Is George W. Bush doing the right thing, even if it's for the wrong reasons? That's what some opponents of the U.S. war on Iraq believe now that the Bush administration has "invited" the United Nations (UN) to play a role in the occupation of Iraq. After dismissing the UN as irrelevant when the Security Council refused to rubber stamp its plans for the invasion last year, the Bush administration seems to have changed its tune--calling in the UN to help shore up support for plans for the future Iraqi government.
But this isn't about promoting democracy. Both Washington and the UN itself hope to gain a political boost from the deal. The Bush administration's handpicked government will appear more "legitimate" if it comes with UN approval. And after being all but written off after the U.S. government's drive to war, the UN wants to seem like a valued institution again.
There's no reason why ordinary Iraqis should trust or welcome the UN. After all, the UN--backed up by the U.S.--carried out the devastating economic sanctions responsible for the deaths of more the 1 million Iraqis between 1990 and last year. And it was UN weapons inspection teams that the U.S. used to spy on Iraq throughout the 1990s.
"We have had bad experiences with the UN in the past," admitted Yonadam Kanna, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council installed by the U.S., to the New York Times last week. According to news reports, Shiite leaders on the governing council are objecting to the UN playing a significant role in Iraq's upcoming election process.
This came after the Bush administration invited the UN last month to assess the potential for holding direct elections--as Shiite leaders have called for--before the June 30 "handover" of power from occupation authorities. The UN team, headed by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, backed up Washington's claim that elections aren't "feasible."
This essentially means that the U.S. government will get its way--and determine who runs the "interim" government, which will set the terms for future elections. So much for the UN promoting "democracy." Likewise, anyone who believes that the UN will help to rebuild Iraq will be disappointed.
Look no further than Afghanistan--where the government of U.S. stooge Hamid Karzai was given a UN stamp of approval. The country's new constitution--brokered in conjunction with the U.S. and UN--not only legitimizes the power of the brutal warlords who run the country outside of the capital of Kabul, but it also sets up a political system that protects U.S. interests by placing much of the power in the hands of the president, which is likely to be Karzai for the foreseeable future.
The constitution represents, according to James Ingalls in Foreign Policy in Focus, "a backroom agreement brokered by U.S. and UN officials that led to the withdrawal of objections to a strong presidency. While the Bush administration collaborates with its handpicked Kabul leaders to ensure that neither the Taliban nor the warlords challenge Karzai's continuance as president," Ingalls wrote, "all armed parties (the U.S., the Afghan government, the warlords, and the Taliban) have in common the goal of keeping the elections free from another, more unpredictable influence: the people of Afghanistan."
In spite of disputes between the U.S. and the UN over the invasion of Iraq, the UN has a long record of signing off on Washington's plans for intervention. It did so again in the case of Haiti. The UN remained all but silent after the U.S. engineered a "regime change" and drove out democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Aristide has said ever since that he was forced out of the country by U.S. soldiers, who told him that he could either leave or be killed by right-wing rebels. But last week, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared that he and the Security Council believe the U.S. cover story that Aristide voluntarily resigned--and that, therefore, there will be no UN investigation of Aristide's ouster.
Washington plans on establishing a permanent presence. Its primary concern now is to put in place an Iraqi regime that will protect that presence and remain faithful to U.S. interests. By endorsing Washington's agenda in Iraq, the UN is providing a fig leaf of "internationalism."
The antiwar movement shouldn't make the mistake of accepting any rhetoric about the UN providing a more "legitimate" alternative to Bush's occupation. And it shouldn't adopt the certain Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry as "our" candidate because he says that he "will go to the UN with a proposal to transfer responsibility to the UN for governance and the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq."
An occupation is still an occupation, whether Washington's war makers are in charge directly, or they operate behind the cover of a UN administration. Only the Iraqi people--not the U.S. government, and not the UN--have the right to decide their fate.