The MacArthur option in Iraq

See the John Metzler archive

By John Metzler

Monday, September 8, 2003

UNITED NATIONS — In what appears to be a diplomatic about face, the White House plans to return to the United Nations for a second attempt to secure a Security Council resolution giving international blessing to the Iraq operation. But second thoughts about a second resolution abound, not because there is really a dire military need, but there remains a gaping perception gap as to what’s happening in the post-Saddam era. Spreading the political risk in Iraq, and reducing the political risk in Election 2004 for the President remains key to this assessment.

The fact that Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared to prevail over other Administration voices to take the American case back to the United Nations, must be seen in the context of political damage control. This we do need, as I can personally vouch for having just returned from Europe.

As to whether the USA can really get a second draft resolution through the Security Council depends on timing and a fair degree of luck. Following the heinous terrorist bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, all parties were jolted to a reality check; namely that stability in Iraq must not only be viewed in a military/humanitarian context. The opening was there for a political move, and Powell made it.

Britain holds the Security Council Presidency for September. Later this month the opening of the UN’s 58th annual General Assembly session draws together scores of Presidents, Prime Minister, and Princes many of whom will be lobbied directly by President Bush and Secretary Powell. If political momentum can’t be built in September, there’s still October when the U.S. holds the Council Presidency.

Militarily Anglo/American forces in Iraq are not bogged down in a quagmire but do face a lingering but manageable insurgency. The remarkable military victory over Saddam’s regime was not followed by the afterglow of immediate democratization but destabilization. The American public seemed poorly prepared to face this post-Saddam resistance.

The UN resolution aims at securing a political benediction for George W. Bush at a time when the Administration faces a nasty bout of “I told you so” from many of the Europeans, increasingly raucous domestic critics, and a lingering post-war hangover.

Nonetheless, as President George W. Bush stated in a nationwide address, Iraq is key to the larger war on terror and that there was no going back to the era before September 11th when Americans lived in “false comfort in a dangerous world.”

France still wants to play the Cheshire cat with a combination of Gallic guile — we would love to help you — at a price. Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the daily Le Figaro that while the American draft resolution is a move in the right direction, the text “doesn’t fundamentally change the current set-up; it is still inspired by an approach geared to achieving security and doesn’t take sufficiently on board the political necessity to swiftly give Iraq back her sovereignty.” De Villepin stresses the need for “an immediate move to devolve political power to the Iraqis.”

All parties press for a larger United Nations role in Iraq’s post-war political architecture. At the same time, there appears some flexibility supporting a U.S. force commander for the multinational military operation.

Actually the precedent was already set during the Korean war when in June 1950, the UN Security Council passed a resolution which responded boldly to the North Korean attack by sending multinational forces to repel the invasion.

Weeks later, on July 7th, Council resolution (#84) stated “Recommends that all members providing military forces and other assistance …make such forces and other assistance available to a unified command under the United States of America; Requests that the United States designate the commander of such forces; Authorizes the unified command at its discretion to use the United Nations flag in the course of operations against the North Koreans concurrently with the flags of the various nations participating.” General Douglas Mac Arthur became commander of a sixteen country multinational force — including the British and French..

Beyond the 150,000 Anglo/American/Polish forces currently in Iraq, passing a new resolution may finesse a further fifteen or twenty thousand troops from Pakistan or Turkey. This will not appreciably change the balance of military power, but will bring a new political dimension to the game board.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World

Monday, Aug. 25, 2003

See current edition of

Return toWorld's Front Cover
Your window on the world

Contact World at