You may as well grin and bear it. We’re in a campaign year, and we’re going to have a big dose of nonsense every week. The most tiresome of this past week’s dose emanated from Lonica Moowinsky, who whined to the Beeb that Lil’ Billy hadn’t told the truth about their Oval Office oral encounters in his revisionist memoir. Funniest was the collective media harrumph over Vice President Dick Cheney’s suggestion to Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Michael Moore) that he should perform an anatomically impossible act. Given Leahy’s record of stonewalling judicial appointees, it’s a wonder no one said it to him before. Forget it. There’s a lot going on of vastly greater importance.
Two weeks ago, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution giving U.N. approval of the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq. But as usual, and for the usual reasons, the latest U.N. action didn’t give us what we wanted; it clearly doesn’t give Iraq what it needs. In fact, the only thing it does is to prop up the façade covering the fact that the U.N. is faithful only unto itself.
We went to the U.N. — again — to get a resolution that would have recognized the turnover of Iraqi sovereignty, endorsed the continued military presence of the Coalition forces, and — in substance, if not in words — cleared the path for nations that had opposed the removal of Saddam’s regime to contribute to the security and stability of the new Iraq. What we ended up with is considerably less. Resolution 1546 is more notable for what it doesn’t do than for what it does, and it sets back much of the progress we have made in the fourteen months since Saddam was removed from power.
ONE OF THE THINGS that the resolution doesn’t do is recognize the “Transitional Administrative Law” which, as the NYT‘s Bill Safire pointed out in a recent column, was the most significant accomplishment of the Bremer consulship in Iraq. That law guaranteed the minority rights of Kurds and other groups that had been oppressed under Saddam. The Kurds had negotiated that law fearing precisely what is happening now. As Safire reported, the intervention of Ali al-Sistani, the most influential cleric among Iraq’s Shia majority, objected to protecting any minority’s rights. Now the Kurds are threatening to split their northern provinces from the new Iraq, which will make Turkey very nervous. (An independent Kurdistan could claim much of the farthest eastern border areas of Turkey, which also have a Kurdish majority. Turkey will go to war to prevent that.) The U.N. action increases, not decreases, the likelihood of further armed conflict.
The U.N. action gives with one hand and takes with the other. It begins by endorsing the formation of the new interim sovereign government of Iraq with a qualification: that it “refrain from taking any actions affecting Iraq’s destiny beyond the limited interim period” until an elected transitional government is in place, which is supposed to occur by the end of 2005. Though it lacks the authority to do so, the U.N. has mandated that nothing be done by the interim government that has any permanence. This is a limitation on Iraqi sovereignty that may have longer-lasting effect than anything the Coalition has done. Because we and other free nations continue to pay too much attention to it, the U.N. is still in position to place burdens on the new Iraqi government as the price of joining the U.N. and obtaining “legitimacy,” which the U.N. insists is solely its province.
The U.N.’s action stops short of recognizing the new Iraqi interim government as the legitimate government of Iraq. Recognition, and establishment of diplomatic relations, is the formal blessing one government gives another to establish mutual diplomatic, legal, and trade relations. Without recognition by the U.N., the new Iraqi government is left to deal only with the U.N. and the Coalition. None of the U.N. Security Council members have any reason to do more because the new resolution gives them a perfect excuse to wait.
The resolution also fails to do those things that could really have helped the new Iraq. No members commit to send troops to Iraq. None promise to send money to help rebuild Iraq. None of the Axis of Weasels agrees to forgive any of the billions of dollars in debt that Saddam’s regime left behind.
As with most everything else the U.N. does, Resolution 1546 benefits the U.N. more than it benefits anything else. It invites the U.N. back into Iraq, and agrees that it will have a “leading role” in creating the new government. It also invites the Iraqis to consider convening an international meeting to support the Iraqi political transition and recovery “in the interest of stability in the region.” This is, perhaps, the most dangerous provision in the resolution because it is the predicate for Iran and Syria — the two nations that have interfered the most in Iraq, and have the most to lose if democracy takes hold there — to have an open and significant role in forming the new government. Like the problem of failing to recognize the rights of Iraqi minorities, this sows the seeds of future war.
THERE IS MORE THAN one way to look at this resolution, and none is good. First, it could be said that we gave little we hadn’t already given in order to get it, and that it provides the foundation for cooperation within the U.N. Security Council. That is a false hope. France and Germany will forestall real help there, as NATO (as Chirac has already said) is stretched too thin elsewhere to do much in Iraq. At the NATO meeting this weekend, those nations promised to help train Iraqi security forces. It’s better than nothing, but not much. President Bush’s announcement that the rifts in NATO over Iraq were healed is terribly unrealistic. Those rifts are as wide as ever, and Weasels want to keep it that way. We gave little in order to get this resolution, but in doing so we accomplished one thing above all others: we again endorsed the U.N. as the final arbiter of international disputes. We set ourselves up for failure, not success.
Second, this resolution — if used by the Security Council members and Iraq’s neighbors for their own purposes — can be the vehicle by which the country is partitioned. If Ali al-Sistani is encouraged by having Iran at the negotiating table, if Talabani and the Kurds decide they will not be treated fairly, their basic rights secured, if those nations that voted for the resolution do not come to Iraq’s economic help by forgiving substantial parts of its debts, the country may be partitioned. If Iraq’s Shia majority join with Iran, what then? War, courtesy of the U.N.
The third — and better — view sees the U.N. resolution as a minor victory for our diplomats that really changes little. We are in Iraq for the duration (unless the Iraqis throw us out) and we’ll prevent Iran or Syria from dominating the scene. Yes, the EUnuchs and U.N. regulars will not make things easier for us. But the U.N. will not be the decisive actor in Iraq if we continue on our course. If we can stabilize Iraq and fend off the foreign challenges to it, it is the free Iraqis — and we — who will benefit most.
TAS Contributing Editor Jed Babbin is author of the just released Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery Publishing).
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