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US vs. UN

Abid Mustafa

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In the name of God, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful.

On 16 October 2003, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved resolution 1511. The approval of the American sponsored resolution setting out Iraq’s political future was welcomed by all the major powers. The US ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte said, “Today’s vote is a vote for the future of Iraq ?Our consistent aim has been to support the Iraqi people ?.If there ever was a time to help Iraq, it is now”. The UK Ambassador to the UN, Emyr Jones Parry said, “The resolution puts the people of Iraq into the driving seat through the interim administration. It reaffirms Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the temporary nature of the coalition’s powers”. Russia’s UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, told the Security Council after the vote that the resolution is a compromise but “there are more pluses than minuses”. France’s UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said France wanted to make unity in the council “a priority”. However the passing of the resolution and the statements made by the aforementioned officials offer little in the way of providing answers to some very basic questions like: Why did the France, Germany and Russia drop their opposition to the resolution? Why did America resort to the UN given that only seven months ago America waged an illegal war against Iraq without UN approval? What does this mean for America, the UN and people of the world? Who gains most from this situation?

To answer these questions it is important for us to understand the behaviour of the US administration and the motives behind French German and Russian attitudes towards the US.

Vice President Dick Cheney is the present figurehead inside the broad alliance of neo-conservative capitalists that controls the USA.

Vice President Dick Cheney is the present figurehead inside the broad alliance of neo-conservative capitalists that controls the USA.

The Neo-Conservative Influence

The key to unlocking Bush administration’s foreign policy is to study the ideas which underpin foreign policy matters. It is no secret that the US government is dominated by neo-conservatives who subscribe to the idea of a hegemonic America. The neo-conservatives believe that America must dominate the world free from the constraints of international law. Neo-conservatives, William Kristol and Robert Kagan first sounded this trumpet in Foreign Affairs ("Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” July-August 1996). Now that the “evil empire” is vanquished, they write, the US must aspire to exercise a “benevolent American hegemony”. For never has the US had such a golden opportunity to promote democracy and free markets abroad, while Americans themselves “have never had it so good”. Hence, the “appropriate” goal of the United States should be “to preserve that hegemony as far into the future as possible”. The authors dismiss those pessimists who warn of imperial overstretch or the danger of conjuring enemies, and call instead for a sharply increased US defence budget “to preserve America’s role as global hegemon”; measures to enthuse the American people, perhaps through some form of military conscription; and a blunt moral foreign policy that aims at “actively promoting American principles of governance abroad”.

The hegemonic theory does not allow for the existence of a multilateral world. Rather it asserts that a powerful state which possesses unrivalled authority should reshape the world according to its interests. Thus through the enforcement of rules the hegemonic power is able preserve its dominant position in the world. This idea is a departure from previous administrations who passionately believed in America’s right to take unilateral action while espousing the virtues of international law as a stabilising force in the world. Certainly, in the 1990s America was regarded by many as a harbinger of international law.

But Bush’s ascension to office radically shifted American foreign policy away from this course. Within a short period of time President Bush succeeded in tearing up several international treaties spanning from security agreements to environmental ones. September 11, provided the Bush administration with a golden opportunity to break free from the ‘gravitational pull of international law’ and embark upon a grand plan to reshape the world in the image of hegemonic America. In his new book, Winning Modern Wars, retired General Wesley Clark, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, offered a rare window into the Bush administration’s war plans. In his book, he claims that serious planning for the Iraq war had already begun only two months after the 11 September, attack, and adds: “As I went back to the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan. . . . I left the Pentagon that afternoon deeply concerned.”

Daisy-Cutter Diplomacy. After the quick destruction of Afghanistan, many in the world believed that the USA?s ?war on terror? would be unstoppable in the Middle East

Daisy-Cutter Diplomacy
After the quick destruction of Afghanistan, many in the world believed that the USA?s ?war on terror? would be unstoppable in the Middle East.

Afghanistan marked the beginning of this campaign and once again, the world witnessed America trounce on several international treaties such as the Geneva Convention. Buoyed by a quick military victory in Afghanistan, the Bush administration chose to launch an unjust war against the people of Iraq without a UN mandate. The war left America and her allies bitterly divided with recriminations abound on both sides. A few days before the war, on the 13 March 2003 the US government publicly castigated the French for threatening to veto the UN resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq. A spokesman for the US State Department, Richard Boucher, said President Jacques Chirac’s veto threats sent the “wrong signal to Baghdad, precisely the wrong signal for those who want peaceful disarmament”. On the eve of the war President Chirac of France said, “The United States has just given Iraq an ultimatum. Whether it is a question - I repeat - of the necessary disarming of Iraq or the desirable change of regime in that country, there is no justification here for a unilateral decision to resort to war. It is also a decision which compromises - for the future - the methods for peacefully resolving crises linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”. Speaking alongside President Chirac German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said, “My question has been and remains: does the scale of the threat from the Iraqi dictator justify the launch of a war that will certainly bring death to thousands of innocent men, women and children? My answer in this case has been and remains: No.”

