The International Struggle over Iraq: Politics in the UN Security Council 1998-2005
November 30, 2006
IntroductionJOANNE MYERS: David Malone is our speaker, and he will be discussing The International Struggle over Iraq: Politics in the UN Security Council 1980-2005.
It is a great personal pleasure to welcome back someone who is familiar to many of you here today. When David's tenure as President of the International Peace Academy came to an end, we knew he would be missed. Yet, in returning, he is providing us with an extraordinary opportunity to learn from his past experiences working with and at the United Nations. In this case, it is his familiarity with the structure and politics of the Security Council that is the focus of his discussion and is the one that will afford us a front-row seat as we look inside the world's central peacemaking forum this morning.
With this long-awaited study, I know that David will brilliantly guide us step by step as he examines one of the most important and complicated issues that the Security Council has been confronted with in recent times—that is, the struggle over Iraq.
Many issues have engaged the United Nations over the past twenty-five years, but few have consistently commanded its attention as frequently as Iraq. Now, some of you may wonder whether the issue of Iraq and how it was addressed in the Security Council is worth revisiting. In the hands of David Malone, the answer is a resounding and unqualified "Yes," for not only is David able to see the issues from the point of view of a very able and competent diplomat, but he is also a gifted teacher who brings real insight and clarity to the way in which the Security Council functions.
David's book is not only a fascinating narrative about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and the nation's complex history since 1980, but it is also a story that sheds much light on the mechanics of the Security Council as a whole, as well as an inside look at the Permanent Five in particular and their response to various changes in international relations. The fact that both Iraq, as well as the United Nations, remain in crisis makes his contribution all the more timely and valuable as a reference and as a textbook on how developments unfolded and were addressed.
His analysis covers the various roles thrust upon the United Nations during the last quarter-century, when it acted as a Cold War peacemaker and new world order policeman, but faced creeping unilateralism, and finally as an organization undergoing a severe crisis of confidence. He shows us both the Security Council at its best, when it acted in response to Iraqi aggression against Kuwait in 1990-1991, and at its worst, when its division over the pursuit of Iraqi strategy culminated in a state of deadlock in March 2003.
Are there lessons to be learned from his insightful and critical analysis? Absolutely, for in the end, after David's presentation, he may not only change the way you understand the operations and workings of the Security Council, but you will also have the analytical tools needed to ask whether the Security Council can be better in the future; and, if so, just how this may be accomplished.
Please join me in welcoming back to New York and back to the Carnegie Council the very exceptional David Malone.
RemarksDAVID MALONE: Thanks, Joanne, for those very kind words. It is very difficult to live up to such a billing, but I am going to try.
Great to be back here this morning. Joanne, thank you; Joel Rosenthal also, who runs this terrific institution; and Ann Phillips, a Trustee. It is great to be amongst you.
There are two people with us this morning who have helped shape my thinking on Iraq and the Security Council a lot. James Cockayne, who was my research assistant for this project, and with whom subsequently I have been writing quite a bit about Iraq; he is a valued research partner now. And Markus Bouillon, another Asssociate at the International Peace Academy, with whom during this past year we have tried to think a bit about Iraq's future and how it might be a happy one, although it certainly doesn't look terribly likely at the moment.
The International Peace Academy, where I worked for six years, is a terrific reservoir of young talent in the study of international law and international relations. It was for me a great good fortune to be associated with it while I started this project.
I should say that I am here this morning, not as a Canadian Foreign Service person, but strictly as the author of this book. None of what I say will be relevant to Canada. I am certainly not speaking for the Canadian government. I think Canada appears about twice in the index of the book. So please don't impute to the Canadian government any of my views.
Further, I should say at the outset, because the Iraq story is not one that has been kind to the reputation of the United States internationally, that I have always loved this country. I was educated in this country, I have worked here, and I have always wished it well, and still do, and hope that the United States will be able to extricate itself from Iraq with a degree of honor and leaving a happier Iraq behind. So in that sense, if you read the book, I don't think you will find a frantically anti-American tone. On the contrary, I hope you will find a rather sympathetic one.
