(From the November 2004 American Spectator)
IF THE U.N. WORKED AS HARD to impose its will on Iraq in 2002 as it is trying today, America might not have had to go to war. In one of those inversions of reason that only the U.N. can manage, it is now at war with free Iraq in a way it never was with Saddam's bloody despotism.
Having chosen to leave Saddam undisturbed despite more than a dozen "compulsory" resolutions, the U.N. cannot forgive George W. Bush and the Iraqi people for trading its Oil-for-Food-for-Bribes program for the destruction of a terrorist regime and the freedom of Iraq. Now that the removal of Saddam is accomplished, the U.N. is unforgiving: not of him, but of those who are risking their lives to replace his regime with democracy.
The U.N. is prejudging the January 2005 Iraqi elections a failure so that those who opposed Saddam's overthrow -- France, Germany, and Russia chief among them -- will be able to reject the new government as just another puppet of the United States.
The U.N. Security Council members who did their best to thwart any action against Saddam's regime will not let George Bush forget that he took action without their permission. President Bush repeatedly asked the Security Council to enforce its resolutions. Under the U.N. Charter, Security Council resolutions have the force of international law and are supposed to be binding on all U.N. members. But by choosing to ignore those resolutions and demand that diplomacy continue endlessly, the U.N. forfeited its own authority over the matter. It is as feckless as its predecessor -- the League of Nations -- which dissolved because it became nothing more than a debating society that prized talk over freedom.
When President Bush challenged the U.N. to act or become irrelevant, it chose the latter. Now it is trying to regain its relevance by creating an atmosphere in which the Iraqi people will be denied the legitimacy of their coming elections.
LAST JUNE, as the Coalition nations prepared to return Iraqi sovereignty to a new interim government, the U.N. began trying to reassert its influence. In Resolution 1546, passed on June 8, 2004, the U.N. Security Council diplomatically "welcomed" the new transitional government by imposing burdens on Iraq designed to slow its progress toward establishing a stable and free government. Its resolution was made in terms that benefited the U.N. more than Iraq.
Resolution 1546 said that the U.N. "endorses the formation of a sovereign Interim Government of Iraq…which will assume full responsibility and authority…for governing Iraq while refraining from taking any actions affecting Iraq's destiny beyond the limited interim period until an elected Transnational Government of Iraq assumes office…" In short, the interim government couldn't make alliances, draft a constitution, or do anything that would strengthen the hand of the government to be elected later.
Resolution 1546 then attempted to undermine the elections in very direct terms. It "invited" Iraq to consider convening an "international meeting" to support the coming elections. Such an international meeting would, of course, invite Iraq's helpful neighbors -- such as Syria and Iran -- into the process to assert their own influence. Fortunately, the Allawi government recognized that its neighbors mean it harm, not help, and declined this invitation.
The Resolution was passed at a price. The Coalition nations, meaning the U.S., Britain, Australia, and Poland, had to guarantee that a separate security force would be established to protect the U.N. staff helping organize the elections. A letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell gave that guarantee, but the U.N. is still objecting to the insecurity caused by the insurgency, and declining to dispatch the promised election organizers in sufficient numbers to provide real help.
The U.N. is doing its best to make sure that the elected government will not be recognized as legitimate after the January 2005 elections. The debate has become a struggle between interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and President Bush on one side, and Kofi Annan and the European Union on the other.
Mr. Annan has opposed U.S. policy in Iraq from the outset, seeking to assert U.N. control over U.S. actions. When President Bush decided to act when the U.N. wouldn't, Annan took it personally. To the extent that any nation -- especially the United States -- acts without deference to the U.N. and its secretary general, the U.N.'s power and influence are diminished. In mid-September, a simmering Annan made a remarkable statement aimed at both President Bush and Prime Minister Allawi.
First, Annan said, "From our point of view, and the [U.N.] charter point of view, [the Iraq war] was illegal." Annan's statement, if taken seriously, would have enormous legal and diplomatic consequences for the United States. Waging an illegal war is the most serious violation of the U.N. Charter a member can commit. Under Articles 39-45 and 51-52 of the U.N. Charter, any nation that wages an illegal war is subject to sanctions, including military action against it. In that statement, Annan branded America a rogue nation, and stopped just short of declaring Mr. Bush a despotic aggressor.
Annan's timing was no coincidence. As the U.S. election neared, he was casting a vote for John Kerry and implying that all the peace-loving nations of the world were doing the same. Annan intended no sanctions against the U.S. His aim was not only to defeat Mr. Bush, but also to place the U.N. in control of the coming Iraqi election.
In the same statement, Annan said that the U.N. would attempt to help Iraq set up its elections, but the results were bound to be questionable. He said there could not be "credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now." In saying that, Annan incited the insurgents to violence, giving them an enormous incentive to interfere with the elections.
Arguing for Iraqi freedom to conduct elections and accept the results of them, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the BBC, "If, for any reason, 300,000 people cannot vote because terrorists decide so -- and this is imposing a very big if -- then frankly 300,000 people is not going to alter 25 million people voting."
