Self determination is a very powerful idea in politics. Political scientists have often demonstrated that even the poor and weak will resist their subordination. Terrorism is a classic weapon of the weak.
Thus, it should not be surprising that the situation in Iraq seems to be deteriorating.
While there are a lot of proposals floating around that would place Iraqis in much greater positions of power in Iraq, Paul Bremer is running the country -- and he reports directly to the Pentagon.
The recent bombings targeting the UN headquarters and the Shiite cleric demonstrate fairly decisively that the "occupying powers" cannot guarantee the security of anyone in Iraq.
The infrastructure of the country also remains in horrible shape. While Americans hear about attacks against Iraqi oil pipelines, they might not realize that electricity generation in Iraq is "still around 25% below war levels," as British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reportedly said this week.
Indeed, the BBC quotes Straw as making a very powerful argument about the meaning of all this:
"[The] lack of political progress in solving the linked problems of security, infrastructure and the political process are undermining the consent of the Iraqi people to the coalition presence and providing fertile ground for extremists and terrorists."
The obvious answer is to increase security, rebuild infrastructure, and cement legitimate Iraqi participation in government.
However, the US/British occupying powers are already paying high costs for the war. Economically, the US is paying about $4 billion per month. 150 American soldiers have died in Iraq since May 1, along with 50 troops from coalition partners.
Thus, it is not surprising that the US is turning to the UN in hopes of gaining some support and relief. Will other countries provide cash, soldiers and political cover?
Already, Germany and France are playing hard to get. Very clearly, they do not want to grant legitimacy to the occupation -- or to the war they opposed. Indeed, a substantial number of states thought the war against Iraq was illegal and illegitimate. As Pete Dombrowski and I argue in the November 2003 issue of International Studies Perspectives, leaders of numerous countries frequently and openly declared their opposition to the legal rationale for war against Iraq. The inspections, many argued, were working and were unopposed by Iraq, no state's self defense was immediately at risk, and the UN Security Council had not authorized an attack.
War in the face of those realities violates the Charter.
Thus, any new UN Security Council resolution will require crafty diplomacy and finesse. After the failures of February, it is not at all certain that the US is up to that task.
According to a story in The Guardian, even Mexico's UN representative, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser (who currently holds a seat on the Security Council), said: "The authority in Iraq should be the UN, as opposed to the occupying powers."
More broadly, Tom Friedman quoted Secretary-General Kofi Annan on this point in his August 31 column: ""Other nations are prepared to help, but they do not want to join what is perceived as an American `occupation.'"
The American/British occupation of Iraq has got to end soon, to be replaced by UN-directed nation-building and some form of legitimate Iraqi governance. An American general might oversee the troops on the ground, but there's a decent chance he's going to be wearing a blue helmet.