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UN: Powell Seen As Author Of U.S. Iraq Initiative

  • Andrew Tully

A U.S. proposal for a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq runs counter to long-standing American insistence that it needs only marginal UN involvement in that country. The draft resolution being circulated at the Security Council is seen by experts as having the fingerprints of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Washington, 5 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Analysts believe U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is behind the American effort to have the United Nations Security Council pass a resolution that would provide non-U.S. troops -- and money -- for pacifying and rebuilding Iraq.

As recently as 2 September, the White House was saying that a UN initiative was just one of many options being considered by the administration of President George W. Bush to counter the persistent violence faced by U.S. and British troops in Iraq.

But the next day Powell announced in Washington that the United States has prepared a draft UN resolution in hopes of getting the military, financial, and diplomatic help it needs to help Iraqis set up a new civil society now that Saddam Hussein has been ousted.

Until then, the administration -- speaking primarily through Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- was making it clear that the United States, Britain, and nearly 30 allies could do the job without UN intervention.

Simultaneously, L. Paul Bremer, the American civilian administrator in Iraq, reportedly was telling his superiors during two recent visits to Washington that the country cannot be pacified without significantly more troops and money than the Pentagon is prepared to provide.

Bush's formal acceptance of a UN approach shows again that while Rumsfeld may be an ideological leader within the administration, Powell is the pragmatist whose opinions usually win out.

International affairs analyst Ted Galen Carpenter made that observation in an interview with RFE/RL four months ago, when Bush named Bremer -- who has a strong background in the State Department -- to replace retired General Jay Garner as Iraq's civilian administrator.

Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy affairs at the Cato Institute, a private-policy research center in Washington. He now tells RFE/RL that Bush's new UN initiative again represents a victory for Powell.

"I think in part it does reflect Powell's influence," says Carpenter. "It also, though, reflects the growing desperation by the U.S. military command. The Pentagon desperately wants more troops in Iraq, and yet it doesn't want to admit that it's misjudged the situation. So if we can get significant contributions of foreign troops, that takes care of the problem -- or at least they hope it does."

But Carpenter stresses that the proposed Security Council resolution is a compromise under which the United Nations' role in Iraq would be greatly enhanced, while the United States would maintain command over all foreign forces there. That, he says, reflects the current limits of Powell's influence.

Leon Fuerth agrees. He served as national security adviser to U.S. Vice President Al Gore during the administration of President Bill Clinton. Fuerth is now a professor of international affairs at George Washington University.

According to Fuerth, the roles of Powell and Rumsfeld fall roughly into two categories. "I think that in these disputes," Fuerth says, "Powell tends to represent the reality principle, while Rumsfeld represents the official ideology that runs the administration normally."

Fuerth says Rumsfeld is ideologically driven to bring a new order to the Middle East through Iraq. He says Powell, on the other hand, reminds Bush of the cost of such a vision in both lives and dollars -- and of the steady erosion in the American people's support for the U.S. presence in Iraq.

What is also interesting, according to both Carpenter and Fuerth, is the depth of support that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country's uniformed military leaders, have for engaging the United Nations and easing the burden -- and sharing the dangers -- that American and British troops have been enduring.

Carpenter says the Pentagon's civilian leadership tends to take a more ideological look at war, minimizing its risks. He says the Joint Chiefs of Staff know better than civilians do how risky war can be.

"We have a very, very professional military running this tremendously powerful force," Carpenter says, "and while they will go and fight when the president orders them to, you generally don't find these folks at the front edge of the argument egging on the president to use military force. As professionals, they know what that means."

Meanwhile, the U.S. newspaper "The Washington Post" reported yesterday that Powell met with members of the uniformed U.S. military leadership to plan a strategy that would convince a reluctant Bush that seeking help from the United Nations was the United States' only viable option in Iraq.

At the State Department yesterday, Powell was asked about the report. He replied that it was not merely inaccurate, it was "absolute fiction, total fiction."

"There is absolutely no substance to this mischievous, fictional story about Colin Powell and the Joint Chiefs of Staff colluding in some way," Powell says. "We didn't do it, and it wasn't necessary. We didn't need to put this pressure on the president. The president had authorized me from the very beginning to move in this direction."

Some in Washington take the secretary at his word, while others say the force of his denial is suspicious. Fuerth takes no position on the validity of the report, or Powell's denial, but adds, "The guy [Powell], of course, will not confirm the existence of a problem or suggest that anybody's ever on top or not on top. It would be the end of his public career if he did it."

Jack Spencer says talk about a deep rift between Powell and Rumsfeld is "utter nonsense." Spencer is a policy analyst for defense and national security at the Heritage Foundation, another Washington think tank.

According to Spencer, those who suggest that there is serious friction between the two cabinet members are simply exaggerating a historical difference in approach to foreign policy represented by the two agencies.

"I've never, ever, known of a State Department and a Defense Department between which there was not some friction," Spencer says. "And that's OK. I mean, just because there's friction between them doesn't mean it's a good or it's a bad thing. That is their purpose."

Spencer explains that reconciling the approaches of the two cabinet departments is the responsibility of the president's national security adviser. He says this function is critical because State and Defense, like all cabinet agencies, have three constituents: the president, Congress, and the bureaucracies of each department.

On the other hand, Spencer says, the White House national security adviser -- now Condoleezza Rice -- has only one constituent, and that is the president. That gives her the ability to focus on how to reconcile differing approaches to foreign policy and present them more coherently to Bush.

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