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Share the Burden or Bear the Blame

October 16, 2003|Shibley Telhami | Shibley Telhami is a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He served as advisor to the U.S. delegation to the U.N. during the Iraq-Kuwait crisis, 1990-91.

The Bush administration's strategy to win international support at the United Nations, and its efforts to have Turkish troops deployed in Iraq, are not likely to achieve the desired objectives. A U.N. resolution may be passed and Turkish forces may be deployed -- but at a significant cost in international goodwill.

At the U.N., the U.S. has proposed a draft resolution, listened to the feedback, then introduced largely cosmetic changes without significantly altering the thrust of the original draft. When other members of the Security Council have asked for a timetable to transfer sovereignty to Iraq, for example, the American response has been to introduce a timetable for the Iraqi Governing Council to produce proposals for a timetable. This leaves the rest of the Security Council, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, resentful at not being taken seriously.

Tweaking the draft is likely to gain just enough support to pass the resolution, but "just enough" support, or resentful and reluctant support, is not sufficient. What the U.S. badly needs now is the sanction of and partnership with other powers, including a significant commitment to burden-sharing in Iraq. Even more important, the U.S. needs to create an environment where key international players, especially the Europeans, will be rooting for an Iraq policy to succeed, not waiting to take perverse pleasure if it fails.

What can the U.S. do? Challenge Russia and the European Union -- who, with China, have voiced the strongest objections to the U.S. resolution -- to come up with their own ideas for what should happen next in Iraq. The U.S. could then respond in good faith. The Security Council would have a far greater incentive to implement those ideas, rather than an American proposal. Certainly, on matters relating to American forces in Iraq, no other nation can have authority. But beyond that, it is hard to see what the U.S. gains by assuming sole responsibility in Iraq.

Let the Europeans have a victory for a change -- it could mean relieving some of the enormous U.S. burden in Iraq and accelerating the prospects for bringing American troops home.

With much the same shortsightedness, the U.S. move to get Turkish troops deployed in Iraq may succeed in the short run, but at what cost?

The opposition to Turkish troops has been significant in a region once colonized by the Turkish Ottoman empire. It is certainly in the interests of the U.S. to bolster relations with Turkey and to be concerned about the consequences of the situation in Iraq for Turkey's security. But it is equally clear that the deployment of Turkish troops will further delegitimize the American presence and alienate many Iraqis whose support is essential to the American cause. It will also make it harder to gain the support of the other neighbors of Iraq.

The U.S. must exchange tactical methods that create little more than the appearance of international support for a strategy that gains more friends than enemies, generating goodwill around the world and in Iraq.

There is no shame in heeding the U.N. and other nations because, at a minimum, they would have to share the burdens of possible failure.

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