TOPICS > Politics

U.N. Helping Hand in Iraq?

August 14, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: The United Nations and Iraq: How much of a role in postwar Iraq should the U.S. be willing to grant to the U.N. to get more help on the ground?

That was the unspoken question as the U.N. Security Council took up Iraq today.

Today’s debate on the Security Council’s latest Iraq resolution took place behind closed doors. At issue was a U.S.-backed measure that welcomes the new Governing Council of Iraq, and formally establishes a U.N. assistance mission with year-long funding. The American-led occupation chose the governing council last month. It’s composed of 25 Iraqis from various ethnic, religious, and professional groups.

U.N. SPOKESMAN: I shall put the draft resolution to the vote now.

MARGARET WARNER: Today’s vote, taken in open session, was unanimous, except for Syria.

U.N. SPOKESMAN: Abstentions?

MARGARET WARNER: Syria abstained, arguing that the Iraqis ought to be able to select their own governing council.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the resolution was an important step toward forming an independent Iraqi government.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.: This resolution helps pave the way towards the peace, stability, and democracy that the long-afflicted Iraqi people so richly deserve. It also sends a clear signal to those who oppose the political transformation under way in Iraq that they are out of step with world opinion.

MARGARET WARNER: What the resolution did not do was give the U.N. any greater role in governing or rebuilding the war-torn country. France, Germany, Russia, India, and Turkey, have all said they won’t send troops to help unless the U.N. has broader authority.

The 140,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq make up by far the bulk of the occupation force. There are also about 10,000 British troops, and just 8,000 more from 17 other countries.

MARGARET WARNER: And for more on what today’s U.N. vote does, and does not, provide, we turn to: Robert Orr, deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and global affairs director on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. He was recently in Iraq as part of a Pentagon-commissioned team to assess what’s needed there. And Adeed Dawisha, a professor of political science at Miami University of Ohio, who’s written widely on the politics of the Middle East. Born in Iraq, he’s now an American citizen. Welcome to you both.

Bob Orr, what’s the significance of today’s vote?

ROBERT ORR: This is an important vote in one very technical respect in that it puts the Iraqis into the game, and it puts the U.N. Into the game. What it doesn’t do, though, is resolve all the political differences between the United States and a lot of the other major international players.

MARGARET WARNER: Adeed Dawisha, what would you add to, that at least about what the resolution does do?

ADEED DAWISHA: Well, it uses the word “welcome” to the governing council, which gives it some legitimacy, not the kind of legitimacy that the United States had been hoping for and working for. My information is that they wanted the word to be “endorsed,” in other words, the United Nations would endorse the governing council, but at least it’s a good compromise between endorsement that it couldn’t get because of the opposition of countries like France and Germany and the others, and the kind of complete inactivity, which I agree would not be something that is positive for Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: So Bob Orr, when you said that this didn’t resolve the political debate between the U.S. and some of its traditional allies, what do you mean?

ROBERT ORR: There is still a big difference of opinion about what role the U.N. should play, how extensive that role should be, as well as what role in decision-making U.S. allies like the Germans, the French and others will have.

This resolution simply opens the door for the U.N. to start playing a formal role and for the Iraqi governing council to be recognized, but it doesn’t take care of those questions about: Will the United States share decision-making authority over the crucial questions on the ground?

MARGARET WARNER: So are you saying that you don’t think this resolution will encourage any of the countries that the U.S. had hoped would contribute troops to do so?

ROBERT ORR: This resolution will have no effect on the troop question. There is a discussion going on in U.N. circles about whether or not a new resolution could be passed. But at this point, the United States is not pushing that angle and while others might like to get into the game and contribute some troops, the United States isn’t prepared to share that decision-making authority with them.

MARGARET WARNER: Is that the problem, Adeed Dawisha, that basically the U.S. doesn’t want to share decision-making with some of these other countries?

ADEED DAWISHA: That is right. I think the American position is that, if other countries want to have a role in Iraq, whether by contributing troops or even in terms of economic construction, it has to play that under the umbrella of American decision-making, that they would not have any role in the decision-making. And you know what? I mean I think I understand the American position in this.

We’ve had made a lot of mistakes in Iraq. I hope that we have learned from them. Over the last three or four weeks, a lot of positive things are being done in Iraq.

The United States, which did not know much about Iraq, now seems to know, is sensitive to the problems the Iraqis have. And to be quite honest, if we now bring in the Germans and the French and the Russians and others to participate in the decision-making, we’re going to have an open debate. Iraq does not want or does not need debate at the moment. Iraq needs purposeful action. And so I think that the position of the United States is something that I would support, at least in the next, say, within the next six to nine months.

MARGARET WARNER: Bob Orr, do you think the administration should be proposing or supporting the kind of resolution that would get some of these other troops in there?

ROBERT ORR: As long as things are going relatively well in Iraq, the status quo is fine. The problem is there are plenty of potential problems down the road. And if there are some major political developments or security developments in Iraq, we don’t have a broad political coalition internationally to help us contain that damage.

