Recent columns by Barbara Crossette:
AIDS, Asian Values and States of Denial
(October 20, 2003)
"Asian leaders often acknowledge only that infections happen in what they call 'deviant populations.' Yet it is well known that sex industries across the region attract men from every level of society."
U.S. Rebuffs to Neighbors Should Raise Concerns
(October 14, 2003)
"Ever since the epochal terrorist attacks on the United States two years ago, no two countries have been more important to American security than Canada and Mexico. So why has the United States been so indifferent to its neighbors?"
Testing the U.N. in Afghanistan, With Iraq in Mind
(October 6, 2003)
"The United States has now given the Iraqis six months to conjure up a constitution.... In Afghanistan, time to write a constitution has run out. Nearly two years after the United States toppled the Taliban, the publication of the promised new charter is behind schedule."
Fighting AIDS by Changing Attitudes in Africa
(September 29, 2003)
"Workers in government health agencies, private organizations and churches need every possible kind of logistical support to take the warning message out to people who do not know or do not believe that their own sexual behavior can save or condemn them."
For Countries Big And Small, A Diplomatic Marathon
(September 23, 2003)
"Over the years, autumn at the United Nations has evolved into a huge hive of diplomatic activity, making New York the capital of the world, as Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor, used to say."
German Teacher Provides Much-Needed Guide To The U.N.
(September 15, 2003)
"[For] years, scholars, journalists and interested citizens of all kinds have had to scrounge for an easy-to-understand, jargon-free compendium of information on an organization that seems to revel in making itself hard to penetrate."
More from U.N. Notebook.
U.N. Notebook | October 27, 2003
U.N. and U.S. in Iraq: Nobody Won This Round
by Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS—When the U.N. Security Council finally adopted a resolution on Oct. 16 recognizing U.S. authority in Iraq, the unanimous vote was widely hailed as a victory for Washington. Furthermore, American officials are interpreting the vote as something of a belated vindication of the war itself. Both judgments are at best myopic, and for several reasons.
When the Security Council lined up behind the U.S.-sponsored resolution, the view from inside the United Nations and many foreign missions around it was not that the United States had finally overcome dissent but that other nations on the council had swallowed a bitter pill in the hope that at least an air of international legitimacy would allow reluctant countries to begin helping the Iraqi people recover, restart the economy and construct democratic political institutions for a nation that in thousands of years has never really known democracy.
The resolution spells out a broad area of activity for U.N. experts. It says that the organization—that is, the Secretariat and agencies, separate from the politics of the Security Council—should strengthen the "vital" role that the Bush administration only grudgingly agreed to give the United Nations after the war, "by providing humanitarian relief, promoting the economic reconstruction of and conditions for sustainable development in Iraq, and advancing efforts to restore and establish national and local institutions for representative government." It also asks that the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, in consultation with the U.N. secretary general's representative, present by Dec. 15 a timetable for writing a constitution and holding elections.
Barely a week later, just before the donors meeting in Madrid on Oct. 23-24, the United Nations and the World Bank announced a plan to set up two internationally administered trust funds to channel reconstruction aid to Iraq, bypassing direct control by the U.S.-led occupation. In making the announcement in Washington, World Bank President James Wolfensohn described the Iraqi situation as a unique one requiring some new ideas. Between the lines was the message that the rebuilding of Iraq would not pick up the crucial money or speed needed now if nations continued to resist turning over resources to a U.S. occupation administration.
This is not to say that the United Nations, battered by often ill-informed criticism from conservative Republicans for much of this year, should be declaring victory either. Just when the organization might take advantage of a new opening of operational space in Iraq, it is crippled on the ground by a sweeping reduction in its international staff in the wake of two terror attacks on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
To make matters—and morale—worse, an independent inquiry into the truck bomb on Aug. 19 that killed 22 U.N. staff members, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the secretary general's special representative, found last week that the United Nations was woefully deficient in looking after the safety of its officials in Iraq, making the Baghdad headquarters unnecessarily vulnerable to exactly the kind of attack that occurred. The inquiry team, led by a former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, found blame to assign right up to Secretary General Kofi Annan.
While 4,000 Iraqis working for the United Nations are doing a creditable job in the absence of an international staff, they cannot do everything. Benon Sevan, the head of the Iraqi "oil-for-food" program, told the Security Council at the end of last month that he would need 115 international staff at a minimum to end the program by the Nov. 21 deadline set by the council earlier this year. With only a few dozen foreign experts left in Iraq, he said he may have to dump an unfinished winding-up process into the occupation authority's lap.
Another important factor weighing against the U.S. claim of victory—and the hope that bygones are bygones—is the simmering resentment against Washington that now pervades the United Nations. There is, in plain words, no great desire to help the United States out of a more difficult postwar period than the U.S. Defense Department apparently planned for.
And, finally, there is the gap between experienced U.N. officials and their American counterparts on the subject of how to proceed in Iraq now. Secretary General Kofi Annan has been unusually outspoken in his disagreements with the United States over the pace and leadership of postwar developments in Iraq, joining with Europeans in calling for a quicker handing over of power in Baghdad to Iraqis. The resolution passed in mid-October only papers over the fissures.
The case of Afghanistan looms large in U.N. thinking. There the United Nations has a large presence, but the government is run entirely by Afghans, including some who returned from exile to work with those who joined the United States to drive the Taliban from power in the fall of 2001. Afghanistan is not Iraq, of course. Kabul may sit at an Asian crossroads, but it is not in the heart of a volatile Middle East awash in oil. Nevertheless, the Iraqis are much better equipped and educated to take charge of their country than many citizens of Afghanistan were, leading many in the United Nations and outside to ask why the Iraqis should not be given a chance to run their own affairs—and the responsibility that goes with it.
While Washington and the United Nations continue to circle each other warily, the organization's work has been going on in Iraq. Last week, the World Food Program, run by American James Morris, announced that 2 million tons of emergency food have been delivered to Iraq since early April, despite the unsafe environment and the disruption of attacks on both local and international workers in Iraq. This is the largest amount of food aid ever delivered in such a brief period, according to the WFP in Rome.
WFP's record of steady hard work over the last few months is an example of what U.N. officials mean when they say, as some are saying now, that in the end the organization will come through this Iraqi crisis with the courage and professionalism it has shown in many places. But for the moment, enthusiasm for this new task is in very short supply.
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More on foreign affairs in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic
Barbara Crossette, a writer on foreign affairs and columnist for U.N. Wire, was The New York Times bureau chief at the United Nations from 1994 to 2001. U.N. Wire is a free daily online news service covering news about and
related to the United Nations. It is sponsored by the U.N. Foundation and
appears on the foundation site, but is produced independently by The National
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