A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Cowardice or Subterfuge?

Over the past week, US and British diplomats at the United Nations have been trying to build consensus for a new UN mandate in Iraq. The idea is to get Security Council backing for a new multinational force in the country once power shifts to the interim government on June 30th. It's a way of slowly moving real power from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the Iraqi government; the resolution being circulated specifies when Iraqis will take control of their police and military, and how much say they will have in multinational force operations. It also builds confidence among regular Iraqis that sovereignty is really coming, because after living in a Thugocracy for three decades they are understandably skeptical of anyone's promises on that score.

But there is a hell of a lot of resistance to the US / British proposal, mostly centering around how long the multinational force will stay and how quickly the Iraqis will take charge of their own security. France, Germany, and Russia (who'd have thought!) want both to happen faster. The US and Britain want both to happen slower. What's the difference?

Moving things slower means greater risk to the soldiers in the multinational force; the longer they're in-country the greater the chance they go home in a flag-draped coffin. It also means that Arabs are going to get suspicious about whether or not the westerners ever plan on leaving. There are a host of smaller considerations too: Increased cultural friction, more chances for abuse of one side by the other, and the sheer cost of maintaining many thousands of troops in the region. But the upside is a greater chance of success in the long run, because the longer a strong military force is in the country the more bled out the insurgency will get. Each spasm of violence uses up resources that we can replace but they cannot. Each rocket they fire and each fighter they lose are gone forever, unable to be used against the legitimate Iraqi government once we leave. In addition, the Iraqi security forces get better trained with each passing day, so a longer stay by CPA or multinational forces means any insurgents left over will be facing tougher Iraqi forces once we leave.

Conversely, moving things faster means less risk to the multinational force and a greater sense among Iraqis that they really are getting their sovereignty. But it also means that the new Iraqi government will be facing a tougher Baathist / Fundamentalist insurgency and that they will be less well equipped to handle it.

So for an honest person, where you stand depends on what you think is more important; is it paramount to bring home the multinational force quickly and safely, or does our priority lay with giving Iraq the greatest chance for long-term stability? I think the US and Britain have made it clear that our priority is the latter. And at first glance most would say that "Old Europe" is looking for the former. But remember the operative phrase in the first sentence of this paragraph: An honest person.

I don't think all of the resistance by France and Germany and Russia is about making things easy on the multinational force and giving sovereignty to Iraq faster. Some of it is, certainly. Maybe even most. But I truly believe that at least some part of their desire to move things along quickly is rooted in the hope that Iraq will fail. I think that many of the powerful in Europe have Transnationalist leanings and they want to see the US punished for acting "unilaterally". And what better punishment than the abject failure of our long-term goal? They'd also like to see a failure because such a failure would reassure them that American principles and power are not as pre-eminent as they appear to be; some egg on the Anglo-American face might go a long way towards soothing bruised egos and mollifying deep feelings of inferiority.

I'm sure most Frenchmen and Germans just want any soldiers they send to come home safely. They don't want to look at the big, ugly picture of Arabian failure and Islamic Fascism, and they certainly don't want to see it as their problem (better to work your 32-hour week, pay your 33% tax rate, and blame the Americans for all the ills of the world). But I'm also sure that there are some European leaders who very badly want their chance to say "We told you so".


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