The US dragged us into this unjust war. It must not dictate the peace
06 April 2003
The war against Iraq started without a clear cause. We should not be surprised that it is ending without any sense of what should happen next. Conflicting proposals for post-war Iraq are coming from not only the international community, but also the Bush administration. The timing is damning in itself. The plans for the transitional arrangements should have been agreed in detail long before the war had started. Instead, a debate begins during the military campaign, another sign that the sole priority in parts of the Bush administration was to start the war and then worry about the consequences later.
The divisions in Washington have been a constant factor in the Iraqi crisis and at other key moments. Before 11 September President Bush had failed to make a single speech on foreign policy because his senior colleagues could not agree on anything to say. Ever since, the neo-Conservatives have been battling it out with the pragmatists in the hope of winning over the President. Tony Blair allied himself with the more internationalist Colin Powell before the war, and again now in the overdue discussions about what happens next. But one of his broader miscalculations has been to ally himself so firmly to an administration that lacks any unified purpose. His fate is linked to the decisions of an unpredictable superpower that nearly always opts for the unilateralist option.
As to the future of Iraq, Powell is starting to make more constructive comments, following his meeting with EU leaders. He is acknowledging the importance of the international community being involved in the transitional phase. His tone is, predictably, different to the approach taken by Bush's other senior colleagues, who have said it is for the victors of the war to manage Iraq in the aftermath. Equally predictably, Tony Blair is trying to play down the importance of the transitional stage, stressing the need for the Iraqis to have their own government. But the emphasis on the longer term is another of his sleights-of-hand. There has never been any dispute that the objective should be a self-governing Iraqi state. If the Americans had said from the start that they planned to rule Baghdad in perpetuity even Mr Blair might have had a problem supporting their war.
The doubts and worries have always been over the management of the interim phase and what form the new Iraqi government would take. In opposing the war, The Independent on Sunday has argued that the conflict itself would be the relatively straightforward phase. Managing the aftermath in such an unstable country and region was always the more challenging task, a substantial argument for not going to war in the first place.
There are strong symbolic reasons for the transition to be managed directly by the United Nations. Such a move would help to reassure Iraqis that the US meant what it said, that it was liberating them rather than planning to take over their country. The symbolism would be even more potent if Iraqis themselves were to play a prominent part in a UN-managed administration. The alternative symbolism is dire: the "liberators" taking over short- term control. This appears to be President Bush's favoured option.
More important than the symbolism, there are pressing practical reasons for the UN's direct involvement. The transition is likely to be a long one. Consider the tasks: policing the inevitable unrest, managing the humanitarian crises that have arisen, rebuilding parts of Baghdad and, most complex of all, agreeing a new democratic settlement for Iraq. A US administration in Baghdad is likely to be viewed with suspicion and wariness at best. Such an administration is also one that is likely to run out of patience quickly. The evidence from Afghanistan, where there is ominous unrest, suggests that the US attention span once a war has been "won" is limited. The policing of Afghanistan, especially outside Kabul, requires much greater resources, but the interests of the US have moved on.
After his one-sided war President Bush should turn his limited attention to Israel/Palestine and leave the UN in charge of Iraq. Will this happen? Judging by the inept diplomacy in the build-up to war, and the ambiguous motives for going ahead with the conflict in the first place, we fear not. But we should not allow Mr Blair or anyone else to play down the importance of precisely how the transition is managed.
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