AFTER IRAQ INVADED Kuwait in 1991, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher met with the first President Bush and urged him not to "go wobbly." Bush didn't. Now, when the current President Bush confers with Prime Minister Tony Blair in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Monday, he'll return the favor by offering similar advice. This time, however, the prospect of wobbliness is not on the war, but on who controls Iraq after the war and guides it toward democracy. Bush believes it should be the United States and Great Britain. Blair has a soft spot for the United Nations.
The backdrop for the Belfast summit is a concerted effort by the antiwar countries of Europe, plus China, to wrest control of Iraq from the presumed victors, the Americans and the British. The non-combatants are demanding that from now on, as French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin put it, "the United Nations must play a central role" in administering Iraq, though U.S. and British troops should provide security in the short run.
This is an idea whose time has not come. A large postwar role for the United Nations may be the worst idea of the entire Iraq episode--worse than the U.N. arms inspections regime doomed to failure from the start, worse than reliance on countries like Angola and Guinea and Mexico to enforce U.N. resolutions, and worse than believing, as Bush initially did, that France would join the coalition against Saddam Hussein.
France and its allies claim the United Nations is the only body with the international legitimacy to administer Iraq. But is it? The United Nations failed miserably in its supervision of Kosovo, Bosnia, and Somalia. Until Bush stepped in last year, it had completely dropped any attempt to get Iraq to disarm. The United Nations has never successfully fostered a democracy. This isn't surprising, since many, if not most, of its members are non-democratic countries and a police state (Libya) heads the U.N. Human Rights Commission. And have we heard a peep from the United Nations, particularly Secretary General Kofi Annan, about Fidel Castro's new crackdown on Cuban advocates of democracy? If so, I missed it.
There's at least one group of people among whom the United Nations has no legitimacy: That's the 24 million Iraqis who've suffered under more than two decades of Saddam's rule. Iraqis have seen U.N. inspectors come and go. They've seen Annan rush to Baghdad to confer with Saddam with no easing of repression as a result. They've watched as U.N. resolutions, including those obligating Saddam to respect human rights, go not just unenforced or not even cited in passing by the United Nations.
Nor are Iraqis likely to cheer a U.N. role that enhances the power of France and Russia and China and Germany, all countries which made commercial deals with Saddam and cynically tried to thwart the military liberation of Iraq. All of them, especially France and Russia, are desperate to maintain in free Iraq oil concessions granted by Saddam. Also, the Germans built a bunker for Saddam designed to withstand a nuclear attack. The French constructed the nuclear reactor at Osirik, which the Israelis destroyed in 1981. And so on.
The good news is Bush agrees with the Iraqis. He regards the United Nations more as part of the problem than the solution. He's unwilling to forgive and forget France's effort to block the war and to do so in a way that scarred America's image and may have put the lives of American soldiers in jeopardy. Putting the United Nations in charge in Iraq would give France enormous influence, through its Security Council veto, over postwar policy in a country whose liberation the French condemned as a violation of international law. Annan, by the way, claimed liberating Iraq violated the U.N. Charter.
Bush wants the United Nations to play a humanitarian role and not much more. "I would just caution that Iraq is not East Timor or Kosovo or Afghanistan," Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser, said last week. "Iraq is unique . . . The precise role of the U.N. will be determined in consultations between the Iraqi people, coalition members and U.N. officials." Whatever is decided, that role will be subservient.
While counseling against wobbliness at the summit with Blair, the president would do well to offer a reminder. What was one of France's unspoken goals in challenging the United States and Britain on Iraq? The French couldn't affect Bush's position at home, but they could Blair's. And so France sought to inflame the Labour left and Conservative partisans and eccentrics in hopes of prompting a vote of no confidence in Blair's government. It didn't work, but Blair shouldn't do anything now that rewards the French, in spite of their perfidious behavior.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.