Iraq without apology

Saturday, September 27, 2003

The Wall Street Journal

A year after President Bush asked the U.N. to take seriously its numerous resolutions concerning Iraq, we were glad to see him return to the General Assembly yesterday without apology for the result: "The Security Council was right to demand that Iraq destroy its illegal weapons and prove it had done so. The Security Council was right to vow serious consequences if Iraq refused to comply. And because there were consequences -- because a coalition of nations acted to defend the peace, and the credibility of the United Nations -- Iraq is free, and today we are joined by the representatives of a liberated country."

It was, of course, no thanks to certain leaders in the U.N. audience that all of this has been achieved. These same people are now citing troubles in Iraq as evidence of the wisdom of their obstruction. But the underlying reality is that it is Mr. Bush who changed the world by toppling Saddam Hussein. He is now likely to get his way on a new Iraqi resolution as well, French grumbling notwithstanding.

Mr. Bush was properly generous and conciliatory. He praised the work of U.N. aid organizations in Iraq. He also opened the door for greater U.N. involvement in reconstruction, but without the panicked supplication his critics at home and abroad all seem to agree is in order. Our own view is that a Presidential visit to Iraq would also do a lot to highlight the many accomplishments that Mr. Bush justifiably cited.

The President's tone was a universe apart from that of French President Jacques Chirac, who spoke as if September 11, indeed the first Gulf War, never happened. For him, the most salient fact was that the war was launched "without the authorization of the Security Council," and he accused the U.S. of putting the U.N. "through one of the most grave crises in its history." Yet the reality is that this time even Mr. Chirac has said he won't veto another U.N. resolution. He realizes that the rest of Europe, even Germany and Russia, has no desire to see the U.S. fail in Iraq. He too must bow to the events on the ground created by Mr. Bush.

Kofi Annan, meanwhile, worried aloud that Iraq's liberation "could set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force." But the Secretary General also had to recognize the need to "face up squarely to the concerns that make some states feel uniquely vulnerable, and thus drive them to take unilateral action." He also has no choice but to react to the reality of Mr. Bush's pre-emption doctrine.

One of the subplots to this General Assembly meeting is the ostensible split between the U.S. and its own handpicked Iraqi Governing Council. Ahmed Chalabi, who holds the rotating Council presidency this month, and other members of the delegation are pushing for an accelerated timetable toward Iraqi sovereignty and to be able to raise their own troops to secure Iraqi towns and cities. In some circles, this has been interpreted as support for France and its sudden and cynical concern with Iraqi self-rule.

But Mr. Chalabi is not suggesting any further U.N. involvement, and in an interview with us Monday night he argued that a quicker transition to sovereignty would be in accord with U.S. interests, if not current U.S. policy. Mr. Chalabi stresses the security force being proposed would be multi-ethnic, deployed around the country, and under the unified command of the interior ministry.

As for sovereignty, Mr. Chalabi notes that the number of Shiite and Sunni religious leaders on the Council is about half the number of those with a secular, democratic orientation. He says they could agree on a single president, and could safely be entrusted with more authority to prepare the country for its first free elections.

This is advice well worth listening to, especially on the security front. We argued long before the war that free Iraqis were more important than the U.N. as allies against Saddam. And amid the post-Saddam challenges, Iraqi security forces will be the only meaningful way to reduce the burden on U.S. troops. Even with a new U.N. resolution, the rest of the world isn't likely to provide that many soldiers. Turkey's Foreign Minister hinted this week his country is under pressure from Europe not to get involved. Mr. Chirac may not want to veto a new resolution, but that doesn't mean he'll do much to help the U.S.

As Mr. Bush noted, Iraq is on its way to becoming an example of freedom and self-government in the heart of the non-democratic Middle East. A year ago the U.N. failed to take up Mr. Bush's challenge to enforce its own resolutions. It would be good for the world, and for the U.N. itself, if that body now decided to help the Iraqi people. But Mr. Bush made clear, and without apology, that Americans and Iraqis will succeed with or without such help.

This opinion piece was published in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

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