Originally created 04/10/03

Who's in charge?



Two weeks ago The New York Times and other beacons of American enlightenment were worried about U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "failed" Iraqi war plan that would bog U.S. and coalition troops down in a Vietnam-type war for months or years to come.

What a difference a few weeks makes. Victory is virtually at hand now, and the only thing that's bogged down are the worrywarts. Without so much as a pause to be shocked and awed by what may be the most successful military campaign in history, these hand-wringers couldn't wait to move on to the next big worry:

Who is to preside over the rebuilding of post-war Iraq - the United States and its coalition partners, or the United Nations?

On this issue, there's some rare daylight between President George W. Bush and loyal British ally Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair wants a large role - perhaps even the dominant role - for the U.N. Bush does not trust the U.N., and for good reason. The Security Council welched on 12 years of its own resolutions to compel Saddam Hussein to disarm and then left the dirty enforcement work to America and the coalition.

Bush is not enthusiastic, either, about letting Saddam's allies - France, Germany and Russia - back into the fold. The U.S. president wants only to give the U.N. a subordinate role, along with other international agencies.

But as for putting U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in charge of Iraqi reconstruction? No way. The United Nations' long record on peacekeeping missions and humanitarian interventions, starting in the Sinai Peninsula in 1956 up to the most recent, Sierra Leone in 2000, has been one unmitigated disaster after another. Recall the Rwanda and Somalia tragedies? Yes, they were U.N. operations too.

On the other hand, the United States' and its allies' nation-building record also leaves a lot to be desired. Vietnam started out as a nation-building effort. And what about Afghanistan? We are supposed to be doing for that stricken country what we're promising for Iraq: enforcing territorial integrity, promoting individual freedom, creating democratic government, and protecting the rights of minorities.

The problem is, it isn't happening. Eighteen months after liberation, Afghanistan's various effluent elements are gathering again. Warlords are dividing up the country; travel is no longer safe; and there's a resurgence of Taliban vigilantism that just this week resulted in the brutal murder of a Red Cross worker.

In truth, the United States' peacekeeping and nation-building record is not as long as the United Nations,' but it's been just as much of a failure. If the United States is to be responsible for getting Iraq back on its feet, then it cannot use Afghanistan as a model.

Indeed, as the Bush administration begins to fulfill its commitment to Iraq, it should renew its commitment to Afghanistan. The White House also needs to be careful that, as it helps get Iraqi oil flowing again, it doesn't give the most lucrative contracts to top global firms with strong ties to GOP bigwigs.

Or, worse yet, to France, Germany or Russia.