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The UN Is Good Again 
Published: Jan 29 2004
New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning journalist who covers politics and media.

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.

No Plan

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 first place).

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 backs.

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.


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