Reluctant return to the UN

The spectacular collapse of the Baath regime spurred President Bush to prematurely declare the war over on 1 May. At the same time, various administration officials took turns at lining up Iran and Syria as America’s next target for regime change. But the swift defeat of the Iraqi army was to turn quickly sour for America. Mounting causalities and spiralling costs of the Iraq war forced President Bush to make a humiliating U-turn by seeking out a fresh UN mandate concerning Iraq’s political future. On 7 September 2003 in a televised speech to the American nation, Bush said, “I recognise that not all of our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power?” Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties. Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilised world, and opposing them must be the cause of the civilised world. Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.” He also told the audience that he will ask Congress for $87 billion in military and reconstruction spending for next year. So in a desperate bid to shrug off domestic criticism of his handling of the war, President Bush went back to the UN Security Council and extended his hand of multilateralism to America’s estranged allies.

The Bush administration would not survive if it were seen to admit being wrong over the decision to go to war against Iraq.

The Bush administration would not survive if it were seen to admit being wrong over the decision to go to war against Iraq.

But if countries like France, Germany and Russia were expecting an apology over the Iraq war or at the very least a remorseful America they were in for a surprise. On 23 September at the UN, President Bush was adamant that his decision to attack Iraq was the right one and arrogantly claimed that by attacking Iraq, America was defending the UN. He said, “Because a coalition of nations acted to defend the peace, and the credibility of the United Nations, Iraq is free, and today we are joined by representatives of a liberated country.” Bush also poured scorn over France’s attempt to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people under the auspices of the UN. Bush said, “The process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis, neither hurried, nor delayed by the wishes of other parties”. Bush’s speech attracted strong condemnation from the defenders of multilateralism and international law. In a rare verbal assault on US policy, UN Secretary General Koki Annan, said “unilateralism” was an assault on the “collective action” envisioned by the late president Franklin D. Roosevelt and the other UN founders. “This logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last fifty-eight years. My concern is that, if it were to be adopted, it could set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without justification”. French President Jacques Chirac, speaking shortly after Bush, called the war “one of the gravest trials” in UN history and said it “undermined the multilateral system”. In an extended critique of Bush’s policy of pre-emptively attacking emerging threats, Chirac said, “In an open world, no one can live in isolation, no one can act alone in the name of all, and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules. There is no alternative to the United Nations”.

France Germany and Russia Fall in Line

At this point many observers were expecting America’s estranged allies to take a firm stand against American attempts to undermine the credibility of the UN as they had done earlier in March. But nothing was forthcoming from the trio (France, Germany and Russia). The reason for the lack of action on part of the trio was due to the fact that America had successfully weakened the alliance between them. In an article published by the New York Times it was revealed that the Bush administration was planning to isolate France, repair its relationship with Germany and bribe Russia. It appears that the strategy paid off, when on September the 1st, President Putin softened his stance on the UN running post war Iraq. He said that he saw “nothing wrong in having an international force in Iraq under American command”. He also added that Russia would support a new UN resolution, if it meant the UN having a greater role in the reconstruction and organisation of Iraq. Similar overtures were made by Germany. Speaking after the UN general assembly meeting Chancellor Schroeder told German public television that he shared France’s view that sovereignty should be transferred to Iraqis “as soon as possible”. But he said President Bush had spoken “very positively about the role of the United Nations” in his speech, adding that he was “ready” to put the two countries’ differences behind them. “It should be possible to work out a degree of common ground in the next few weeks that makes it possible to achieve a common resolution”, he said. In the later part of September France also chose to climb down against vetoing the new Iraqi resolution and made several gestures that she would not oppose America on the resolution.

The surprise over the ?flowering? of principles in Chirac, Putin, and Schroeder was not that they died this Autumn, but that they lasted till the end of Summer.

The surprise over the ?flowering? of principles in Chirac, Putin, and Schroeder was not that they died this Autumn, but that they lasted till the end of Summer.

America also tried to split the trio by offering economic inducements. On the 21 September, in Dubai the American backed Iraqi administration announced sweeping economic reforms which included the sale of all state assets. Finance Minister Kamal al-Kilan said liberalisation of foreign investment, the banking sector, taxes and tariffs would “significantly advance efforts to build a free and open market economy in Iraq”. Commenting on the Iraqi reforms, former US President Bill Clinton, urged moderation from American firms. He said, “We should play a role and spend a lot of money there, but we shouldn’t dominate”. On the 22 September, in an interview with the BBC during the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Dubai, Mr. Allawi the trade minister said that that foreign ownership of some Iraqi oil assets is a possibility. But the foreign involvement could also be through technical co-operation or through sharing the revenue of oil remaining under Iraqi ownership. On a trip to Paris in early October, Alan Larson, the undersecretary of state for economic affairs, told a business conference that the United States is quite willing to have French firms work in Iraq. “The door is open for French companies to participate in infrastructure contracts in Iraq” he said, according to AFP. “We’re open to companies from all over the world regarding the rebuilding of Iraq”.

