To Occupy or UNoccupy?

American public reaction to the most recent bill of $87 billion for reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rising human costs of occupation in Iraq, have concentrated the minds of the administration in a way that not even the reality on the ground could. It is a measure of how stark the impinging reality is that Washington even considered returning to the UN for yet another new and stronger resolution.

The original U.S. draft was outstandingly one sided. In return for a UN call for troop contributions, the UN would get a reaffirmation of its “vital role,” which upon examination looks more than a little like a role as rubber stamp for the American’s conscription of Third World troop contingents. There were arguments in the administration about going for a quick resolution at first, but the hard-nosed approach does not work against a brick wall, nor indeed when banged into a cushioned one, which is what the ineffably polite opposition in the Security Council, is offering.

The various meetings of the permanent five members of the Council soon derailed the original idea of getting a resolution before President Bush was due to speak to the UN General Assembly on September 23 — almost a year since he declared his intentions on Iraq to the same body. As before, the crucial issue is not U.S. control of the proposed multinational force, since no one else particularly wants to take up that poisoned chalice. The question is a timeline to the occupation and whether the U.S. is willing to hand over its vice-regal powers to anyone else.

Any UN resolution that calls for countries to send troops without serious provisions for a genuinely vital UN role, or a guaranteed early transition to sovereignty would not only be wrong — it would be ineffective. The most vital role the UN could perform is to supervise the transition between occupation and independence. The Bush administration cannot so far bring itself to do so, not even to hand over supervision of the oil revenues.

In fact the occupation has not even taken the step of appointing the international supervisors who were to act as multilateral monitors on the American control of the Iraq Development Fund into which the oil money is supposed to flow. There are other tests of “Coalition” sincerity. An easy one would be allow in the UN weapons inspectors who are still barred by the Americans even though it was Saddam’s alleged lack of cooperation with them that was the official cause of the war.

An interesting minor issue one to watch will be the impending award of cell-phone contracts. Will they go to companies using the American system that is incompatible with the rest of the world, and more especially with the neighboring countries? More importantly, currently, L. Paul Bremer’s approval of a sweeping neo-liberal privatization scheme for Iraq, even it was officially cooked up by the Iraqi Governing Council’s “finance minister,” is Neocon neocolonialism of the worst kind. No one should make such decisions on the future of Iraq’s economy and society without the full consent of the Iraqi people, which a nominated Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) is manifestly not in a position to deliver.

A UN Fig leaf?

For an administration with such sensitivity to its own domestic opinion, it is always surprising how muchGeorge W. Bush’s team discounts the views of other countries’ electorates. If the governments of Turkey andIndia, let alone France and German are to send troops or cash, then there is no way that their citizens will let them smuggle aid to a continuing American occupation disguised with a flimsy UN-blue fig leaf.

In contrast, the French are going out of their way to be polite, reasonable and co-operative on the broad sweep of the occupation. Along with the Russians and the Germans, they are not insisting on any form of apology or confession from the administration, which is just as well, since George W. Bush is not going to give them one. Even so, it is no one’s interest, either humanitarian or geopolitical to see a strategically important country like Iraq disintegrate into chaos, so even countries that opposed the war are prepared to help the U.S. manage the occupation if it leads to a guaranteed, rapid transition to Iraqi sovereignty. A lot of countries are indeed deeply concerned about the prospects for Iraq, and there seems to be a consensus, outside the snide columns of Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, that name calling among the major parties will not help.

Kofi Annan’s initiative, calling for a meeting of the foreign ministers of the permanent five members was successful, if only because it did not break out into public vilification. The meeting between Schroeder, Chirac, and Blair seems to have toughened the stance of the first of the two at least to the extent of not letting the U.S. have it all its own way. Actually, in many ways that makes them better friends than Blair. Real friends do not encourage folly in their allies.

In fact, the French insistence on a rapid transfer of sovereignty to the IGC is unrealistic. It is somewhat perplexing; however, that the Bush administration obscures the issue by suggesting that it is too early to hand over power to a group that it picked itself. Does that mean that these “Quislings” and “American puppets” of a month ago are suddenly anti-imperialist heroes? Or is the IGC simply the best that can be expected at this stage?

In such a context, U.S. control of the multinational force under a UN mandate, UN supervision of the IGC, and immediate steps toward drafting a constitution would be a solid way to help the Iraqis and the Americans climb out of the hole they are in. It would be wrong to help them dig deeper into the mire by prolonging the unilateral occupation.