Congressional opponents of the war were quick to seize on Annan's statement, drawing a comment from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld in defense of Allawi. An imperfect election, insisted Rumsfeld, is far better than none at all. Rumsfeld is worried. Allawi -- protected by two SEAL platoons -- is said to be the target of about six assassination plots every week.
The usual suspects, including that self-appointed international overseer of elections, Jimmy Carter, were quick to board Annan's bandwagon. "You know, we just finished, the Carter Center did, our 52nd election. All of our elections have been in troubled countries where the outcome was doubtful," Carter said. "But in every case there has to be a central government that can set up the constitution and bylaws and rules so that an election can be held peacefully. I don't see that happening as long as the terrible violence continues in Iraq. And if you look at the statistics on deaths or wounded and so forth in the last three or four months -- instead of getting better and more peaceful, apparently the situation's getting worse."
Earth to Jimmy Carter: the U.N. already made sure that Iraq wouldn't have a constitution before the elections.
Just a few days after Annan's statement, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry also jumped on the U.N. bandwagon. He said, "Yet today, just four months before Iraqis are supposed to go to the polls, the U.N. Secretary General and administration officials themselves say the elections are in grave doubt. Because the security situation is so bad… and because not a single country has offered troops to protect the U.N. elections mission… the U.N. has less than 25 percent of the staff it needs in Iraq to get the job done. The President should recruit troops from our friends and allies for a U.N. protection force." Kerry apparently believes that if we don't ensure that the U.N. is satisfied with the Iraq election, we won't have taken "the steps necessary to hold credible elections next year."
Mr. Kerry's desire for U.N. approval is as deep as Jimmy Carter's. But they both ignore history, and seek to make U.N. approval more important than the votes of free Iraqis, many of whom will risk their lives to vote.
THERE IS, AT LEAST, ONE NOTABLE example of a successful election that was held with fewer than 50 percent being able to vote. It was in a nation of almost 14 million called America. In 1864, only 4 million voted in Abraham Lincoln's second presidential election, and only about 55 percent of that minority chose Lincoln. The 9 million Southerners -- about 3.5 million of them slaves -- didn't vote in that election. Fortunately, there was no U.N. to tell the Union that Lincoln's election was illegal, or that the Lincoln government couldn't speak for the entire nation, even those still held as slaves.
With encouragement from the Annan-Carter-Kerry chorus, the Iraq insurgents -- and their supporters in Iran and Syria -- will do their best to disrupt the elections. They will, in some measure, succeed. The danger to Iraq -- and to America's war on terror -- lies in the degree to which their success diminishes the new Iraqi government's standing in the world.
If the Annan-Carter-Kerry bandwagon succeeds in trampling the election results to any significant degree, the newly elected government will not be formally recognized by many nations. Those nations that don't recognize it will not negotiate treaties with the new government. They will have every excuse to refuse the commercial trade the new country so badly needs. If the new government is told that it cannot be recognized because some of the territory it claims is beyond its writ, the message will again reinforce the insurgency. In those areas where Moqtada al-Sadr and his insurgents remain strong, there will be calls for a partitioning of Iraq, and recognition of separate states. The more the U.N. bandwagon succeeds in discounting the Iraqi government, the more likely will be civil war and the breakup of Iraq into smaller nations their neighbors will find easy prey.
Were Iraq partitioned Kurdistan would destabilize Turkey, which fears that the Kurds would expand their territorial demands into Turkey's northwest. In the south and east of Iraq, Iran would build the influence of its proxies, such as al-Sadr. Syria -- which was given a blunt warning to cease its interference by a high-level delegation of U.S. Defense, State, and Treasury Department officials in September -- would increase its government's assistance to the insurgents.
The insurgents and their allies have watched the calendar closely. As our presidential election drew nearer, the insurgents learned that their ability to disrupt the election may be inversely proportional to our -- and the Allawi government's -- ability to hunt them down and kill them before they can. President Bush is doing more to increase the military pressure on them, and freeing parts of Iraq from their control. The October offensives against the insurgents in Fallujah and elsewhere were one good way to help the Iraqis toward the free and fair elections we have promised.
John Kerry says he is determined that Iraq will be free. But under what terms? If George W. Bush loses in November, it is more than likely that the lame-duck president will press forward regardless, and that the elections will be held in however much of Iraq our armed force can secure. After, the future of Iraq will be decided not by Iraqis, but by Iran, Syria, France, Russia, and the rest of the U.N. herd.
If Mr. Bush wins, and the elections -- however imperfect -- are held, America will be the first to recognize the new government. Other nations will gradually follow suit and the new Iraqi government will be on its way to establishing itself as a responsible member of the community of nations. We will sign treaties of mutual defense and trade with the new Iraqi government, and the U.N. -- as it should -- will sink further into its own diplomatic quagmire. A free and fair election in Iraq, and the diminution of the U.N.'s power and influence, will both be significant victories for us, and every other nation that still cherishes the idea of freedom.
Jed Babbin is a contributing editor to The American Spectator and the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery Publishing).This article appeared in the November issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe, click here.