Beware the bluewash

The UN must not let itself be used as a dustbin for failed American adventures

by George Monbiot (August 26, 2003, The Guardian)


The US government's problem is that it has built its foreign policy on two great myths. The first is that it is irresistible; the second is that as time advances, life improves. In Iraq it is trapped between the two. To believe that it can be thwarted, and that its occupation will become harder rather than easier to sustain as time goes by, requires that it disbelieves all that it holds to be most true.

But those who oppose its foreign policy appear to have responded with a myth of equal standing: that what unilateralism cannot solve, multilateralism can. The United Nations, almost all good liberals now argue, is a more legitimate force than the US and therefore more likely to succeed in overseeing Iraq's reconstruction and transition. If the US surrendered to the UN, this would, moreover, represent the dawning of a fairer, kinder world. These propositions are scarcely more credible than those coming out of the Pentagon.

The immediate and evident danger of a transition from US occupation to UN occupation is that the UN becomes the dustbin into which the US dumps its failed adventures. The American and British troops in Iraq do not deserve to die any more than the Indian or Turkish soldiers with whom they might be replaced. But the governments that sent them, rather than those that opposed the invasion, should be the ones that have to answer to their people for the consequences.

The vicious bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad last week suggests that the jihadis who now seem to be entering Iraq from every corner of the Muslim world will make little distinction between khaki helmets and blue ones. Troops sent by India, the great liberal hope, are unlikely to be received with any greater kindness than western forces. The Indian government is reviled for its refusal to punish the Hindus who massacred Muslims in Gujurat.

The UN will swiftly discover that occupation-lite is no more viable than occupation-heavy. Moreover, by replacing its troops, the despised UN could, in one of the supreme ironies of our time, provide the US government with the escape route it may require if George Bush is to win the next election. We can expect him, as soon as the soldiers have come home, to wash his hands not only of moral responsibility for the mess he has created, but also of the duty to help pay for the country's reconstruction. Most importantly, if the UN shows that it is prepared to mop up after him, it will enhance his incentive to take his perpetual war to other nations.

It should also be pretty obvious that, tough as it is for both the American troops and the Iraqis, pinned down in Iraq may be the safest place for the US army to be. The Pentagon remains reluctant to fight more than one war at a time. One of the reasons that it has tackled Iran and North Korea with diplomacy rather than missiles is that it has neither the soldiers nor the resources to launch an attack until it can disentangle itself from Iraq.

It is clear, too, that the UN, honest and brave as many of its staff are, possesses scarcely more legitimacy as an occupying force than the US. The US is now the only nation on the security council whose opinion really counts: its government can ignore other governments' vetoes; the other governments cannot ignore a veto by the US. In other words, a handover to the UN cannot take place unless George Bush says so, and Bush will not say so until it is in his interests to do so. The UN, already tainted in Iraq by its administration of sanctions and the fact that its first weapons inspection mission (Unscom) was infiltrated by the CIA, is then reduced to little more than an instrument of US foreign policy.

Until the UN, controlled by the five permanent members of the security council, has itself been democratised, it is hard to see how it can claim the moral authority to oversee a transition to democracy anywhere else. This problem is compounded by the fact that Britain, which is hardly likely to be perceived as an honest broker, is about to assume the council's presidency. A UN mandate may be regarded by Iraqis as bluewash, an attempt to grant retrospective legitimacy to an illegal occupation.

None of this, of course, is yet on offer anyway. The US government has made it perfectly clear that the UN may operate in Iraq only as a subcontractor. Foreign troops will take their orders from Washington, rather than New York. America's occupation of Iraq affords it regional domination, control of the second biggest oilfields on earth and, as deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz has hinted, the opportunity to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia and install them in its new dependency instead. Republican funders have begun feasting on the lucrative reconstruction contracts, and the Russians and the French, shut out of the banquet, are being punished for their impudence.

Now that the US controls the shipping lanes of the Middle East and the oilfields of central Asia and West Africa, it is in a position, if it so chooses, to turn off the taps to China, its great economic rival, which is entirely dependent on external sources of oil. The US appears to be seeking to ensure that when the Iraqis are eventually permitted to vote, they will be allowed to choose any party they like, as long as it is pro-American. It will give up its new prize only when forced to do so by its own voters.

So, given that nothing we say will make any difference to Bush and his people, we may as well call for a just settlement, rather than the diluted form of injustice represented by a UN occupation. This means the swiftest possible transition to real democracy.

Troy Davis of the World Citizen Foundation has suggested a programme (**following) for handing power to the Iraqis which could begin immediately, with the establishment of a constitutional convention. This would permit the people both to start deciding what form their own government should take, and to engage in the national negotiation and reconciliation without which democracy there will be impossible. From the beginning of the process, in other words, the Iraqi people, not the Americans, would oversee the transition to democracy.

