Colin in Kofiland
The U.N. chief endorses regime change--in Washington.
Monday, October 13, 2003 12:01 a.m. EDT
The apparent failure of the U.S. push for another U.N. resolution on Iraq is at least a clarifying moment. A body incapable of agreeing to endorse even post facto reconstruction could certainly never have been expected to enforce its Iraq resolutions in the first place. So much for the argument that a kinder, gentler approach by the Bush Administration would have won U.N. support.
Equally illuminating, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has made it clear that he's now more interested in defeating President Bush than he ever was in toppling Saddam Hussein. Mr. Annan knows that Mr. Bush's policy of anti-terror prevention poses a serious challenge to what he claims is the "unique legitimacy" of the collection of despots he leads--indeed, to the legitimacy of the unaccountable Secretary General himself.
Secretary of State Colin Powell is giving the effort one more last chance. But it appears that Mr. Annan's open criticism of the U.S. draft resolution--unprecedented for a U.N. leader--has sunk its chances. Even more unusual have been his none-too-subtle attempts to influence U.S. politics. "People who believe in collective action to meet today's problems, and who believe in the rule of law and in the aims of the United Nations, need to raise their voices," he exhorted a group of African-American leaders last week.
Mr. Annan's decision to withdraw U.N. staff from Baghdad can likewise be interpreted as an attempt to bolster Democratic criticism of President Bush's failure to "internationalize" the operation. It is certainly a disgrace to the memory of U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, who believed the body had a vital role to play even under a U.S. led occupation.
Mr. Annan's ostensible dispute with U.S. policy involves the timetable for the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. Yes, that's right, the man who was never eager to depose Saddam has now become a champion of Iraqi democracy. We agree that the authority of Iraqi's Governing Council should be expanded as rapidly as possible. But no one should believe that simply transferring control from the U.S. to the Governing Council will stop the terror attacks in Iraq; the terrorists want to return to Saddam's rule. In any case, Mr. Annan's real make-or-break issue is whether the transition will happen under U.N. or U.S. auspices, and U.N. authority is simply a non-starter given the institution's record on Iraq.
We hope President Bush appreciates that Mr. Annan is playing election-year politics, as well as the failure of Colin Powell's second promise to deliver the U.N. Mr. Powell has many virtues, but accurate assessment of others' intentions does not appear to be among them.
As far as Iraqi reconstruction goes, of course, the U.N. failure barely matters. The proposed resolution was intended only to provide some domestic cover for foreign governments considering whether to contribute money and troops. But the Europeans were never going to help much anyway, and Turkey's parliament has already voted overwhelmingly to send a force. What's more, Turkey wants to help out in the dangerous Sunni triangle, where it's really needed. A (largely Sunni) Muslim democracy with a sterling peacekeeping record and real military strength, Turkey was far and away the most important ally the U.S. could have hoped for.
We're disappointed that Turkey's decision has been met with threats from some Kurds and cries of "sell-out" from some of their American supporters. Turkey was an indispensable protector of the Northern Iraqi Kurdish safe haven for more than a decade, providing it with a vital trade link to the outside world and with the air bases to support Operation Northern Watch.
Some of the ideas being mooted to soothe Kurdish sensibilities--such as moving Turkish troops by air or sea--would justifiably be considered an affront by the Turks, who are putting themselves very much in harm's way. If Washington is going to turn the Turkish parliamentary vote into an actual deployment, it is going to have to talk bluntly with Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani.
By any reasonable standard Iraq is making notable progress despite the obvious security problems, and it is about time the Bush Administration has begun to go back on the political offensive in stating its case. Power is being restored, Iraqi security forces are being trained, schools are open, and commerce is getting back to normal.
Most important, Iraqis are free to think and speak as they wish. Tensions with and within the country's outspoken Governing Council are a healthy sign. The Bush Administration is right that all of this deserves much more attention. To focus it, we hope the President will pay a visit to Iraq sometime soon.