A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2003, pages 26-27
United Nations Report
Despite U.S. Spin, U.N. Resolution, Madrid Donors’ Conference Hollow Victories
By Ian Williams
George Orwell called it doublethink—the ability to believe two contradictory things at the same time, if that’s what one’s government demanded. For the past year, the Bush administration has been steeped in doublethink, with rosy public statements contradicted not only by facts on the ground, but by leaked internal memos, such as the one from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld which revealed the administration’s real concerns about the situation in Iraq—even as it denounced the media for saying the same thing!
The same has been true internationally, with U.N. resolutions and the Madrid Donors’ Conference hailed as victories for American diplomacy, when in fact the administration was bogged down by the passive resistance of the international community, which was happy to give Colin Powell a resolution, but which made sure that it and the conference were effectively content-free.
The stage for this was set by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s multilateral declaration of independence on Sept. 23, when he boldly declared that the doctrine of unilateral pre-emptive war espoused by the U.S. administration not only was illegal and against the U.N. Charter, but threatened to bring down the whole global order. Warning of the dangers the precedent would set if followed by others, Annan asked what the Security Council would do in that case. President George W. Bush, however, ignored Annan’s comments when he made his own rather tangential remarks just afterward.
Of course, Annan had his answer very shortly. Israel bombed a site in Syria, in “retaliation” for a bombing in Haifa that clearly had nothing whatsoever to do with Damascus. And Washington’s threat of a veto warded off any resolution about the attack. This is not so surprising, of course. Since the presidential election season began, we can deduce from the Bush administration’s use of its Security Council veto that not only are unprovoked bombing attacks against neighbors perfectly acceptable, but so are threats to assassinate or deport the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, and so is building a cross between the Ghetto Wall and the Iron Curtain throughout the occupied territories.
The rest of the world community showed what it felt about these vetoes immediately afterward, when the Palestinians took the issue to the General Assembly. There, yet again, the U.S. and Israel could only muster Pacific microstates Micronesia and the Marshall Islands to their side. Both, of course, are totally dependent on Congress for their budget.
By Oct. 16, the U.S. also had claimed Resolution 1511 as a victory. True, Washington secured a unanimous vote, but the text had been watered down so much it was an empty triumph. The resolution contained so many verbal concessions, and pledges for a rapid transition to Iraqi self-governance, that, even though the U.S. was careful to keep all real power in its own hands, it promised a much more rapid transition to sovereignty than many in the administration really wanted.
When, weeks before, it submitted its initial draft, Washington had sought the resolution for four specific, pragmatic reasons: to coax more troop contributions from reluctant governments; to cajole more cash for Iraqi reconstruction from other countries; to persuade Kofi Annan to return U.N. civilian staff to Iraq: and, perhaps most of all, reinforced by the previous three, to persuade the majority of Iraqis that, despite the evidence before their own eyes, they really weren’t occupied at all.
The final version of the resolution failed to secure any of those goals. Typically, Pakistan, which has been under heavy U.S. pressure to send troops, said no to sending any troops immediately—even though it voted for the resolution—unless the proposed multinational force were clearly separated from the occupation forces.
Within a day, Annan’s spokesman was confirming what most observers suspected about a United Nations presence: “The security situation in Iraq does not permit us to send any additional staff into Iraq at this time.” On Oct. 30, following a week of suicide bombings in the Iraqi capital, including an attack on the headquarters of the International Committee for the Red Cross, the U.N. announced that it was “temporarily” removing all personnel from Baghdad.
As for the cash, the Madrid donors’ conference produced billions—on paper. As we shall see, however, most of it was in the form of loans, and little if any cash was pledged to the U.S.-controlled Iraqi Development Fund.
Russia, France and Germany had been stalling the resolution in hopes of a timetable for an Iraqi constitution, elections and independence, and for the possibility of handing over power, either to a provisional Iraqi government or to some form of U.N. trusteeship. They seem to have won the latter point—more as a hypothesis than a promise—but all they ended up with was a timetable for a timetable: the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) must present a calendar for a constitution and elections by Dec. 15.
To get the votes, however, the Americans and British were reduced to verbal gymnastics which need a double-jointed theologian to explain. Clause 4 “determines that the Governing Council and its ministers are the principal bodies of the Iraqi interim administration, which, without prejudice to its further evolution, embodies the sovereignty of the State of Iraq during the transitional period until an internationally recognized, representative government is established and assumes the responsibilities of the Authority.”
One wonders how a body can “embody” sovereignty when, even as the resolution was being presented, the U.S. was informing it that 10,000 Turkish troops would be entering its territory, despite the IGC’s stated opposition and, indeed, the opinion of most Turks.
