Is Bush going soft?

Going to the UN

Steven Den Beste at the USS Clueless checks in with his thoughts on the recent US proposals to the United Nations. It’s rather lengthy (Really? An SDB post “lengthy”?) but quite good. I recommend you check it out. If you have plans for the weekend, here are a few of what I feel are the key points, along with some of my thoughts:

After a fair amount of behind-the-scenes negotiation, the US has actually submitted a proposal to the UNSC. Absent any other way to judge it, it seems to me that if Chirac and Schroder hate it, then it can’t be all bad.

After seeing what our “new” proposal is all about, I don’t think anyone should be surprised at Old Europe’s initial reaction. I mean, a truly bad movie doesn’t get better with repeated viewings, and, as far as France and Germany are concerned, this is just a rerun of our previous attempts to include the UN. We are basically giving up nothing, especially decision-making authority or control of the military forces in Iraq. And they realize that, without those key powers, UN involvement is, well, pretty much powerless.

So the administration has been trying to find other nations willing to contribute troops to help with the situation in Iraq, and so far have not been very successful. It’s a disappointment, and I think it’s going to have repercussions later, but that doesn’t solve the short term problem.

One common response has been that a given nation might be willing to contribute forces if the operation were authorized by the UN and seen to be under its auspices, but can’t really do so for what is perceived as an American operation.

I think they divide into two groups. One group needs a UN blessing for political reasons. If they send their troops into a situation where some of them might die, then politically the leaders of such nations need the cover of UN approval. (I think that India is one of these nations.)

The other group has more fundamental objections. What these nations really want is for the US to surrender control of the situation. (France, of course, but a lot of other nations as well.)

There’s actually a third group: those who have been offered bribes by the members of the other groups to diplomatically support the anti-American coalition. (For instance, Turkey.)

I don’t think we’re going to see US troops under anything other than total US control, and that grates on the nerves of those that don’t want to appear to activiely support America (many in group #1) and especially those that desire to diminish US influence in world affairs (most of group #2). The only hope that the Frances of the world have against US economic and military power is an organization with a “one nation, one vote” policy. France (among others) hopes to buy enough votes to remain viable in the twenty-first century. (You could argue that France wasn’t viable for the last sixty years of the twentieth century, but that’s another topic.) The problem is, on a level playing field, the United States could win any vote with only one vote: Our vote. So the playing field needs to be tilted in favor of the weaker links in the chain of world society (whatever that is).

There are a lot of weaker links out there, and the UN is their only hope of “unionizing” against the “bully” Americans. (You can also argue that the US has acted the bully on many occasions, but that, too, is a different topic.) A lot of the weaker links have a very vested interest in the status quo, and America’s War on Terror (World War 4) has vowed to destroy that status quo. Besides “oil for food” money, what did 12 years of sanctions get for anyone? Popular rule in places like Iraq is dangerous to many people’s way of life.

In fact, the actual course of events was the nightmare scenario from their point of view: the Iraqis are, for the most part, damned glad we came and glad Saddam is gone, and their biggest fear is that we’ll leave too soon. There was no mass movement of refugees, before or during or after combat. Combat was swift and effective and highly focused. And despite all efforts to try to portray the current situation in Iraq as a complete shambles and a total failure, in fact it’s actually going quite well in most of the nation. There has been resistance, but it isn’t what one classically views as a popular groundswell against foreign invaders by a spontaneous patriotic Iraqi uprising.

Honestly, how much better could things really be expected to be going? With all apologies to those killed or wounded since Bush landed on that aircraft carrier, things are going far better than any detractors predicted. So all that’s left is to nitpick the occupation and try to sell it as a complete failure that has brought Bush grovelling to the United Nations. But there’s an interesting catch.

Right now in Iraq both the UN and “Old” European leaders in general are not popular. The vast majority of Iraqis are glad that Saddam is gone. They know that an American invasion was the only way Saddam could be removed, and know that both the UN and certain European leaders tried everything they could to prevent that invasion, They interpret that in the only way it really can be interpreted: the UN and those European leaders tried keep them locked in the charnel house Saddam had made of Iraq. It’s likely the same would happen elsewhere if reform does propagate, leading to further loss of sweetheart commercial relationships and possibly to repudiation of debts incurred by the previous regimes, and a general loss of influence and prestige by Old European nations which already mourn their lost status as rulers of the world.

The UN (and pro-“UN control” Europe) doesn’t have a very good track record with these folks. It’s the deposed Iraqi regime that got along fine with the sanctions and the inspectors. And everyone knows it.

It appears to me that the big turning point in US-UN negotiations came, not because we waffled, but because Kofi Annan recognized that UN forces would have to operate under US command and not the other way around. Between that admission and the deadly attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad, I think the administration saw an opportune time to make another offer of what was essentially the same deal.

Is Bush going soft? I don’t think so. I think, since we’re in a “lull” in the war, he’s just playing the UN game once again.

Or rather, they’ve allowed themselved to be played once again. Often, it seems, they’re played by despotic rulers and petty warlords struggling to retain power. Even more often they’re played by “legit” nations like France and Russia. Or, historically, the United States. Bush has been criticized for not playing along.

A lot of people don’t seem to realize that we’re not playing games any more.


  1. For once, even the State Department seems to agree (with the possible exceptions of Powell and Armitage) that allowing the UN to participate is OK but giving it any actual power is not to be contemplated. ***