The Bush administration, often accused of "going it alone" in foreign affairs, has now turned to the United Nations for help in Iraq after months of disparaging the world body. The decision, which reverses months of U.S. policy in Iraq, appears to underscore the pitfalls Washington faces in pursuing a "unilateralist" foreign policy.
Washington, 5 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- By turning to the United Nations for help in Iraq, analysts say that Washington is acknowledging that even a "unilateralist" superpower can't always go it alone.
Facing mounting attacks, casualties, and costs in Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced on 3 September that the United States will return to the United Nations in a bid to persuade countries to help stabilize and rebuild the war-torn country.
"Hawks" in the Bush administration have long shunned working with the UN. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz last spring said the UN is incapable of taking on serious threats like Saddam Hussein and argued that the U.S. should instead form its own "coalitions of the willing" to pursue its foreign policy aims.
But speaking yesterday, Powell said the U.S. has presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that proposes sharing some authority in Iraq in exchange for troops and financial assistance to Iraq's reconstruction.
"There are a lot of other elements in the draft resolution that talk about an expanded role for the United Nations, but [also] beyond the United Nations, [to] other international organizations -- especially the European Union, that I think has a very key role to play," Powell said.
Some analysts say the U.S. decision amounts to a complete reversal of previous policy on Iraq, which Washington invaded and occupies without explicit UN approval.
Maureen Steinbruner is president of the Center for National Policy, a think tank formerly run by ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright:
"This is really a sign that no matter how big and how powerful you are as a single country, in the complicated and integrated world we have today, you can't just always head out there by yourself."
The U.S. move follows a series of dramatic terrorist acts in Iraq that show that coalition forces have failed to bring security to Iraq.
Besides daily attacks on U.S. troops, in the last month there have been bloody bombings of Jordan's Embassy and the UN's headquarters in Baghdad as well as at a major mosque in the southern city of Al-Najaf.
Meanwhile, the financial costs have been rising. The occupation itself is costing some $1 billion a week. That's not counting what L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Iraq, said would be the tens of billions of dollars needed for reconstruction.
Then there's the military reality. A Congressional research body said this week that the U.S. Army is too thinly stretched at the moment to sustain its current troop levels in Iraq beyond next spring. Washington has about 140,000 troops in Iraq.
The Congressional Budget Office said that unless two new Army divisions of 10,000 troops each are created or units from the reserves or other armed forces are employed, the U.S. will have to trim its occupation forces by more than half.
Washington already has almost 40,000 troops stationed in South Korea as well as thousands more in hot spots around the globe such as the Balkans. Steinbruner said the Congressional Budget Report suggests there are limits to U.S. military power.
"It's clear, it's been clear to everybody for quite a while, that we're very overstretched here, and that some change is going to have to be made or it's not going to work," she said.
However, Powell and other Bush aides did not characterize the return to the UN as a shift in approach. Instead, they talked about an "evolution" in U.S. policy, which they say is already multilateral since 30 countries have contributed some 23,000 troops to the U.S.-led Iraqi occupation.
But other key countries with military expertise that could help in Iraq -- such as India and Turkey -- have refused to send troops without a UN resolution authorizing the action.
Jim Phillips is with the conservative Heritage Foundation policy institute. Phillips tells RFE/RL that the Bush administration has not in fact made any policy shift, but simply is using the UN route as a tactic to win more resources for Iraq.
"[The Bush administration] always was seeking more international support, but countries were dragging their feet because they wanted to see more of a UN mandate or more UN aegis put on it and they were asking for another UN resolution," he said. "So I think this is part of the administration's multilateral strategy -- to try to seek another UN resolution to clear the decks for greater international support."
The U.S. effort met an initial cold response yesterday from France and Germany, the countries that led opposition to the Iraq war.
French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in Dresden that the proposed U.S. resolution indicated some movement in the American position, but that Washington would have to turn over political authority to the UN in Iraq if it wants their support.
They also said they want the United Nations to ensure a swift transfer of power in Iraq to a new, internationally recognized government that would restore Iraqi sovereignty.
Russia, a longtime advocate of a greater UN role in Iraq, withheld its reaction to the new resolution but said Washington promised to consult with Moscow before submitting the document.
Steinbruner says such resistance from America's allies is the price the Bush administration is paying for going it alone in the past on a series of key international issues, including Iraq.
"The more you [disagree with the allies, and the UN], the more it is politically difficult then to turn around and use them," she said. "So -- in terms of Iraq and in other ways -- the decision of the administration [to go to war without explicit UN approval] was a very expensive decision."
Last March, as the U.S. prepared to go to war without UN approval, Wolfowitz derided the UN as an "abject failure" on the world scene that should be ignored by America as it pursues its aims at the helm of "coalitions of the willing."
"We should recognize that they [coalitions of the willing] are, by default, the best hope for that [new world] order, and the true alternative to the anarchy of the abject failure of the UN," Wolfowitz said in Washington.
Whether the UN's members, after such attacks from Washington, will now decide to bless the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq remains an open question.