On April 12, in one of his rare press conferences, President Bush laid out a road map on America’s approach to Iraq’s future. Just two days later, he agreed to change — really reverse — the route. What happened?
Much of Bush’s opening statement at the press conference consisted of what was once famously labeled “glittering generalities.” Repeatedly, Bush enunciated noble purposes without concrete details on the whats, whens, hows and whos, But there was one great exception. On June 30, the U.S. would turn over the government of Iraq to the Iraqis. Bush explained why. “We’re not,” Bush said, “an imperial power.”
Yet when he then laid out further details of this turnover of power to the Iraqis, critics publicly wondered just how free of American control Iraq would be. According to the plan, come July 1, the Iraqi Governing Council — a handpicked body pasted together by the U.S. — will be in control. Whatever its merits or demerits, it was not elected by the Iraqi people. Bush did, however, announce that “Iraqis will then elect a permanent government by December 15, 2005.”
The obvious question is, how and why — if the Iraq Governing Council is in control — can we assume that it will hold such a popular election on December 15, 2005? The answer: If the council wants to go its own sweet way, we will remind it that our army is there to make certain that our puppet dances to our tune. Yes, our troops will still be there. As Bush put it: “Our commitment to the success and security of Iraq will not end on June 30. On July 1, and beyond, our reconstruction assistance will continue and our military commitment will continue.”
In short, the Bush formula is the continuation of old-fashioned imperialism under the new-fashioned use of a “client state,” to serve as a puppet. During World War II, both Hitler and Stalin ran many subjugated countries through puppets. And while Bush is certainly not a Hitler or a Stalin, this use of a puppet to conceal a subtle “imperialism” looks to many like putting a wolf in lamb’s clothing.
To legitimize its plot in Iraq, the U.S. has on several occasions asked the United Nations to send in troops to work with the Americans. The U.N. has refused. But, in this moment of Bush’s embarrassment, the U.N. has come to the rescue. It announces that it is now ready to play a role in Iraq — on its own terms, terms defined by Lakhdar Brahimi, special envoy of the U.N. in Iraq. He calls for the dissolution of the Iraqi Governing Council and its replacement by a council named by the U.N after consultation with the U.S. and with key Iraqis. Put plainly, the U.N. would be replacing the United States as the decision-maker in Iraq.
On the following morning, the New York Times reported the response of the White House. “The Bush administration accepted on Thursday the outlines of a United Nations proposal to dissolve the Iraqi Governing Council installed last year by the United States and replace it with a caretaker government when Iraqi sovereignty is restored on July 1.”
This seemingly smooth transition from control by the U.S. to control by the U.N. will undoubtedly run into difficulties. Who will be awarding contracts to whom in the “reconstruction” of Iraq? What will be the role of the U.S. military forces? Time will tell.
But what this incident has already told us is that Bush’s unilateral foreign policy has been a mega-mistake, one that the U.N. is probably pleased to prove.