That the United States would eventually subdue Iraq has never been in question. This was not a war; this was a mugging. Of the three countries that George W. Bush named as the Axis of Evil, Iraq had the weakest and most exhausted army. The 1991 Gulf War and the economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations so crippled Iraq that it could not defend itself in any meaningful way. In contrast, neighboring Iran has weapons of mass destruction it can use against invaders, and North Korea has nuclear weapons it could unleash against US forces in South Korea. To attack these two countries would have been messier.
The US now has the authority of military victory, but this cannot take the place of the authority it sought vainly from the UN Security Council. The military campaign is over, the oil wells are securely in their hands, but America and Britain face a new set of problems. They need the UN to help clean up the mess, and to provide a veneer of legality to the acquisition and sale of Iraqi oil. The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is such that only a global institution like the UN can avert further loss of life in this shattered country and arrest its rapid slide to anarchy.
Britain’s Tony Blair, easily the more sensible and articulate one in this reckless partnership, knows this and has made it clear that he wants the UN to play a vital role in the reconstruction and administration of postwar Iraq. He is also aware of the diplomatic damage this war has wrought in Europe, and he wants it quickly repaired. But the American side, feeling vindicated, seems concerned only with the disposition of the spoils of war and with ensuring that those who had opposed the war are not among its first beneficiaries.
Ominous and disturbing has been the silence of the United Nations since March 19, the start of the assault on Iraq. The UN stood in “shock and awe” while the most powerful country in the world began pounding a defenseless nation with its bombs and missiles, unable to respond in any coherent way to a brazen act of aggression that fell within its jurisdiction. The UN knew that the unauthorized American assault on Iraq was also an assault on its own authority and credibility.
This war would have been immediately condemned if it had been launched by a lesser power. Having failed to assert its voice when it was most needed, the UN now has to re-define its mandate in a world in which America holds ultimate veto power. The concept of a United Nations will have to be recast to accommodate the reality of a lone superpower that is free, in the prescient words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “to behave multilaterally when we can, and unilaterally when we must.”
There are signs that this adjustment is already taking place. The first is the strange meeting of the Security Council while the attack was ongoing, which approved the resumption of Iraq’s oil-for-food program but was silent about the war that had disrupted the program in the first place. The second is the withdrawal of a resolution filed by the Arab nations demanding a special meeting of the UN General Assembly to tackle the question of the US-UK invasion of Iraq. The third is the softening of the position of Russia, France, and Germany on the war, from a hard-line opposition to the war to a benign wish for an early American victory and conclusion.
UN diplomats, whose reputation for re-description is legendary, will surely find limitless ways of finessing the unprovoked destruction of one country in the hands of another. The world will be admonished not to dwell on the past but to move forward, not to focus on the differences that divide nations but on the vision of a secure world that unites them, and so on and so forth. Instead of “precision-bombing”, “embedded journalists,” and “weapons of mass destruction,” we will be hearing more buzz words like “humanitarian aid,” “postwar reconstruction,” “interim transitional civilian authority,” and “Iraqi freedom and democracy.”
The hard facts of national interests and corporate greed will lie hidden beneath these altruistic words. The members of the coalition of the willing, now greatly expanded, will be warring among themselves inside boardrooms for oil and rehabilitation contracts. Not one of
them will care to know anymore about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. The UN bureaucracy, wasteful and useless in many ways, will quietly accept every humiliation implied by America’s unilateral action in order to prolong its life. In exchange, it will supply America all the garments it requires by which to cover the nakedness of its power.
A restored émigré elite will govern Iraq but will be unable to command legitimacy and run the country without American support. The resentment and hostility of Arabs and Muslims toward America will grow even more. In a world without a credible international authority, terrorism will increasingly be the only weapon of the weak.
Conscientious Americans, who have opposed this war from the start in the name of founding values they take seriously, will revisit this unjust war in their hearts. They will refuse to be silenced by the drums of false patriotism. Their voices will be the most important voices for peace.
And we, in the Philippines, hopefully, will find the decency to release the Iraqi nationals we have unjustly detained to earn our credentials as part of the coalition of the willing. They have raised families here and they are not terrorists. A good number of them are Kurds and Shiite Arabs who left Iraq to escape the regime of Saddam Hussein.
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