September 22, 2003 | National Review Online

Bush’s New U.N. Challenge

By Andrew Apostolou

When President Bush visits the U.N. today, his speech must be a carefully balanced mixture of diplomacy and leadership. As he did a year ago, his role is to challenge the U.N. to meet its responsibilities, on this occasion to the new Iraq. He must rally the international community, so that we can go forward together, both in building the new Iraq and in the wider battle against terrorism. He should demonstrate that his administration has a clear and open strategy from which it will not waver, a plan for which all sincere assistance is welcome. Above all, he needs to put aside domestic political concerns.

President Bush faces a number of hurdles. The impressive military success of the liberation of Iraq is being forgotten thanks to the sometimes-disappointing Anglo-American administration of the country and the Baathist-inspired insurgency to the north of Baghdad. That the media have proved tendentious and hostile has not helped. The Bush administration is, however, curiously inept at convincing others of what is often a very good case. But politics is about communicating one's views, not complaining that others misrepresent them.

President Bush has to be frank that while the position in Iraq is not as disastrous as many would have us believe, not all the signs are hopeful. Rather, Iraq, like so many other countries in the wake of war, is a patchwork. Iraqi Kurdistan is stable, a solid bastion of genuine allies who have prevented interethnic tensions between the various communities in northern Iraq. Southern Iraq remains tense but politically peaceful. The Shia Arab community is greatly divided but has proved willing to work with the Coalition. Contrary to prewar fears, largely based on ignorance, the Shia are neither Iranian proxies nor incipient Islamic fundamentalists.

He should explain that many of the problems in Iraq stem not from a national resistance movement but from Baathist terrorists who are attracting foreign support. What motivates these terrorists to a significant extent is their ethnic and sectarian sense of entitlement that they, being mostly Sunni Arabs, are the rightful rulers of Iraq. For the U.S. and Britain to pull out in the face of what is a localized threat, to hand a victory to the thugs who terrorized the rest of Iraq for over three decades, is not a serious option.

America's allies have to be reassured that they will not be asked to take risks only to be cut adrift when the opinion poll numbers appear inconvenient. What the U.N. needs to know is that most Americans are not as jittery about casualties as the joint chiefs, nor are they as embarrassed about the largely American character of the occupation of Iraq as General Abizaid.

A new diplomatic approach, however, is needed. The blithe assumption that the U.S. could lead and others would, willingly or inevitably, follow, has been disproved. Instead of striding ahead of the crowd, President Bush should communicate the extent to which the transformation of Iraq is a common endeavor. If the new Iraq fails, if the U.S. does not defeat the insurgents and the economy is not revived, then the price that the international community will pay will be very high.

The question, he should say, is not whether the international community has an interest in success in Iraq, but the nature of its involvement. The international community's role is to complement the Coalition effort in Iraq, not to supplant it nor act as a mere supplement. The U.N., in particular, needs to continue to take the approach of the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, of working side-by-side with the Coalition instead of trying to replace it. The U.N. is not a panacea, but used correctly and with care, it can be a useful addition to the Coalition strategy if it decides to support the goal of a federal, democratic Iraq.

Along with the invitation for others to assist in Iraq, President Bush needs to issue a clear warning to the regional powers. Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey are either actively subverting the new Iraq or passively allowing their citizens to cross their borders to do so. They need to know that they cannot undermine Iraq without suffering the consequences. It is not simply that the U.S. will take action against them, but that they are playing with fire on their own doorstep.

At the same time the president needs to distance himself from some of the more fanciful rhetoric in Washington. He should say that an Iraq run by some form of representative democracy is potentially an example to the rest of the Middle East, not a threat to it. It is surely not surprising that the regional powers seem determined to strangle the new Iraq at birth given that it is supposed to, so the theory runs, bury them. Still, the widely held notion, in Riyadh, Ankara, Damascus, and Cairo, that Iraq will only work if a Sunni Arab is back in charge, must be rejected.

With a carefully worded mixture of invitation, exhortation, and warning, President Bush can bring more countries forward to assist the 28 states that are already supporting the U.S. and Britain in Iraq. That even France appears to be moderating its hostility to the U.S. presence in Iraq is a sign that common sense can prevail even in Paris. Moreover, there is no firmer indication that the U.S. and the U.N. have the same enemies than Monday's suicide terrorist attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. If the U.S. and the U.N. are to be treated as the same target, then they might as well be on the same side.

Andrew Apostolou is director of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute created after 9/11 and focusing on terrorism.



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