Politics & Policy

Sisyphean Diplomacy

Who invited the U.N? (We did!)

At least Sisyphus got close. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned to spend eternity rolling a block of stone up a steep hill, only to see it tumble back down as he reaches the top. For Sisyphus, this is his punishment for the sins of his life. For Foggy Bottom it seems the preferred method of diplomacy. Now that the U.N. has failed comprehensively in the war against terrorism, we are going back — again — to ask for help in Iraq.

For several weeks, the State Department has been signaling that America wanted a new U.N. resolution providing for more U.N. involvement in Iraq as well as troops from non-Coalition nations to aid in the peacekeeping effort. Last week Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage announced that U.S. objection to a U.N. “peacekeeping force” for Iraq had been dropped. He said that “one idea being explored” was “a multinational force under U.N. leadership but an American would be the commander.” As the Gipper might have said, there he goes again.

In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz confirmed that, “Among the hundreds of enemy that we have captured in the last months are more than 200 foreign terrorists who came to Iraq to kill Americans.” Wolfowitz understands what Powell and Armitage don’t: Iraq is now the central battle in the war against terrorism, and to give control of Iraq to the U.N. will result in our defeat in Iraq because the U.N. is not committed to the defeat of terrorism. Many terrorist states — Iran, Syria, Libya, and North Korea, among others — are members in good standing. They and their sympathizers are able to control U.N. action.

Even if we got a U.N. resolution providing troops and funding — which by now only Powell and Armitage don’t understand that we cannot — just what could the U.N. do to help? We don’t need more troops on the ground — as Gen. Abizaid has said often enough — and the major nations of the U.N. don’t have much to offer even if we did. The French and Germans are already overextended, and have little to offer other than administrators and shopkeepers to ensure that Total Fina Elf and Siemans get the chunk of Iraqi business Saddam had promised them. The French could send the Foreign Legion, by all reports capable fighters and also some of the most familiar with the torture of prisoners and abuse of civilians. They are an excellent means of turning the average Iraqi against us.

Turkey, India, and Russia could offer significant numbers of troops, but would we want them? Turkish troops, if stationed anywhere in the north where the Turks will want them, would only provoke the Kurds to fight, and split the Kurds from the governing council that now unites Iraqi factions. India won’t help because it believes (semi-correctly) that we are allied with its worst enemy, Pakistan. Russia, like France, is thinking only of oil and the $8 billion Saddam owed it. The Putin government has indicated support for a multinational force, but what price — other than oil — will it demand? If Russia’s demands are unclear, French demands are not.

The day before Armitage slipped a cog, smarmy French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said, “For us, it would suffice that the political transition in Iraq is placed under the responsibility of the United Nations.” His refrain over the past two years has been the same. Here’s a couple from the past two weeks. “For our country, the arrangement that will eventually be taken cannot simply be an enlargement or adjustment of the present occupation forces,” de Villepin said. “It’s a matter of putting in place a real international force under the mandate of the Security Council.” In other words, any mandate for troops would have to be conditioned on the Coalition surrendering authority over Iraq to the U.N. On Labor Day, de Villepin said that U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq had failed, and praised Armitage’s statement as a step forward. It figures.

With the French at their anti-American worst, we know exactly how the U.N. proceedings will come out before we waste six months trying to avoid the inevitable. There will be no resolution providing for assistance to the coalition, because we will not surrender Iraq to the U.N.’s tender mercies. There will be several months of debate ending in an impasse. (According to the Washington Post, U.N. officials are already saying that the October Madrid meeting of “donor” nations should be postponed until the U.N.’s role is better defined.) The impasse — for which we will be blamed — will serve only to cause us further international political damage. And, most importantly — our troops’ safety and Iraq’s future will be damaged by the delay of decisions that should be made now. First among these decisions is how best to deal with the growing violence committed by Saddam’s remnants and the terrorist fighters from other nations.

Contrary to the daily reports of an epic disaster, there is progress being made, admittedly in an environment of growing terrorist violence. Terrorist violence, by definition, has political aims. The bombing of the U.N. building was intended to strengthen those who say U.N. troops under U.N. control should be providing security there. The bombing last week that killed one of Iraq’s most prominent Shia leaders — Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim — was much more significant. The Shia were the most-oppressed ethnic group under Saddam, and are viewed by Iraq’s terrorist neighbors as a waiting weapon. To incite them to violence, and use them against their liberators is the goal of the Saddamites and the several nations who are manning, funding and supplying the terrorists now operating in the Sunni areas of Iraq. Already, Hakim’s son is calling for Coalition troops to leave Iraq.

The answer to this violence is not more Coalition troops. It is the formation and deployment of Iraqi security forces that are independent of ethnic control by Sunni, Shia, or Kurdish political groups. The interim Iraqi Governing Council has a new cabinet designed to “Iraqi-ize” government functions in coordination with Ambassador Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority. The next step, which we are at long last pursuing at speed, is the establishment of an Iraqi-commanded security force. Bremer and the CPA announced that thousands of security officers were now being screened and trained and would soon take the field. How they will operate is another matter.

Last Monday, I spoke to Mudhar Shawkat, a member of the Iraqi National Congress and a military adviser to Ahmed Chalabi. Shawkat said that the interim “security coordinating committee” set up by the Iraqi Governing Council hasn’t done anything because it lacks authority. Shawkat believes that Coalition troops — who don’t speak the language and appear intimidating to Iraqis — are making more enemies than friends. He may be exaggerating the negative effect, but his basic point is correct. Our troops should not have to be guarding streets, and dealing with ordinary criminals. Iraqis should.

Shawkat described an INC plan that would establish regional security authorities which would report to the security coordinating committee, in turn under the ultimate command of the CPA. He said that both Amb. Bremer and Gen. Abizaid had been asked to endorse that plan, but no conclusion has been reached. But before real progress can be made in any other arena, Iraqis must be made to feel secure, which means reducing the violence significantly. Whether the INC plan or some other is adopted, “Iraqization” has to be pushed forward much more quickly than it has been so far to reduce the violence substantially and stabilize other basic government functions.

We cannot delay these decisions, hoping against hope for the help that the U.N. nations might provide somehow, some day, if only someone would wait another week before taking action to give the diplos a little more time to work things out. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. This is the sum and substance of our “diplomacy” at the U.N. It is time to end this charade. Let’s call it quits at the U.N. and push forward in Iraq as we must. We won the Cold War not because of the U.N., but in spite of it. The war against terrorism will have to be won the same way.

NRO Contributor Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and is now an MSNBC military analyst. He is the author of the novel Legacy of Valor.

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