RM
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RM Issue #030906

Hide those unseemly snickers, gentlemen
By MARCUS GEE Friday, September 5, 2003

Opponents of the U.S.-led war and occupation in
Iraq could hardly contain their snickers when the administration of President George W. Bush asked this week for more United Nations help in securing and rebuilding the country. Britain's antiwar Guardian called it a "humiliating diplomatic climbdown." The Financial Times said the U.S. was going "meekly, co-operatively, multilaterally" to the UN, "the institution it derided and mocked only a few months ago." The Toronto Star said the request showed the "folly of the U.S. going it alone without UN legitimacy."

It is all a bit rich. The United States, let's remember, spent from September, 2002, to March, 2003, furiously trying to persuade the UN Security Council to issue a real ultimatum to Saddam Hussein's regime over his refusal to comply with UN disarmament resolutions. Only when France, Germany and others blocked U.S. and British attempts to issue an enforceable deadline for Iraqi compliance with the UN's own repeated demands did the United States and its allies go to war, reluctantly, without specific UN sanction.

In the wake of that transatlantic feud, the bitterest in years, it is hardly surprising that Washington was not eager to hand over postwar control of Iraq to the UN. The Security Council had, after all, chosen to stand on the sidelines as U.S. and British soldiers fought and died to liberate Iraq from the Hussein dictatorship. It only made sense that, having taken the main role in unseating the old regime and occupying the country, the United States should take the main role in putting a new interim government in place and getting things running again.

That task is proving devilishly tough. Rebuilding a society as brutalized and run down as Iraq was under Saddam Hussein was always going to be hard, but the guerrilla tactics of his remaining henchmen and the infiltration of suspected foreign terrorists have made the job bloody and costly. The occupation is costing Washington $3.9-billion (U.S.) a month, not to mention the dozens of soldiers killed since Mr. Hussein's defeat.

Understandably, the United States is now asking for help carrying the burden. There is no shame in that. Instead of gloating over Washington's "humiliation," its friends should welcome the Bush administration's new willingness to accept international help in Iraq.

Healing Iraq is in everyone's interest. If the international community succeeds in stabilizing the country and making way for a representative government, it would go a long way toward refuting the feeling, spread by terrorists, that the West and its institutions are conspiring to oppress the Arab and Islamic worlds. If, on the other hand, Iraq descends into chaos, Iraq could become a magnet and breeding ground for anti- Western terrorism.

Healing Iraq would also help to heal the Western alliance. The past year has opened up a great breach in the community of Western nations, a breach that encourages its enemies and handicaps the common struggle against terrorism.

Unfortunately, Washington's main rivals in the Iraq debate seem to be more interested in carrying on the feud. Yesterday Jacques Chirac of France and Gerhard Schroeder of Germany attacked the new UN resolution proposed by the United States, which seeks more international money and troops for the effort in Iraq, but would leave much of the political and military control in American hands. "Not dynamic enough, not sufficient," they sniffed.

They demand more responsibility for the Iraqis and for the United Nations. But what does that mean?

The United States is just as keen as France or Germany to see Iraqis take control of their own country, which is why it has asked the UN to help prepare a timetable for the drafting of a constitution and the holding of elections. But as the country that spearheaded the war and leads the occupation, the United States is (like it or not) going to be the main power in Iraq until an Iraqi government takes charge.

That is why Washington has proposed putting a U.S. commander in charge of the multinational force that, under the new resolution, would take charge in Iraq. That is also why it has insisted on keeping its own, American administrator in place. This only makes sense.

The United States still has the main responsibility for Iraq. UN or no UN, it will be blamed for whatever goes wrong. But it now sees that it cannot do the job alone. For those who like to go on about arrogant U.S. unilateralism, that should be a cause for celebration, not scorn.

mgee@globeandmail.ca



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