Bush's new Iraq: Rhetoric vs. reality

President Bush’s Monday night speech—the first of six on the transition in Iraq—was aimed primarily at a U.S. audience whose confidence in his handling of the war has hit record lows. The president’s upbeat rhetoric about a free and democratic Iraq contrasted sharply with the ambiguous provisions of the draft UN resolution presented to the Security Council earlier in the day.p.

The president promised “full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens,” and a security role for U.S. troops “as part of a multinational force authorized by the United Nations.” But the actual resolution introduced at the Security Council offers neither Iraqi sovereignty nor a new international force, save for a contingent to protect UN officials.p.

A new interim Iraqi government will be created, but it will neither command its own security forces, nor have authority over foreign troops on its soil. Its successor, a democratically elected government, will inherit the arrangement.p.

The multinational force specified in the resolution is not a new body, but the same force authorized in previous UN resolutions. It will remain exclusively under U.S. command. Such a formulation falls dramatically short of the demands made by a number of Security Council members for greater internationalization of the transition. The plan is unlikely to produce additional forces so badly needed to assist and relieve U.S. troops.p.

The draft resolution notes “the importance of the consent of the sovereign government of Iraq” but contains no procedures for giving Iraqis a say in whether foreign troops should remain or how they should operate. This contradicts Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent statement that the U.S. would comply in the unlikely event that an interim Iraqi government requested our departure.p.

The president said “we have no interest in occupation,” but the draft UN resolution authorizes an open-ended military commitment. The operations of the U.S.-led force are to be reviewed after 12 months, but there is no mechanism for renewing the force’s mandate, which could be terminated only by an affirmative vote of the Security Council, where the United States has veto power. Previous Security Council provisions for limiting the mandate of the U.S.- led force are absent in the current draft.p.

The president did not tell the American people about some of the obstacles ahead. The previous Iraqi draft constitution has collapsed amidst factional disagreements and left two critical questions unanswered: How will the interim government function and organize elections in the absence of a legal framework? Will the decrees previously issued by the U.S.-led coalition remain legally binding?p.

Also unmentioned was the legal status of those arrested and held by U.S. forces in Iraqi prisons, as well as the administration of the prisons themselves. Whatever the merits of tearing down Abu Ghraib and building a “humane, well-supervised prison system,” most Iraqis (and Security Council members) would interpret sovereignty to mean control over prisons and the administration of justice. This is not specified.p.

Since 2002, the Bush administration has undermined the UN’s role in arms inspection, war prevention and—until recently—postwar reconstruction. It has now turned most of the foreseeable political future of Iraq over to a small cluster of UN experts. Yet barely a month before the hand-over of power, United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has not recruited a willing and capable slate of nominees for the leadership positions the president so proudly announced by title. This should send chills down the political spines of every member of Congress.p.

U.S. citizens can only hope that the next presidential speech will provide details about an Iraqi future that is acceptable not only to them, but to the international community being asked for its support.p.

_Credit: George A Lopez is director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. David Cortright is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum and a fellow of the Kroc Institute. _

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