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Summit of the Losers

By Travis R. Kavulla

As American forces ousted the last elements of organized tyranny from Baghdad, the French, Russian and German presidents met in St. Petersburg last week. The purpose of the meeting was clear: try to regain some political power by suggesting the U.N. be in charge of reconstruction in Iraq. Who do they think they’re kidding?

The American response to the arrogance of three uninvolved states’ meddling was delightful: “The U.N. can’t be in charge.” Though that kind of attitude, which came from the mouth of the none-too-tactful Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, isn’t rosy, it reflects the reality of military intervention.

Secretary of State Colin Powell put it a bit more delicately, saying reconstruction would be up to states “who invested political capital and life and treasure into this enterprise.”

Just as the U.N.’s failure to act decisively initially precluded its involvement in post-war Kosovo and Bosnia, the first phases of Iraqi reconstruction must be left to the Coalition partners who put their reputation on the line. The matter is not simply one of fairness, as Powell phrased it. It’s a matter of vision. Just as it was inconceivable to let a Milosevic-sympathethizer have a say in the original stages of Kosovo’s reconstruction, allowing French diplomats who tacitly reinforced an oppressive Iraqi regime to control the new Iraq would be a political move made in bad faith.

Besides a spoiled ideology, there is a large practical danger of divergent interests becoming entrenched early in a new Iraq. While the State Department is on record calling for debt forgiveness to the new government, for instance, Russia will surely want some of the $8 billion owed to it by the deposed regime. Meanwhile, France will want contracts for TotalFinaElf, the giant oil company that formerly possessed rights to many of Iraq’s oil fields. This is not to say that United States is devoid of such interests—though as a country that invested its resources in bringing down the Hussein regime, it may possess more of a right to impose them. But the over-involvement of interests pulling the new Iraqi government every which way will only harm the establishment of democracy there.

The United States has already said that the U.N. will have some role in Iraq. It will probably be mostly advisory. But from this post, U.N. diplomats can influence the temporary U.S. administrators and the new Iraqi government without exercising coercive control. If our European detractors are worried only because of their fear that the United States will not secure human rights and democracy in Iraq, then such a U.N. watchdog role should let them sleep well. And just as Bosnia and Kosovo are now home to U.N. administrators, there will someday be a place in Iraq for the U.N. (if the soon-to-debut government of Iraq approves it) when the political climate grows less shrill.

For the moment, the U.N. is obligated to abide, it seems, by the laws of physics. Bodies at rest stay at rest. To defy inertia—as America itself has recently learned—the Security Council needs the unanimous support of all five permanent members. And, unfortunately, at this time, there doesn’t appear to be a broad coalition of states willing to support U.N. control in rebuilding Iraq. The Security Council stripped itself of legitimacy by refusing to act on the Iraqi situation. Perhaps the U.N. can someday salvage its reputation, but for now, let the job in Iraq be finished by those who were brave enough to start it.

—Travis R. Kavulla is an editorial editor.

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