The UN Is Good Again
Published: Jan 29 2004
|New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning
journalist who covers politics and
So, the UN is relevant again. From the moment the Bush
administration began rumbling about invading Iraq until very
recently, the White House wanted the irritatingly uncooperative
United Nations to have no role in decision- or peace-making. The
cumbersome world body was expected to administer aid in the country
and expose its staff to constant physical danger without having any
say in this very-international crisis.
Now, however, with the triumph of Iraq looking a lot less
apparent precisely as the November U.S. elections take on a certain
singularity, something had to give. And so something did. In recent
days, we’ve seen the administration rapidly abandoning all
insistence on a unilateral U.S. right to call the shots in Iraq. All
kinds of alternative scenarios are being considered. The other day,
the United States brokered a meeting between the Iraqi Governing
Council and the United Nations—with one Paul Bremer having flown all
the way to New York to participate. The possibility of Iraqi direct
elections, and all the wild card outcomes involved, once anathema to
Washington, is even on the table.
Of course, elections in such countries are dicey at best, given
the lack of experience with democracy. Its at best wishful thinking
to assume that a country will transform itself from years of tyranny
into a democracy virtually overnight—you’re just as likely to
replace one form of tyranny with another. If anyone doubts that,
check out the published picture of an Ayatollah Khomeini poster
being waved at an Iraqi—not Iranian—demonstration.
But what else to do? The Bush administration has no idea. The
buddies of Rumsfeld and Cheney—in particular returned exiles like
the controversial charmer intellectual and failed banker Ahmed
Chalabi—have been away so long they’re completely out of step with
the average Iraqi (and that’s assuming they ever were in step in the
Although the place was a huge mess under Saddam, it’s now a new
kind of huge mess, but one where any westerner, or friend of a
westerner, is a big juicy target. The only solution, before a war,
and after, is to ask the world community to figure this thing out.
The Saddam fan club and its new, post-vanquishment Al Qaeda
comrades might or might not like the United Nations presence in
Iraq, but troops from Pakistan and other Muslim nations are a lot
easier to tolerate than Bob from Buffalo.
Same thing goes for the true powers in the fragmented
country—long on a simmer—especially the aged Shiite leaders, they’re
not exactly flexible, modern thinkers, and dealing with them takes
special skills and sensitivities. So, yes, bringing the UN in to
take over everything—from decision-making to bartering, from
soldiering to contracting—is the only solution. That last point is
probably what really held back Team Bush from foisting this poison
pie on the internationals. You can bet that Halliburton won’t be
high on any UN "dream contractor" list.
Where's The Nearest Exit?
In any case, the Bush administration is without a doubt rolling
up the sidewalk faster than you can say “debacle.” Add the ongoing
violence to the other little problem—the pre-war claims of Al-Qaeda
connections and WMD (weapons of mass destruction) stockpiles that
failed to materialize—and you now have an administration whose
primary achievement is two things: a war with no clear reason and a
peace with no clear plan. Hmm. Time to shake this off our
This week, of course, the news is that Colin Powell has been in
Russia, lecturing Bush’s pal Putin politely about problems with
Democracy there. That, of course, is part of a new public
relations campaign to recast Iraq as part of a broader-based agenda
for democracy and freedom everywhere. The great thing about Russia,
of course, is that the administration doesn’t have to actually do
anything beyond politely gripe—and wink. You can bet there won’t be
anything more severe as follow up. But, from the standpoint of the
image strategists who actually run most decision-making in the White
House, and who do double duty cleaning up after the armchair
warriors, it’s a darned good start on the political season.
And what else must be done? Well, let’s see now. Dick Cheney is
off in Europe softening his image, making whoopee with the
powerful-but-not-lackey at the World Economic Forum in Davos,
Switzerland, and checking in with the Pope. Okay, so two more
constituencies out of the way. Now if only the United Nations can
get into Iraq fast enough, I think we’re covering our bases pretty
well. Right, Karl Rove?
Count on a good election to focus the thinking, speed
conciliation and get results. All praise democracy.