however, it is based on the UN-sanctioned right and responsibility to act in self-defense against some threat. This doctrine created a seismic shiver of apprehension throughout the world, by both friend and foe alike. If it is legal for the US to take action, this logic extends to justifying the North Koreans attacking South Korea, or Pakistan invading India.

-- Apply pressure and, at the conclusion of the investigations, diligently work with the Security Council to replace the draconian sanctions and ineffective 'oil-for-food' program. New guidelines should offer an incentive to the Iraqis to participate, be more accountable and workable, and maintain more control over the oil revenue so that it does not reach Saddam's bank account. Sanctions will work only when the bulk of the nations support them. Today, many nations do not lend that support.

If the US and the international community are to be successful in disarming Saddam and combating terrorism, they must draw upon the broad-based support of people worldwide. Some of the major stumbling blocks to garnering this support include:

-- Convincing the public that there is a link between Al-Qaeda and Saddam; proving Iraq has weapons that threaten America; and demonstrating that a military strike is inevitable and would be successful. The public is rightfully apprehensive that a military strike might not produce a quick and easy victory, such as the 1991 gulf war. For example, it is conceivable that tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and thousands of Americans could be killed in urban warfare. The cost of this conflict could be a whopping $200 billion per year and up to nearly $2 trillion for an extended campaign. Moderate Arab regimes might be overthrown, thus creating more turmoil, uncertainty, and terrorism, while disrupting the oil flow. US troops may be bogged down in Iraq as an occupational force for years to come. It may be difficult to rely on some of the US's supposed allies, such as Turkey, that have an Islamic government but still maintain a secular state.

-- International polls and articles poignantly show that the majority of people around the world no longer have an immense reservoir of pro-American goodwill that immediately followed the 9/11 tragedy. Overseas, the US is viewed cynically and many people are convinced that the US is hegemonic and is embarking upon a new imperialism (a term not used since the frigid days of the Cold War). The US wants to control the oil in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. The Bush Administration is perceived as pursuing a unilateral and arrogant foreign policy, especially by ignoring international treaties on human rights, the environment, and international crimes, while doing little to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Apparently, what US policymakers fail to understand is that the demand around both the US and the world is for the allies to use the UN, and not to do anything militarily without UN involvement and approval. If the US and a handful of countries decide to launch a military strike, but without UN Security Council support, it will still be interpreted as 'going it alone' and acting unilaterally, while possibly violating international law. The US is still the only superpower, however, if it ignores world opinion, international law, and bolts out on an independent course without a large number of allies, it will do so at its own peril. The US must show the world concrete evidence, which it has failed to do, to convince skeptics that Saddam is indeed an imminent threat and has the capability to utilize horrendous weapons on his neighbors or the US.

Unfortunately, a large number of main stream media outlets have misrepresented most public opinion polls as indicating the American public supports a quick forceful military reaction to any stonewalling or lack of cooperation by Saddam. Instead, polls have consistently shown that 65-80% of the respondents believe the US should first get UN Security Council authorization before launching a military attack. Although the vast majority opposes military action without UN approval, official US policy is that it does not need a green light from the UN.

Saddam can be contained effectively, legally, and economically by using the UN system and international law. President Bush has shown how the US's determination and leadership at the UN can rally the world to bring pressure upon a dictator and make him abide by his agreement of 11 years ago. The UN -- which is effective when its major countries become involved and take control of the situation -- has responded forcefully because of US leadership. Now it is time to elevate the US's prestige and power to the next level and refrain from hastily embarking upon a military adventure that could spell disaster for both Americans and Iraqis.

On January 27, the inspection team, headed by the low-keyed, yet highly-qualified leader, Hans Blix, formerly Director General of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, will make the final report to the UN, although any violations or impediments will be reported prior to that date. In the interim, President Bush and Saddam Hussein should be patient and stop undermining the inspection process, step back from the abyss, and engage in a win-win situation to defuse this extremely volatile situation. World peace, security, and prosperity depend upon it.