A year ago, the British and U.S. delegations at the United Nations abandoned their attempt to bulldoze through a resolution authorizing their intended attack on Iraq. A few days later an exultant Richard Perle, one of the architects of this new world order, gloated, Thank God the U.N. is dead. As Hans Blix, the U.N.s weapons inspector, comments in his new book, It is an interesting notion that when a small minority has been rebuffed by a strong majority, it is the majority that has failed the test.
Appropriately enough, last month Perle resigned from the Defense Policy Board to protect the administration from the near orbital gap between his pronouncements and the reality of the rest of the world. Last year, he had already had to resign as chairman of the board because of seeming conflicts of interest.
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On the other hand, as Mark Twain said on hearing reports that he was dead, the rumors of the U.N.s demise were greatly exaggerated. Each passing month the reluctant majority on the Security Council is being vindicated, and this week the Spanish registered their opinion about Prime Minister Aznar, one of Bushs few supporters abroad. David Kay, the former U.N. inspector who spent years deriding the organization for not being tough enough to find Iraqi weapons, reported to Congress that his yearlong search failed to turn up any.
It is clear that there was no smoke and no gun in Iraq, and hence no legal excuse for the attack. George W. Bush might not worry about that, but it certainly is harming his most substantial ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is being battered daily over fallout from his support. Those on the Security Council who opposed the invasion, and were vilified for doing so, are showing great forbearance in refraining from gloating that the U.S. is mired in a low-intensity war with a steady stream of casualties, exactly as they warned.
An early reality check, within weeks of the invasion, was that no one would buy Iraqi oil without a resolution from the U.N. Security Council. Oil companies operate in a global environment, and none of them wanted to be sued for dealing in stolen property.
Even on the military side, the much vaunted coalition failed to deliver what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted lots of non-American troops to carry the burden of occupation. The Turks, Indians and Pakistanis all refused to move in without a U.N. mandate despite strong American pressure and symptomatic of the Pentagons disconnect from reality despite almost weekly announcements of their impending arrival.
Almost from the first weeks of the occupation, the Bush administration has been returning, in increasingly humble fashion, to the U.N. for help in extricating itself from the hole in the sand. The previously sacred hand-over sequence that would allow President Bush to declare victory (again) at the end of June and officially end the occupation has fallen down in the face of resistance by Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who, boringly enough, will take suggestions from the U.N. and Kofi Annan, but who refuses to deal directly with the occupying coalition.
The issue is one of legitimacy. No one, not even the handpicked members of the Iraqi Governing Council, wants to be seen taking Iraqi sovereignty as a gift from the coalition; they, along with the rest of the world, want the blessing of the United Nations, which, in Kofi Annans words, has a unique legitimacy. Only the U.N. can take away the stigma of quislinghood from any new Iraqi regime.
Spurred on by Karl Roves election calendar, when American negotiators arrived at the U.N. to urge Annan to send an envoy to Iraq, one of the participants remarked how polite they were, which is as revealingly indicative of previous postures as present desperation.
Even after a year of resolutions that Germany, France and Russia, last years enemies, are helpfully and forgivingly supporting to help rebuild Iraq, there has not yet been any resolution that, even retrospectively, authorizes or legalizes the U.S. and British invasion or occupation. Indeed, most of them are careful to put the coalition in the same category as the Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza occupiers to whom the Geneva Conventions apply.
All in all, it is a sad year for American unilateralism to end up so dependent on a body that seems to have the strength to say no, politely but firmly, to the White House. But they do not seem to have learned any lessons from it. As the dollar declines and the deficit soars, the administration still thinks that the way to win over allies is by bullying and bluster. In an increasingly dangerous world, the White House has restated its refusal to sign the land-mines treaty, has announced plans for bunker-buster nukes that effectively scupper the next nuclear nonproliferation conference, and maintains its bullying campaign against the International Criminal Court, while holding foreign nationals illegally at Guantánamo.
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There were some wry smiles at the United Nations when it was recently leaked that the Pentagon had prepared a position paper on the military consequences of global warming. We should be glad, perhaps, that someone in the administration is taking it seriously but it is perhaps typical of our current masters that it is easier for them to draw up plans for armed snatch-and-grab raids on other peoples resources than it is to sign the Kyoto protocols on carbon-dioxide emissions and take action to restrict them.
It is small wonder that opinion polls across the world show record levels of mistrust of the Bush administrations motives and methods.
In contrast, think back to a year before the invasion of Iraq. For some months after 9/11, the world stood in unprecedented solidarity with the United States. The French, unaware of their impending status as frog-eating surrender monkeys, moved a resolution in the U.N. Security Council pledging complete support. The U.S. was bombarded with offers from all over the world to help go after Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. There were pledges of support to help root out al Qaeda. It took just six months hard work from the Bush administration to convert unanimity at the U.N. and near universal support worldwide to dogged resistance.
It is no wonder that Democratic contender John Kerry, riding high in the polls, promised to return the U.S. to be part of the global community. The world community, which generally likes stability to regime change, is right behind this one. If the rest of the world had a vote in the coming elections, from Britain to Canada, from the Middle East to Europe, there would be a clear majority for anyone but Bush. Kerry has little to lose, but a world to win over.