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Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2003 / 12 Elul, 5763

Barbara Amiel

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London Diarist: The UN in Iraq? That's the last thing that America needs | On October 3, 2000, then-Governor George Bush was on American television debating with then-Vice-President Al Gore. The two presidential candidates might as well have been in different countries for all the genuine debating that went on.

Until it got to foreign policy, when a spark of an exchange took place. "The vice-president and I," said George W Bush, "have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation- building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders."

Cut to September 2003 in Iraq. The Americans are waist-deep in the muck of nation-building in a part of the world that has very definite ideas of its own about the type of nation it wants. It is unlikely that the George Bush of September 2003 has changed much in his negative view of "nation-building" from the George W Bush of October 2000.

In all probability, he simply ran into Tolstoy's law about great leaders: "Every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own will, is in a historical sense involuntary."

The war itself was a necessary act on behalf of the civilised world. But Governor Bush was right: nation-building should not be a part of the American brief in the Middle East. Having got themselves in this mess, however, the Americans cannot simply up tools and leave.

That status would please readers of the Guardian and the Independent, though even they might blanch at a world in which American power and will were so weakened that we would rely on the EU rapid response gang to protect us from a nuclear-armed Islam or a deranged North Korea.

What to do? America's call to the United Nations will solve nothing, even if the UN were to respond positively. Why on earth would the American Administration think that France, Germany, Russia and the rest of the UN crowd - not to mention the immense Third World component of that organisation - would have any interest in assisting America now, after they have tried to do everything to thwart its policies at every turn in the Middle East?

Why call for help from the very forces that have wanted to undermine American power all along and whose understanding of the region would have accomplished nothing but the maintenance of Saddam Hussein in power?

Equally, why would anyone in the US State Department believe that France and Germany, who would not join the potentially winning venture of the war, would now want to join a potentially dodgy venture, namely nation-building in Iraq under American leadership?

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Totally abandoning Iraq to the UN would be the better of two bad scenarios, for if the UN did come in, the more presence America retained in Iraq the worse off it would be. America would be blamed for everything that went wrong and get credit for nothing that went right. The US would have all the responsibility and none of the authority - rather like Britain after the end of Empire.

The realities of the region need to be faced. The Bush/Rumsfeld vision is focused on a new Iraq, something short of a full democracy but with enough democratic features to become a role model for the backward tyrannies of the Middle East.

This is a sympathetic notion. But as Dr Daniel Pipes has pointed out, considering democracy took six centuries to develop in England, we can hardly expect it to develop overnight in Iraq.

For the interim, he recommends a "democratically minded strongman" to prevent the country from sliding into anarchy or theocratic tyranny. Role models such as Turkey's Kemal Ataturk or Taiwan's Chiang Kai-shek managed this, as did Spain's Franco and Chile's Pinochet.

Modern Iraq, an artificial country created by the great powers, achieved independence only 71 years ago. The country splits along several fault lines. The Sunni-Shi'ite split, which is the greatest fault line of the Muslim world, is especially prominent in Iraq.

The Sunnis themselves are split between those who are loyal to the old Baathist regime (called "Saddamites" by the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld) and the remaining Sunnis, who are unaffiliated to Saddam Hussein's reign but are concerned about Shi'a dominance. These non-Baathist Sunnis are potential allies of America, but for survival would virtually need to become a separate entity in the Sunni triangle.

Then there are the aspirations of the Sunni Kurds - the third side of the triangle, who exist not only in Iraq but also in Syria and Turkey. For some unfathomable reason (masked always as the necessity not to anger the Turks or even the Iranians -though much good that has done us), the Kurds have been prevented from realising their dream of Kurdistan, the most natural ally of the West in that region.

Columnists make poor statesmen manques because we do not have to deal with politics as the art of the possible. But turning a country like Iraq into any sort of a democracy seems to me an undertaking that, far from embracing the possible, is lurching into the impossible.

A strategy for the region has to begin with asking what it is that the people of Iraq want. That, after all, was one of the reasons the Coalition went into Iraq.

The Kurds want Kurdistan, and most Shi'ites want a Shi'a priestdom with strong relations with Iran. The Sunnis have divided ambitions. The majority of Iraqis may well not want an outright theocracy, but there is little indication that they want a Western-style democracy. Nor is it in America's interests to establish a regime that does not come naturally to the people.

America should have only one non-negotiable demand of any regime in the Middle East: that it does not try to undermine or threaten the West by terrorist actions or weapons of mass destruction. They must make it clear, as they did with this war in Iraq, that any such regime will be annihilated.

Other than that, Washington should tell the nations of the region that they will be happy to buy oil from, and trade and deal with, any regime whatever its nature.

The exit strategy for America is both possible and constructive for the Middle East. Washington must make deals with the Shi'ite majority and the Kurds for a federation of autonomous components.

The Administration should ignore its own State Department and assist the Iraqi exiles who were vilified and sidelined too long. This group are the most reliable allies America will have and should be assisted in every possible way - including military - to establish both a government in the Sunni triangle and the de-Baathification of Saddamites in that triangle.

Iraq's borders have to be secured so its territory does not become the meeting place for the terrorists of the world.

Let the UN in and the worst possible elements in Iraq will come to power in each and every region, united by only one thing: their determination to eradicate Israel as the little Satan within reach. Anti-Zionism would be the flag around which all would rally, a flag that is really a cover for anti-West sentiments and is already fluttering in the breeze with renewed boldness.

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JWR contributor Barbara Amiel is a columnist with London's Daily Telegraph, where this column originated. Comment by clicking here.

04/15/02: It's time for Russia to choose our side in the Great Game
04/01/02: Turkey should be wary of its Franco-German friends
03/18/02: Blair's dilemma: This time he cannot be all things to all men
02/18/02: Letter from London: What you don't see is what you get
02/05/02: The UN is fast becoming a threat to world peace
10/29/02: When dealing with the devil, words like "dialogue" and "agreement" are comic
09/10/02: Never mind the dossier, just leaf through 'Iraq for Dummies'
08/27/02: How Kissinger the hawk was twisted into a fake dove: Lessons in liberal journalistic integrity
05/15/02: Why protecting the peace will make a mockery of justice
05/01/02: Why has it taken Le Pen to ask the awkward questions?
04/17/02: Truth about Israeli casualties is being ignored in this war
02/18/02: America's war on terrorism is a fight for all democracies: What the European elite are clueless about
01/29/02: Pity the al-Qa'eda detainees? Why is liberal 'torture' kosher?
12/18/01: What those in the London salons don't -- or won't -- see
12/04/01: We are not risking world war so women can show their ankles
11/20/01:"Anti-terrorism" has become the Western world's equivalent of the Arabian Nights' "open sesame"
11/06/01: We must rediscover a war mentality that persists through vicissitudes
10/31/01: The West is fighting to rescue Islam, not destroy it

© 2001, Barbara Amiel