Thus lack of political will amongst the trio and the lure of lucrative contracts in Iraq cleared the way for America to pass the UN resolution without any obstacles and devoid of any firm commitments to cede authority to the UN. Accordingly, America’s occupation of Iraq was legalised.

Iraqi Quagmire

Despite the success at the UN, America is not out of the Iraqi quagmire. She is almost alone in carrying the financial and military burden of the occupying Iraq. Apart from Britain, none of the European countries have contributed troops or money in any significant way. France, Germany and Russia have ruled out troop deployment in Iraq. At best, Germany offered to train Iraqi policemen. Turkey is the only country outside Europe that has pledged significant number of troops. Even then there is no guarantee that Turkey will relieve the pressure from the US military. Turkey is more interested in squashing the Kurdish separatist movements then worrying about reducing American causalities. On the 2 October it was reported by the BBC that the US and Turkey had a secret pact to hit the PKK bases inside Iraq. It is this reason rather than the $8.5 billion in loan guarantees from America which have encouraged Turkey’s generals to send their troops into Iraq. So it is unlikely that this action is going to stabilise Iraq. On the contrary it will further aggravate the situation for the Americans. America’s own hand picked puppets are forecasting turmoil in the event of Turkish troop deployment on Iraqi soil. Nabeil al-Moussawi of the Iraqi National Congress said, “The Governing Council’s stand is against the presence of troops from neighbouring countries without exception, and Turkey is one of these countries”. Then there is America’s loyal servant - Musharraf who by his own admission has indicated that he cannot vouch for the safety of the Americans if Pakistani troops are deployed in Iraq. In a letter to State Department Musharraf said that Pakistani troops could get out of control in Iraq, leak operational information, and even join in the jihad with the Iraqis?

Apart from the UK?s contingent of a few thousand troops in the field, and some highly visible casualties from other countries, the occupation is still overwhelmingly one enforced by USA soldiers.

Apart from the UK?s contingent of a few thousand troops in the field, and some highly visible casualties from other countries, the occupation is still overwhelmingly one enforced by USA soldiers.

In terms of money, Britain and Spain were the only European countries to make significant pledges at the Madrid conference. Nevertheless their combined contribution is a paltry sum when compared to the billions promised by America. The stark reality facing America was clearly expressed by Colin Powell when he said that he hoped the new resolution would lead to more foreign troops and money being offered to assist in the rebuilding of Iraq, although he indicated he did not expect any major financial contribution from France, Germany and Russia. So far the money raised by the donor conference in Madrid falls way short of the billions required to put Iraq on its feet. Furthermore, with Iraqi resistance intensifying during the month of Ramadan there is no sign of the much needed foreign troops.

In conclusion the influence of the neo-conservatives over President Bush and his government has made the matter of winning over allies extremely difficult. Their doggedness in making sure that America does not compromise its authority in Iraq to the UN or allow any of America’s allies to partake in the spoils of Iraq has distanced countries like France, Germany and Russia away from her. In addition, American attempts at undermining international law and making a mockery of the UN has alienated many countries across the world that otherwise would have helped.

Although it can be argued from one perspective that by referring to the UN America’s efforts to break free from international law may be in jeopardy. But from another perspective it can be argued that America has not surrendered any control to the UN and is only taking a brief respite. Certainly it appears that the Bush administration’s recent involvement with the UN over Iraq is out of domestic concerns and is not related to the international outrage over American actions in Iraq. The foremost worry for the Bush administration is winning the forthcoming election. Therefore it is important for the administration to convey to the American public that the world is helping to stabilise Iraq.

The alliance which once existed between France, Germany and Russia is now frail. These countries are pleased that on paper at least that America has committed herself to the UN. But they lack the political will to challenge America’s wilful neglect of international law. It is evident from the actions of these states that they are keen in securing money-spinning contracts and at the same time mindful of committing themselves in bailing out America from Iraq. The trio prefers to play a waiting game. If America offers them a share in the spoils of Iraq then most likely the wafer thin alliance between the three will evaporate. Otherwise, the alliance between the three will grow stronger and they will create more obstacles for America with the explicit aim of protecting international law and embarrassing her in front of the world. No matter what the outcome France, Germany and Russia long for America to fail in Iraq.

Ultimately, the people to gain most from the situation are not the Americans or the Europeans but the Muslim opposition in Iraq and elswhere. Iraq has managed to bring Muslims together, and strengthened the bonds of Islamic unity between them. But most important of all, the example of Iraq has awoken the Muslim world into thinking about an exit strategy from its colonisation and humiliation.

Published Thursday, November 13th, 2003 - 12:01pm GMT

Edited article courtesy of

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