“They have the right to make their views known,” a sponsoring diplomat declared in explaining the IGC’s role—which, as sovereignty goes, does not really go very far, although the Turks now seem to be balking in the face of Iraqi opposition.
The resolution could not even order the secretary-general to send civilian U.N. personnel back to Iraq, but instead “requests “ him to do so, “as circumstances permit.” And Annan solemnly promised to do that, while almost visibly crossing his fingers behind his back and thanking them for the “flexibility.” “I shall do my utmost,” he said, “bearing in mind the constraints on building up the required capacity, and my obligation to care for the safety and security of United Nations staff.”
In the end, the resolution fails because, despite the theological niceties, by maintaining the reality of occupation the U.S. is guaranteeing continuing resistance (or terrorist activity, pick your own vocabulary). This in turn means that other countries will hold back on sending troops or other personnel.
Even if the vote was by no means the diplomatic victory Washington claimed, however, it did contain some dangerous auguries. Diplomats seemed not to notice that, even as U.S. weapons inspector David Kay was confessing that there was no sign of shiny pointy weapony things in Iraq, some bright State Department lawyer had slipped into the preamble the “reaffirmation” not only of other Iraq resolutions, but “including resolution 1373 (2001) of 28 September 2001, and other relevant resolutions.”
Resolution 1373 was passed two weeks after the World Trade Center attacks, and in effect declared the U.S. was acting in self-defense in going after the Taliban. One cannot help suspecting an attempt at retroactive justification, since the weapons of mass destruction gambit clearly leaves a little to be desired, both factually and legally.
In a similar context, clause 19 of the resolution bears watching as well. It “calls upon Member States to prevent the transit of terrorists to Iraq, arms for terrorists, and financing that would support terrorists, and emphasizes the importance of strengthening the cooperation of the countries of the region, particularly neighbors of Iraq, in this regard.”
We may hear more of this “watch out, Damascus! Clause” in the near future. It is a measure of the pressure Syria is under—directly from the U.S., and from others for whom “unity” in the Council is a goal in itself—that the Syrian delegation behaved like a turkey voting for Christmas and supported the resolution with this clause in it.
The Madrid Conference
The Madrid Conference which followed in late October also was hailed as a triumph, but certainly did little to relieve the U.S. of its burdens of occupation under the Geneva Conventions. No one was rushing to put money into the Iraq Development Fund, into which the residual money from the Oil For Food program, future oil revenues, and any other cash assets of the Iraqi regime are supposed to go.
There are good reasons for their reluctance. To begin with, it has taken six months for Washington to allow the establishment of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board that was supposed to supervise the U.S.-controlled Development Fund.
Faced with the obduracy of the multinational institutions, which actually wanted to supervise spending from the “Iraq Development Fund” rather than do an Arthur Andersen/Enron rubber stamp on the accounts, it was not until the very eve of the Madrid Conference that Satrap L. Paul Bremer succumbed, and allowed appointments on their terms. As the joint statement declared, these included “that export sales of petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas from Iraq are made consistent with prevailing international market best practices.”
One reason for donor reluctance may be that other governments have noticed what happened to the $1.7 billion of Baghdad’s assets that were frozen in the U.S.: under the PATRIOT ACT, the White House confiscated the funds. Thus, by the time the U.S. got Resolution 1483 through the Security Council demanding that countries hand over frozen Iraqi assets to the occupation-controlled Iraqi Development Fund, the confiscated funds technically no longer were Iraqi assets. U.S. Treasury officials testified to Congress that the money had been used “for the benefit of the Iraqi people.”
It is not surprising that most international donors will be spending their money directly, and/or through the joint U.N./World Bank funds, whose recently drafted rules repeatedly refer to spending them in conjunction with the Iraqi authorities, not the occupying coalition—which, under international law, is responsible for the welfare of the people they have occupied.
An issue sure to be raised at some point is the morality of continuing to force Iraq to pay reparations for the first Gulf war while asking foreign taxpayers to pay for reconstruction for the second. Although reduced to a 5 percent levy on oil revenues, the former still is a huge burden for the poverty-stricken Iraqis. In October, the Geneva-based Compensation Commission paid out $200 million, bringing the total disbursed in claims to almost $18 billion—probably the biggest reparations operation since Versailles (which, we should remember, was a major cause of World War II). Most of that money went to Kuwait.
The ethics, and indeed the political ramifications, of making Iraqis pay the costs of their former leader’s megalomania are highly questionable. After all, most of the lenders were encouraging Saddam in his military spending and belligerence. The poor Iraqis were never consulted—and they are the ones now paying the price.
Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations.