AFTER IRAQ INVADED Kuwait in 1991, British Prime Minister Margaret
Thatcher met with the first President Bush and urged him not to "go
wobbly." Bush didn't. Now, when the current President Bush confers
with Prime Minister Tony Blair in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Monday,
he'll return the favor by offering similar advice. This time, however, the
prospect of wobbliness is not on the war, but on who controls Iraq after
the war and guides it toward democracy. Bush believes it should be the
United States and Great Britain. Blair has a soft spot for the United
The backdrop for the Belfast summit is a concerted effort by the antiwar
countries of Europe, plus China, to wrest control of Iraq from the presumed
victors, the Americans and the British. The non-combatants are demanding
that from now on, as French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin put it,
"the United Nations must play a central role" in administering
Iraq, though U.S. and British troops should provide security in the short
This is an idea whose time has not come. A large postwar role for the
United Nations may be the worst idea of the entire Iraq episode--worse than
the U.N. arms inspections regime doomed to failure from the start, worse
than reliance on countries like Angola and Guinea and Mexico to enforce
U.N. resolutions, and worse than believing, as Bush initially did, that
France would join the coalition against Saddam Hussein.
France and its allies claim the United Nations is the only body with the
international legitimacy to administer Iraq. But is it? The United Nations
failed miserably in its supervision of Kosovo, Bosnia, and Somalia. Until
Bush stepped in last year, it had completely dropped any attempt to get
Iraq to disarm. The United Nations has never successfully fostered a
democracy. This isn't surprising, since many, if not most, of its members
are non-democratic countries and a police state (Libya) heads the U.N.
Human Rights Commission. And have we heard a peep from the United Nations,
particularly Secretary General Kofi Annan, about Fidel Castro's new
crackdown on Cuban advocates of democracy? If so, I missed it.
There's at least one group of people among whom the United Nations has
no legitimacy: That's the 24 million Iraqis who've suffered under more than
two decades of Saddam's rule. Iraqis have seen U.N. inspectors come and go.
They've seen Annan rush to Baghdad to confer with Saddam with no easing of
repression as a result. They've watched as U.N. resolutions, including
those obligating Saddam to respect human rights, go not just unenforced or not
even cited in passing by the United Nations.
Nor are Iraqis likely to cheer a U.N. role that enhances the power of
France and Russia and China and Germany, all countries which made
commercial deals with Saddam and cynically tried to thwart the military
liberation of Iraq. All of them, especially France and Russia, are
desperate to maintain in free Iraq oil concessions granted by Saddam. Also,
the Germans built a bunker for Saddam designed to withstand a nuclear
attack. The French constructed the nuclear reactor at Osirik, which the
Israelis destroyed in 1981. And so on.
The good news is Bush agrees with the Iraqis. He regards the United
Nations more as part of the problem than the solution. He's unwilling to
forgive and forget France's effort to block the war and to do so in a way
that scarred America's image and may have put the lives of American
soldiers in jeopardy. Putting the United Nations in charge in Iraq would
give France enormous influence, through its Security Council veto, over
postwar policy in a country whose liberation the French condemned as a
violation of international law. Annan, by the way, claimed liberating Iraq
violated the U.N. Charter.
Bush wants the United Nations to play a humanitarian role and not much
more. "I would just caution that Iraq is not East Timor or Kosovo or
Afghanistan," Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security
adviser, said last week. "Iraq is unique . . . The precise role of the
U.N. will be determined in consultations between the Iraqi people,
coalition members and U.N. officials." Whatever is decided, that role
will be subservient.
While counseling against wobbliness at the summit with Blair, the
president would do well to offer a reminder. What was one of France's unspoken
goals in challenging the United States and Britain on Iraq? The French
couldn't affect Bush's position at home, but they could Blair's. And so
France sought to inflame the Labour left and Conservative partisans and
eccentrics in hopes of prompting a vote of no confidence in Blair's
government. It didn't work, but Blair shouldn't do anything now that
rewards the French, in spite of their perfidious behavior.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.