Now, what I am going to try to do, because I don't want to be long—I'd much rather have an exchange with those of you in the room interested in the topic—is to divide my remarks in two. First, I will try to remind you of some episodes, which may have faded in to the mists of time in your mind, which are relevant to the Security Council's history on Iraq. And then, in a second phase, I am going to get at some lessons that this extended story may have for us.
It is an extended story by design. When I started out, I was mainly interested, of course, in the blowup at the United Nations in 2002-2003 over the Bush Administration's plan to unseat Saddam Hussein. But it occurred to me that the seeds of those events must go a long way back, and I found they did, so I started with the Iran-Iraq war.
It is worth casting your minds back to the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war. We tend to think that things are just terrible in the Middle East at the moment. If you think back to 1980, they were at least as terrible then: the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan; there had been a revolution in Iran, the Shah was exiled, and Khomeini was holding sway; American hostages were being held in Iran. That year Iraq attacked Iran. The usual problems were unfolding in Lebanon—by the way, very similar ones to the ones we knew earlier this year.
So it was "business as usual" in the area. And the stakes were very high in geo-strategic terms, not least because Russian interests were heavily engaged in Afghanistan in what would turn out to be an unhappy adventure for Moscow; and American interests were very heavily engaged in Iran in what was already a very unhappy venture.
In the midst of all of this, as I say, Saddam Hussein, quite unprovoked, attacks Iran. He sees an opportunity—Iran is in chaos, Khomeini's governance capacity is untested, longstanding border disputes between the two countries—and in Saddam's mind an easy win likely over Iran. So he attacks.
And what does the Security Council do back in New York? Not much. The Secretary-General at the time, Mr. Waldheim, of unhappy memory, did try to wake up the Security Council, which basically told him to go away, that they were not terribly interested. The Security Council failed to clearly identify Iraq as the aggressor, and Iran has felt aggrieved ever since. That mistake of the Security Council was, in fact, pregnant with consequences for later. Iran today remains very suspicious of the United Nations—and, frankly, if I were an Iranian, I would share that suspicion. So there we see the Security Council at its worst—distracted, not engaged.
A few years later, we see the Security Council at its best. The Iran-Iraq war raged on for a number of years. Some of you may remember it spread to the lanes of oil shipping in the Persian Gulf. It worried all sorts of us for those selfish reasons. It took many lives, hundreds of thousands of lives on each side. It involved the use of chemical weapons. It was a very nasty conflict.
The Council didn't do much about it, until Gorbachev resigned from the Cold War, and it became obvious that it might be possible for the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, instead of tussling over every issue, to work together to bring this conflict to an end.
Two people played a very important role in that: the new UN Secretary-General, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar—much underestimated, by the way, by historians—and the British Permanent Representative, John Thomson, who pulled together in his own apartment away from the United Nations the Permanent Five ambassadors to tackle what might be a strategy for ending the war.
Pérez de Cuéllar had, rather pointedly, challenged the Permanent Five to do this. The Permanent Five weren't used to being challenged in any way—they were used to soporific times—but they did tackle this problem. Within three months, they had a game plan to end the war. They took three more months to sell it to the rest of the Council, and in the summer of 1987 adopted the Resolution 598 that a year later brought the war to an end.
This is what started the belief amongst the Permanent Five that they could work together assertively to end war, rather than engage mainly in tactical skirmishing with each other. So that was the high point of the Council on Iraq.
A high point of the Council and of American diplomacy came a few years later, when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait. By the way, Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait because the weapons debts he had accumulated during the Iran-Iraq war were so crushing that he needed more revenue. It's as simple as that. He was desperate for revenue. The most convenient local source was additional oil wells in Kuwait.
