July 23, 2003 | Washington Times

Kofi Talk

Among Europe's many criticisms of America is now this: We refuse to relinquish substantial authority in Iraq to the United Nations. Until and unless we do, we're being told, don't expect much military or economic support from overseas.

But if the UN has the expertise to quash rebellions and construct sound government institutions, why is that not on display in Liberia? Why is the UN pleading instead that for American troops to assume responsibility for restoring law and order in that distressed corner of Africa?

Liberia is a pretty straightforward conflict. On one side, are government troops with guns. On the other side, are rebels with guns. The two sides are at the point of stalemate and appear eager for outside intervention.

In Iraq, by contrast, American forces are under attack by hardened pro-Saddam Baathist remnants who want their powers and privileges back. They are reinforced by Jihadists of various nationalities who to return Iraq to the anti-infidel, pro-terrorist fold. Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran are undoubtedly stirring the pot – the rulers of all those countries have an interest in seeing America's Iraq project fail;  all would feel threatened to have a neighbor living in freedom, democracy, prosperity and peace.

To defeat the dead-enders in Iraq will require seasoned Special Forces and clandestine operatives working closely with Iraqi patriots (A.K.A. collaborators) on missions such as that carried out by Task Force 20 this week in Mosul. Does the UN really have such elite combatants on call?

What's more, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan opposed regime change in Iraq. Were he put in charge of the reconstruction effort, what guarantee is there that he would not call for “reconciliation” — a “broad coalition government” that would include both those who now support the American presence and those now doing their best to kill Americans? Raise your hand if you'd be comfortable with such an outcome.

American and British troops are finding new mass graves just about every day. In them are the remains of tens of thousands of Iraqi dissidents, bullet holes through their skulls. In addition, it is now believed that as many as 200,000 Marsh Arabs may have been slaughtered by Saddam, their ancient environment destroyed. Add the 180,000 Kurds Saddam slaughtered and we're looking at crimes against humanity of world-historical proportions.

The UN did nothing to prevent these atrocities, hardly ever spoke out about them, and doesn't speak about them now. But what can be expected of an organization with a Commission on Human Rights now chaired by Libya – the regime responsible for the terrorist attack on Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland?

It's not unfair to ask what proficiencies the UN does have beyond providing a forum for America's enemies, adversaries and sundry critics.  After the tragedy and debacle of Rwanda – where the UN proved impotent in the face of genocide — Secretary General Annan should have made it his mission to organize a skilled and reliable UN constabulary. Such an international police force would have been useful immediately following the US military intervention in Iraq, would be useful in Liberia today. But that was never on Annan's to-do list.

In recent years, too, the UN might have developed a nation-building program, a mechanism to rescue and restore the growing list of failing states. Instead, the UN has only the United Nations Development Program which has not successfully inspired development anywhere.

To be fair, it's not like anyone else has worked through the mechanics of nation-building – not Republicans who have been generally skeptical of the idea, nor Democrats who have generally supported the project. U.S. efforts to nation-build in Haiti in the 1990s failed, but that didn't spark much of an effort to figure out how to do it better next time.

The Europeans have made attempts to build nations from their former colonies in Africa – without success. France probably tried hardest, especially in Cote D'Ivoire in West Africa. After granting independence to Cote D'Ivoire in the 1960s, they quietly helped manage both government ministries and private industries, built electric power plants and other infrastructure, established a sound monetary system and provided direct aid. But they failed to build the institutional framework of a democratic society – an independent judiciary and press, political parties, the rule of law and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. And so today there are French troops keeping a fragile peace in Cote D'Ivoire, just as there are British troops trying to put the lid back on in battered Sierra Leone.

Let the Europeans and Kofi Annan solve those crises – before they demand to take the wheel in Iraq.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.



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