The United Nations can't share power in Iraq.


The United States is deeply engaged in discussions with United Nations members, seeking financial and military support for its operations in Iraq. According to news reports, various U.N. members are insisting–as a condition for any support–that the U.S. hand over to the U.N. a larger role in the civil administration of Iraq. But at the very same time Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary general, is withdrawing U.N. personnel from Baghdad because it’s too dangerous. This seems to disqualify the U.N. for any role in Iraq’s immediate future, and one wonders what the participants in the current U.N. debate, various editorialists, and the Democratic candidates for president, might be thinking.

That the United States should cede authority to the U.N. has much wider support than French President Jacques Chirac and other U.N. members who have been talking to the press. It seems to be the position of almost all the Democratic candidates for president, of the editorial board of the New York Times, and of the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Service Committee, Senator Carl Levin, in recent interviews. Indeed, the failure of the United States to grant more authority to the U.N. in Iraq has become the Left’s latest delusion–that the United States wants to hold on to its civil-administration authority in order to continue to feed money to Halliburton and other U.S. companies that have received “no-bid” contracts for work in Iraq.

Obviously, if the U.N. is to have any significant role in Iraq, civilian or military, it must decide whether it is willing to expose itself and its employees to danger. If the U.N.’s position is that neither it nor its personnel can take the risks that United States personnel are taking routinely, then it is hard to see how it can fulfill any role in Iraq. Indeed, turning over civil authority, or any authority, to an organization that is afraid to enter the country it is supposed to administer is self-evidently absurd. If this were to happen–as no prominent Democrat seems to understand–it would lead to the complete collapse of any authority in Iraq, and possibly even a return to power of the Baathist regime.

To the extent that a Security Council resolution enables the United States to assemble a larger Coalition of military forces on the ground in Iraq, it would be a good thing. But if the price of such a resolution is a power-sharing arrangement in which in-country U.S. administrators must consult with absent U.N. officials fearful of entering Iraq, it would be a serious setback for this country’s goals in Iraq and for the Iraqi people themselves. Before we discuss seriously with anyone at the U.N. the question of sharing authority–civil or otherwise–in Iraq, it seems obvious that we should demand a pledge that the U.N. and its personnel are willing to take the physical risks that United States civil-administrative personnel are taking every day.

Unfortunately, however, the credibility of such a pledge, even if one were given, would have to be suspect. By withdrawing personnel after the first attack–instead of improving security and staying put–the U.N. has already made the declaration that is most important to the terrorists. It has admitted that it can be intimidated and manipulated by fear. As a result, it will be a more inviting target if it ever reenters Iraq than it was before, and especially so if it has any responsibility for administration of the country. This should make our policymakers even more wary about accepting a statement of determination at face value, and giving responsibility to the U.N., than they have seemed to be so far. Declarations are one thing; standing firm in the face of physical risk is quite another, and it may be that Kofi Annan and the U.N. administrators have already painted such a large target on themselves that they are, in every realistic sense, foreclosed from entering Iraq until security there is fully restored.

If that’s true, we should abandon the idea, if it was ever seriously considered, of sharing power with the U.N. in Iraq.

Peter J. Wallison is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was White House Counsel to President Reagan, and is the author of Ronald Reagan: The Power of Conviction and the Success of His Presidency.