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Thursday, October 16, 2003

Latest in the "war on terror"

Critics of the UN, many of whom are Bush supporters, often point out the weak (and often perverse) symbolic moves made by the UN. States like Iraq or Libya, because the only membership requirement is sovereigny, sometimes (quite dubiously) get to chair commissions on disarmament or human rights.

These same critics often ignore the genuinely good and quite significant actions taken by the UN. The WHO, for example, played a huge role in wiping out malaria and thereby helped saved millions of lives.

So, was today's unanimous UN Security Council vote more like stupid symbolism or genuine positive action?

Media talking heads keep refering to it as "the US-backed resolution," but the US had to make many, many concessions to gain unanimous support. The US, in short, didn't bring a lot of states around to its position. Those states gained real changes they wanted and then held their noses and voted for it. Because, after all, they did not support the war and don't want to help the US very much in its occupation of Iraq.

The somewhat dated NY Times story (registration required) makes this quite clear:
But in a serious reservation, they [Germany, France and Russia] said they would not go beyond the support they had already agreed upon in order to ease the burden of the American forces in Iraq.
In short, the US has gained a piece of paper in exchange additional troops or cash.

That's a win for the "US-backed resolution"?

Actually, I think this is a balanced resolution to the current disagreement -- though I side with the Europeans on the likely final outcome. Ultimately, the UN is going to have to take much greater control in Iraq's "nation-building" and I support this first step toward making that possible. However, as I've often argued, the US is going to have to make even more concessions, and ultimately the Iraqis are going to have to be in charge of their own reconstruction. And that doesn't mean Pentagon selected former exiles should be put in charge.

This resolution asks those formed exiled Iraqis to come up with a plan for a constitution and elections by December 15. In other words, the Europeans wanted a timetable for legitimate government and they got one. It is a weak start, but it is a start.

In any case, it will be interesting to see if administration spokespersons will be out in full force touting this resolution, perhaps trying to point to it as evidence that they were right about Iraq all along.

If so, let's hope the media counter by asking whether the resolution will mean cash and troops. After all, the UN does a lot of foolish and symbolic things that administration supporters love to note.

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