We also need money. There is a donor’s conference scheduled for late October. At this point, the signs are not good that we’re going to get the type of support that we need. That leaves this reconstruction largely at this stage anyway, in the U.S. taxpayers’ column. We also could use some international civilians to help rebuild Iraq. We need whole skill sets that aren’t currently on the ground in the various parts of Iraq. And we’re not going to find all those in the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: There are members of Congress and the Senate, Bob Orr who are also calling for this — Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) among them — saying the U.S. should go for this second resolution. What’s your understanding of why it hasn’t, I mean other than the general observation that it doesn’t want to share authority. But what’s really the hang-up? What would be wrong with sharing authority? What does the administration not want to have happen?

ROBERT ORR: There is a kind of intractable problem here right now in that the administration does not want to affect the unity of command, and that is clear leadership of the United States with the ability to make its decisions stick throughout the country.

And on the other hand, many of the other international actors that do not want to participate in an occupation, and therefore, don’t want to answer to the United States and the occupation authority. So those two positions are diametrically opposed, and until a negotiation can work out some kind of a compromise to that issue, the so-called second resolution isn’t expected anytime soon.

MARGARET WARNER: Adeed Dawisha, again quoting Joe Biden, he said on this program, after visiting Iraq, you know, it’s all well and good to have some of these eastern Europeans contributing forces, but he said, ‘I’d feel more comfortable if we had other NATO forces or the Indians or the Turks, really big time armies with a lot of experience.’

Do you disagree with that? Do you think that just the U.S. forces and some of these other countries can handle it?

ADEED DAWISHA: You know, the U.S. forces over the last month, have made great advances, as I said earlier, not only in combating the opposition forces but also in getting to kind of understand the sensitivities of the Iraqis.

I’m not so sure that, if we brings from, for example, Indian troops, simply because they happen to be from the subcontinent, that in a way their understanding or sensitivities to the Iraqis is going to be any better than that of the Americans after the Americans have been there for four months on the ground on a daily contact with the Iraqis.

Now, certainly there is no harm in and I think it would do a lot of good if we could have more troops in there who would then relieve the American forces and allow them to do many more things, which they’re constrained from doing right now. But the notion that somehow if we bring in a multinational group, especially from third world countries, and I heard also the Arab countries, that these people are going to be more sensitive, I don’t think that there is any real kind of evidence for that.

MARGARET WARNER: And Professor Dawisha, what about Bob Orr’s point that the U.S. is also going to need some financial help there? And that it’s not going to be forthcoming… excuse me and that it won’t be forthcoming if we aren’t willing to share, if the U.S. isn’t willing to share some of the authority?

ADEED DAWISHA: That’s a very… that’s kind of a very important point. The United States has to, in a sense, use a lot of diplomatic muscle trying to impress upon other countries that if they contribute financially to the reconstruction of Iraq, they will then have financial and economic payoffs. I mean you can’t expect countries to come in into Iraq, pay the debts, which as he says quite rightly is now coming out of our own pocket, and then come out with nothing in hand.

So that, there is a role for the Americans to play there by simply making sure that these people know, if they come in now with some help economically, they will have a partnership in terms of the economic reconstruction of Iraq.

But that stops there. It’s very different from sharing in the political decision-making that I think at the moment is and should continue to be that of the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: Bob Orr, do economic or commercial interests also play a part here in this whole debate?

ROBERT ORR: Absolutely. There’s no question that one of the reasons for the current deadlock between the U.S. and other international players is that everyone’s looking at a potentially very wealthy, very strategically placed country in the Middle East down the road.

So as poor and difficult a situation as it looks like right now right now in Iraq, people are thinking about the potential down the road. It’s not just a question of contracts for work today; it’s strategic positioning in the economic market of Iraq and the broader Middle East tomorrow.

MARGARET WARNER: I know you both talk to people in the administration and on the Hill.

And beginning with you, Professor Dawisha, is it your understanding that the U.S. administration has made a decision, affirmatively not to seek this outside help, or do you think it’s still an open question?

ADEED DAWISHA: I think it’s an open question in terms of economic help. I think in terms of the politics of the situation, I think the administration has made a decision that the decision-making is its own, I mean they’re not going to share decision-making in terms of the strategic vision of where Iraq is going, and particularly in the political reconstruction of Iraq.

They are very reluctant to bring in members of the United Nations or other countries who, for example, have absolutely no experience with democracy to partake in the democratic reconstruction of Iraq. And it’s very difficult to bring in partners who will do only economic reconstruction without taking part in political reconstruction, and I think this is one of the major problems that we see happening in Iraq and its relationship between the United States and the other members of the international community.

MARGARET WARNER: And quickly, Bob Orr, your reading of the situation — a firm decision?

ROBERT ORR: I think the administration has not made any definitive decision on whether or not to seek another U.N. resolution. The issue that is going to push this is the donors’ conference in late October. And as we get closer to that date and there is not a whole lot of financial support, the U.S. is going to have to make some tough decisions.

MARGARET WARNER: Okay, Bob Orr and Adeed Dawisha, thank you both.