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Read of the day:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,5673,1029259,00.html

Beware the bluewash

The UN must not let itself be used as a dustbin for failed American
adventures

George Monbiot
Tuesday August 26, 2003
The Guardian

The US government’s problem is that it has built its foreign policy on
two great myths. The first is that it is irresistible; the second is
that as time advances, life improves. In Iraq it is trapped between the
two. To believe that it can be thwarted, and that its occupation will
become harder rather than easier to sustain as time goes by, requires
that it disbelieves all that it holds to be most true.

But those who oppose its foreign policy appear to have responded with a
myth of equal standing: that what unilateralism cannot solve,
multilateralism can. The United Nations, almost all good liberals now
argue, is a more legitimate force than the US and therefore more likely
to succeed in overseeing Iraq’s reconstruction and transition. If the US
surrendered to the UN, this would, moreover, represent the dawning of a
fairer, kinder world. These propositions are scarcely more credible than
those coming out of the Pentagon.

The immediate and evident danger of a transition from US occupation to
UN occupation is that the UN becomes the dustbin into which the US dumps
its failed adventures. The American and British troops in Iraq do not
deserve to die any more than the Indian or Turkish soldiers with whom
they might be replaced. But the governments that sent them, rather than
those that opposed the invasion, should be the ones that have to answer
to their people for the consequences.

The vicious bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad last week suggests
that the jihadis who now seem to be entering Iraq from every corner of
the Muslim world will make little distinction between khaki helmets and
blue ones. Troops sent by India, the great liberal hope, are unlikely to
be received with any greater kindness than western forces. The Indian
government is reviled for its refusal to punish the Hindus who massacred
Muslims in Gujurat.

The UN will swiftly discover that occupation-lite is no more viable than
occupation-heavy. Moreover, by replacing its troops, the despised UN
could, in one of the supreme ironies of our time, provide the US
government with the escape route it may require if George Bush is to win
the next election. We can expect him, as soon as the soldiers have come
home, to wash his hands not only of moral responsibility for the mess he
has created, but also of the duty to help pay for the country’s
reconstruction. Most importantly, if the UN shows that it is prepared to
mop up after him, it will enhance his incentive to take his perpetual
war to other nations.

It should also be pretty obvious that, tough as it is for both the
American troops and the Iraqis, pinned down in Iraq may be the safest
place for the US army to be. The Pentagon remains reluctant to fight
more than one war at a time. One of the reasons that it has tackled Iran
and North Korea with diplomacy rather than missiles is that it has
neither the soldiers nor the resources to launch an attack until it can
disentangle itself from Iraq.

It is clear, too, that the UN, honest and brave as many of its staff
are, possesses scarcely more legitimacy as an occupying force than the
US. The US is now the only nation on the security council whose opinion
really counts: its government can ignore other governments’ vetoes; the
other governments cannot ignore a veto by the US. In other words, a
handover to the UN cannot take place unless George Bush says so, and
Bush will not say so until it is in his interests to do so. The UN,
already tainted in Iraq by its administration of sanctions and the fact
that its first weapons inspection mission (Unscom) was infiltrated by
the CIA, is then reduced to little more than an instrument of US foreign
policy.

Until the UN, controlled by the five permanent members of the security
council, has itself been democratised, it is hard to see how it can
claim the moral authority to oversee a transition to democracy anywhere
else. This problem is compounded by the fact that Britain, which is
hardly likely to be perceived as an honest broker, is about to assume
the council’s presidency. A UN mandate may be regarded by Iraqis as
bluewash, an attempt to grant retrospective legitimacy to an illegal
occupation.

None of this, of course, is yet on offer anyway. The US government has
made it perfectly clear that the UN may operate in Iraq only as a
subcontractor. Foreign troops will take their orders from Washington,
rather than New York. America’s occupation of Iraq affords it regional
domination, control of the second biggest oilfields on earth and, as
deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz has hinted, the opportunity to
withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia and install them in its new
dependency instead. Republican funders have begun feasting on the
lucrative reconstruction contracts, and the Russians and the French,
shut out of the banquet, are being punished for their impudence.

Now that the US controls the shipping lanes of the Middle East and the
oilfields of central Asia and West Africa, it is in a position, if it so
chooses, to turn off the taps to China, its great economic rival, which
is entirely dependent on external sources of oil. The US appears to be
seeking to ensure that when the Iraqis are eventually permitted to vote,
they will be allowed to choose any party they like, as long as it is
pro-American. It will give up its new prize only when forced to do so by
its own voters.

So, given that nothing we say will make any difference to Bush and his
people, we may as well call for a just settlement, rather than the
diluted form of injustice represented by a UN occupation. This means the
swiftest possible transition to real democracy.

Troy Davis of the World Citizen Foundation has suggested a programme for
handing power to the Iraqis which could begin immediately, with the
establishment of a constitutional convention. This would permit the
people both to start deciding what form their own government should
take, and to engage in the national negotiation and reconciliation
without which democracy there will be impossible. From the beginning of
the process, in other words, the Iraqi people, not the Americans, would
oversee the transition to democracy.

This is the logical and just path for the US government to take. As a
result, it is unlikely to be taken. So, one day, when the costs of
occupation become unsustainable, it will be forced to retreat in a
manner and at a time not of its choosing. Iraq may swallow George Bush
and his imperial project, just as the Afghan morass digested the Soviet
empire. It is time his opponents stopped seeking to rescue him from his
self-destruction.

∑ George Monbiot’s book The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World
Order is published by Flamingo.

www.monbiot.com
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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