Although polls show the vast majority of the six billion people around the world and the 191 UN member states were supportive of containing Saddam, effectively removing the potential threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), if it existed, and combating terrorism, there was considerable resistance to the US-led invasion that was a pre-emptive strike against a sovereign government, regardless of how repulsive Saddam was. The prevailing sentiment of the UN member states is that even though they disagreed with the Iraqi invasion, they should help to make the best of an extremely dangerous situation and work to improve it. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is in a precarious situation since many countries blame him and the UN Security Council for not stopping the US from committing--what is perceived by many foreign policy observers as-- the biggest foreign policy blunder of the 21st Century. Many feel that the US created the Iraqi mess and should have to deal with it on its own.
The UN, as the US’s major international ally in combating terrorism, has decided that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating rapidly and could contribute to even greater violence, instability, and devastation in the volatile Middle East, unless immediate action is taken. Working towards that goal, the US should:
-- Engage the UN as an equal partner, not a subservient pawn, in developing the effective governance and reconstruction of Iraq. Each party must have a clear delineation of specific responsibilities and fixed roles, while operating independently, yet cooperating fully. This mature and professional working relationship is one of the main reasons that the US and the UN have been relatively successful in re-building Afghanistan.
-- Improve security in Iraq. The US, as the occupying power, must guarantee that the UN and non-governmental organizations can operate freely and without fear of being attacked, such as with the disastrous bombing of the UN headquarters in August which killed the brilliant UN diplomat, Sergio de Mello, and 21 other UN officials who were some of the best and brightest international public administrators.
-- Drop the unrealistic deadline of a June 30 election and the cumbersome caucus method of elections. The US must support the UN’s envoy Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, one of the few outsiders who has the confidence of the most powerful cleric in Iraq, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani. Sistani’s support may spell the difference between a peaceful or bloody transition of power.
-- Request that the UN Security Council establish--after a legitimate interim Iraqi government is in place--a multilateral peacekeeping operation, under US command, that would strengthen and internationalize the security.
-- Involve all appropriate UN agencies in the transferring political power, implementing social and economic development programs and pushing for Iraq’s neighbors to have a more hands-on involvement in the reconstruction, thus diminishing efforts of Iran or Syria to de-stabilize Iraq.
-- Not blame the UN for any setbacks or delays in the elections, reconstruction, or security. The US has a penchant to blame the UN when events take a turn for the worse. Two examples include the Bush Administration spinning out misinformation that the UN supported an armed invasion of Iraq, or the Clinton Administration blamed the UN for US Rangers killed in Somalia, which the UN clearly did not do in both cases.
-- Take immediate action to reverse the negative perception that the vast majority of the world has towards US foreign policies. Although most countries support the campaign against terrorism, the Bush Administration’s foreign policies--not the American public--are disdained around the world, which was quite evident even before the perceived illegal invasion of Iraq. This disdain, now bordering on mistrust, may be the biggest impediment in combating terrorism. To offset this problem, one immediate change should be for the US to drop many of its counterproductive policies of undercutting the International Criminal Court, opposing the Kyoto Protocol, and failing to support a myriad of international agreements, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention for the Rights of the Child, that are languishing in the US Senate. Actions speak louder than rhetoric.
A side effect of presenting some accurate, but mostly exaggerated and bogus, information justifying the Iraqi invasion is that the US has lost much of its credibility at home and abroad. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, arguably one of the few Administration officials who had any international credibility, has seen his star diminish after giving a forceful, yet mostly erroneous, presentation at the UN stating why Saddam was such an immediate threat--which he was not. Worldwide, even among our friends and allies in Latin America, the US is viewed as a hegemonic center of an axis of arrogance, a country to be feared, and one whose foreign policies are controlled by ultra-conservative extremists, commonly called neoconservatives or neocons. The neocons are perceived as pushing policies that embark upon a new imperialism (a term seldom used since the frigid days of the Cold War), and who want to control the oil in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. A growing perception is that the neocons intimidated intelligence agencies, cherry picked and distorted the worst rumors and evidence against Saddam, and are either mendacious or incompetent.
-- Officially revoke the Bush Pre-Emption Doctrine, which allows the US to take military action against any country or group perceived as a threat, and move towards working with the UN countries to mobilize international support to combat threats from other countries. Pre-emption does implicitly exist in international law and the UN Charter, thus allowing countries to defend themselves against an imminent aggressor if clear and accurate evidence exists. Since the US now has a Grand Canyon of a credibility gap, the Bush Doctrine is virtually dead. It may be extremely difficult to mobilize the international community and the US public against a perceived future, but unsubstantiated, threat. An extreme example might be that Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s tyrannical leader, would have to personally autograph a nuclear weapon and drop it on Seattle before any universal outrage might be engendered.
The Iraqi situation is rife with ironies:
First, the hype that the intelligence agencies got it wrong and provided inaccurate information is NOT correct. UN inspectors, headed by the exemplary international civil servant Dr. Hans Blix, have been vindicated due to their findings that Saddam did not have a viable weapons system and was not an immediate threat. Prior to the Iraqi invasion in mid-March of 2003, the CIA and other intelligence agencies came forward with similar conclusions. Another irony, in hindsight, is that the UN inspections and sanctions during the ‘90s may have actually contained Saddam’s weapon programs.
Second, many people felt euphoric about the lighting incursion by an incredibly well-trained 21st Century US military that quickly vanquished a 1960s Iraqi army. Today, even though few people will shed a tear over Saddam’s capture, the peace is proving to be elusive and the price tag (over 550 US soldiers killed, 3,000 injured, 10,000 dead Iraqis, $170 billion expended (with another $50 billion request pending) is staggering.
Third, the bulk of the information being discussed now as “new” information about WMDs was actually available prior to the invasion. Major mainstream media, even a paragon of journalistic excellence such as the New York Times, have suffered an incredible blow to their credibility. Most media sources--although they had the correct UN reports about Saddam and WMDs, CIA updates, and the Nigerian yellowcake study--developed a “herd mentality” and meekly resigned themselves to the inevitable conclusion that the US had made a decision to go to war, and it would not be deterred with facts to the contrary. The Iraqi invasion was a war of choice that was based upon a preconceived policy to invade Iraq, rather than substantiated evidence that pointed to developing a policy that would justify an invasion. It was a policy looking for facts.
Fourth, arguably America has unparalleled military, cultural, technological, and economic strength. However, as the only superpower, it is critical that the US engender moral and developmental leadership, credibility, and respect around the world. Unfortunately, the perception is that US is feared, but not respected. What an irony that a recent poll shows that the Iraqis view President Chirac more favorably than President Bush, while simultaneously believing the US is in Iraq to control the oil and force a realignment of the Middle East in its democratic image.
The CIA has correctly forewarned that Iraq may be on the brink of a civil war. The situation has deteriorated to the crisis level. If the Bush Administration can secure the UN’s support, there is a slight chance that the crisis will be avoided and Humpty Dumpty can be put together, at least partially. If the US tries to go-it-alone with an arrogant, unilateralist policy, Iraq may very well go up in flames and the US will lose control of the country. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was right when he said, “There is no right way… We have reached a fork in the road.” The path the US and the UN take will lead to either success or failure. They must make the right choice and walk together. Time is running out.