Sergio de Mello’s death might accomplish something the dynamic and debonair UN special representative in Iraq would have loved to have seen–a U.S. request for the United Nations to take a leadership role in marshaling the international force and legitimacy needed to end the growing guerrilla war in Iraq. Now that Secretary of State Powell has initiated negotiations on a new UN resolution, United Nations officials and Security Council members should do more than pull the Bush administration’s fat out of the fire in Iraq. They should, with the support of U.S. internationalists, use it as an opportunity to permanently repair tattered UN-U.S. relationships. And they should demand a deal that will permanently fix the United Nations’ capacity to mount credible peace operations.

The tragic death of de Mello and 16 of his colleagues in a suicide bombing of the UN’s Baghdad headquarters has focused international attention on the growing vortex of violence that is attracting terrorists from across the Islamic extremist world seeking to confront their sworn enemy, the United States. Failure is not an option in Iraq for Washington or the rest of the international community. But the $4 billion a month (and growing) U.S. price tag combined with swelling casualty lists are not politically sustainable. The Bush administration is now seeking a Security Council resolution to give the UN enough ownership of the Iraq operation to entice India, Pakistan, Turkey, and other nations to send troops and aid to secure Iraq. They must make it clear to Iraqis that the entire international community will aid them in stopping the terrorists and Saddam loyalists who continue to ravage their country.

The stakes are high–79% of registered U.S. voters favor of a new UN resolution according to a late August poll by Public Opinion Strategies. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that current U.S. troop levels cannot be sustained beyond March of 2004, even if Congress appropriates the additional $60 billion that the White House now estimates it will need for Iraq next year. Without a new resolution, it will be difficult to rotate U.S. troops home or make them available for deployment elsewhere. U.S. soldiers will continue to police the streets of Baghdad instead of international civilian police.

Achieving success in Iraq will mean providing security, restoring electricity, hospitals, schools, and governance. Without the new resolution, an October donor’s conference scheduled to raise funds for Iraqi reconstruction projects is likely to be a flop. Many donor nations will not contribute to a fund currently controlled by Washington and its partners rather than the UN or the Iraqi people. On November 21st–at the Bush administration’s insistence–the UN’s Oil for Food program, which feeds 60% of the Iraqi population, will end. Now the U.S., unless it agrees to internationalize Iraqi reconstruction, will add feeding millions of Iraqis–mainly children–to its list of responsibilities. Time is running out.

The debate surrounding the new Security Council resolution is primarily focused on the role of the American military. The Bush administration’s goal is an agreement that maintains U.S. command over international forces, yet Germany and France have already criticized the resolution. German Defense minister Peter Struck says that he sees “no reason to discuss German involvement” if Washington insists on maintaining control. Regardless, it is likely that, after the appropriate posturing, a partnership with the UN will result. However, there is another more important debate that the international community should engage in at this time.

In the run up to the Iraq war administration ideologues, led by Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Dick Cheney, declared the United Nations “irrelevant.” They saw the institution as an impediment to their vision of American empire. For decades they had characterized the UN as “corrupt and inefficient.” They railed against “unelected UN bureaucrats.” Their hubris prevented the internationalization of risks in Iraq–especially if it meant internationalizing control. They looked down on policy makers who believe that America’s success in the world depends upon our ability to work effectively with other nations and make teamwork an integral part of our foreign policy.

Now, like it or not, President Bush has turned to the United Nations for help. Internationalists who understand that no country is strong enough to fight global terrorist groups, preserve the global environment, or prevent the spread of global diseases should demand more than just a UN power sharing formula in Iraq. Security Council members, UN officials and American statesmen–Democrats and Republicans–should seize this opportunity to push back unilateralists and cut a deal that will dramatically increase the UN’s capacity to prevent war and protect human rights. The goal of smart negotiators should not be a stronger UN role in Iraq, but rather a stronger UN system for the future.

Here’s a list of particulars that should be part of the agreement:

  • A United Nations Civilian Police Corps that could provide security for UN employees and help to reestablish the rule of law in war-torn nations.
  • A rapidly deployable UN Mission Headquarters that could quickly evaluate peace operations’ needs and provide initial command and control for UN peacekeepers attempting to contain conflicts.
  • An official end to the U.S. policy of “no nominal growth” for UN budgets–replaced with “fiscally sound” budgets large enough to meet its growing responsibilities. (Increased UN budgets would need to be balanced by increased UN transparency and accountability.)
  • A “truce” in the United States’ diplomatic war against the International Criminal Court.
  • A clear definition of the responsibility of sovereign states to protect their citizens, and of the international community to intervene when nations do not do so.

There are certainly other demands that could be included. But the bottom line is that the Bush team has pursed its agenda despite a growing belief by elected officials, and much of the public, that the administration has gone off the deep end–and is taking us with it. Their own arrogance has painted them into a corner. These over-confident ideologues should not be given an easy way out of Iraq in the form of a bare-bones agreement providing them with just enough of the UN’s legitimacy to “succeed.” The price of success should be the acknowledgement and empowerment of the very institutions and laws they have dismissed as ineffective.

Not all demands will be agreed to, but enough could be to make it a true win-win solution. President Bush could secure a successful resolution in Iraq that could spread throughout the Middle East. The people of Iraq could at last have a peaceful, just, and secure nation. The United States could win back lost goodwill and respect. The citizens of war-torn nations through out the world could win hope. And perhaps Sergio de Mello could win the delight of a mission accomplished, even though posthumously.

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