This is the logical and just path for the US government to take. As a result, it is unlikely to be taken. So, one day, when the costs of occupation become unsustainable, it will be forced to retreat in a manner and at a time not of its choosing. Iraq may swallow George Bush and his imperial project, just as the Afghan morass digested the Soviet empire. It is time his opponents stopped seeking to rescue him from his self-destruction.

George Monbiot's book The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order is published by Flamingo. www.monbiot.com

Building Iraqi Democracy


2 April 2003.

The war was easy. Now comes the hard part: winning the peace. It is even more true since winning the peace means making an unlikely and unprecedented democratic process work.

Unfortunately, US plans are too slow and timid, and at the same time, too opaque and partisan. Chaos is the consequence of no one legitimate in charge and a process not perceived as legitimate:
- First anti-US demonstrations occur in Baghdad.
- Two Shiite leaders are killed by a mob in a mosque in Najaf, the worlds holiest Shia city
- US-sanctioned meetings of arbitrarily chosen Iraqis in Nassyria are the target of angry demonstrations
- Looters rob and pillage Baghdad and Basra, vandalize museums, and destroy humanitys heritage.
- Militias defend stores and houses (Saddam distributed 2 M guns to Baghdadis)
- Kurds enter Kirkouk in defiance of Turkish warnings that this would be a casus belli. (There need be only acts of retribution against Turcomans for explosive consequences).

Iraqis want to see progress towards a government now - not in 6 monthss time. What are present plans? Europe has no concrete plans apart from abstract principles and a «central role » for the U.N.

The U.S. (via M. Wolfowitz) says it is a 3-step process. The actual building of the government is supposed to occur by some unexplained process after numerous « regional meetings » of arbitrarily selected Iraqis. Then, again by some magic wand and under arbitrary ground rules, a provisional constitution is written, local elections are held. Finally national elections for a real constitutional convention occur. During that time, General Garner is Viceroy of Iraq and arbitrarily selected Iraqis run parallel ministries.

This is a recipe for anger, envy, resentment and corruption. It is the worst possible way of building a democracy which must be perceived as clean, fair, open and legitimate. This bumbling already feeds anti-democratic and anti-American rethoric.

This plan has many problems:
· It is contrived and complicated.
· It is too slow and leisurely.
· It is already fiercely contested on the ground.
· It weakens the prospects for a widely legitimate authority that can prevent chaos.
· It forgets that there has not been true dialogue among Iraqi political movement at least for 30 years
· It forgets the need for a cathartic process a process that will heal divisions and create national reconciliation between locals and exiles.

Those plans put the cart before the horse and forget the most important in democracy-building: the consent of the governed. Representative self-government means the People must believe in the legitimacy of the process.

The solution is not to let the bureaucratic UN run the show. The best solution may look like a compromise, but it is the best anyway.

It is a simple bold idea : immediately organize a constitutional convention, which would also serve as Iraqs first forum for national democratic dialogue. (This might produce national political catharsis in a country desperately in need of it.)

The participants should be delegates from all ethnic and religious groups, all political parties inside and outside Iraq. Better have too many delegates than too few. Iraqi, regional, and global stability are at that price.

For credibilitys sake, it should not be convened by the US alone, but jointly with the UK, France, Germany and Russia, with the EU and UN as observers (and with help from democracy engineering consultants). It is important for global credibility that the USA magnanimously allow antiwar governments to co-sponsor it. This will help President Bush defend his claims that the US has no imperial designs and is not in Iraq to colonize it.

Out of selfish interest to spread political risk, the US should allow others to co-sponsor the political convention even if it decides to punish them economically. The political convention is a separate issue from reconstruction contracts. But France and Germany could be asked to pick up the entire tab. The co-sponsors could include Turkey and Iran to increase regional commitment to a free, sovereign and united Iraq.

To maximize credibility and minimize manipulation, it should be totally open to the media. There might be 500 delegates but thousands of journalists. It should be broadcast live on Iraqi TV. Tens of millions worldwide, especially Muslims, will follow a riveting political reality show.

Congress should vocally support this proposal. It is not unpatriotic to propose a broad-based, open constitutional process. It is quintessentially fair and should prove more popular than todays complicated plan.

The convention could start on 25 May in a nod to 25 May 1787 when the Founders met in Philadelphia. It took Americans over 3 months to create their constitution. If the aim is truly to create the first Arab democracy, dont the Iraqis deserve today as much time as the Americans had 216 years ago?

Historical note:

25 May 1787: Constitutional Convention assembles in Philadelphia
26 July: start of recess (2 months later, lasts 10 days))
6 August: start of second session
17 September: Approval of the final constitution, delegates sign it and Convention adjourns.
Total time: 3 months and 3 weeks with a recess of 10 days

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