The then-President of the United States, happily, was somebody who had been an ambassador at the United Nations. He knew the Security Council well, and he knew that there was at least a strong possibility of being able to build support at the United Nations for a broad coalition to confront Saddam Hussein, which he set about doing with his very talented Secretary of State, Jim Baker—in the news again—and his very talented Ambassador at the United Nations, Tom Pickering, known to many of you.
A set of resolutions was adopted putting Saddam Hussein on notice, slapping sanctions on Iraq. There was a very progressive ratcheting of pressure on him. But, because all of this was done through the Security Council and, through a succession of Council resolutions, it increasingly garnered the support of the membership at large. Even unlikely countries came onboard the coalition, both politically, but also importantly, militarily. The most important of those, of course, completely forgotten in 2002-2003, were regional partners. Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt were all members of that coalition, and that added tremendously to the legitimacy of the coalition in perceptions in the Middle East.
So there you see an effort to use the Security Council creatively that worked very well for the first President Bush.
Now, the success of the operation against Saddam Hussein sowed the seeds of some future problems. Having ejected Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Saddam Hussein turned on his own populations in the north and south of Iraq. Unhappily, the Shia in the south were left to their own fate. But in the north of Iraq the United States and a number of allies decided they had to protect the Kurds, and were going to go ahead, with or without a clear Security Council mandate to do so.
They got some cover from a Resolution 688 on humanitarian protection, but essentially decided on their own, unilaterally, for humanitarian reasons, to launch Operation Provide Comfort, which was a success. It did protect the Kurds. But it reintroduced the idea that if your intentions are good, you can go ahead and just do what you have in mind without clear authorization from the Security Council. It was the return of unilateral action, which actually had been banished for a short period from the United Nations.
As you all know, the UN Security Council designed an extraordinarily ambitious, very intrusive range of measures to disarm Iraq. The sanctions were maintained; they were very stringent sanctions. A weapons inspection operation was created, known as UNSCOM [UN Special Commission]. A large UN compensation commission was created in Geneva to address financial claims against Iraq over its transgressions of law. A lot of machinery was put in place, including a UN peacekeeping operation on the Iraq-Kuwait border, which eventually served to impose a new border on Iraq and Kuwait drawn by international experts. A great deal of activity, all of that, to which you add eventually the Oil-for-Food Programme, which was designed to mitigate the effects of the sanctions.
All was fine as long as the Permanent Five broadly agreed with each other. The Russians and the Chinese had reservations, but they were willing to go along. What changed everything was when France defected from the consensus in 1995-1996, with the election of a new president, Mr. Chirac, who was more nationalist, and prepared to challenge Washington and London. That introduced a period of division in the Council over Iraq that was to bedevil the Council until today, in fact.
As you all know, 9/11 greatly ratcheted up tension relating to Iraq. The Clinton Administration, it is important to remember, was the administration that made regime change in Iraq American policy. Anti-Bush sentiment is sometimes so strong that we forget the sequence of events. Regime change was very much a policy that Madeleine Albright and Clinton not only believed in, but urged on Congress as well.
So after 9/11, with an enormous amount of international support, the United States attacks the Taliban in Afghanistan, removes them, together with the United Nations creates a new political order in Afghanistan, led by Mr. Karzai, still in place. Of course, the Taliban turn out not to be defeated completely, and we have problems there today.
Moving on to Iraq, there was a tremendous, as you know, tug-of-war at the United Nations: would the Security Council authorize the removal of Saddam Hussein by forceful means or not? The answer was not. It created a real shock in international relations at the time. It split the European Union, for example, in ways that I believe were very damaging to the European Union, in terms of the common foreign policy. But, of course, it also split the United Nations.
Since then, the United Nations has been in a sort of twilight zone on Iraq. There is a representative in Baghdad. I'm sure he sends interesting reports. He has no profile whatsoever, and that's the way I think New York wants it.
After the occupation of Iraq, the coalition came back to the Security Council, asked for a mandate to be in Iraq as a foreign occupying force, and received it, because the Security Council did not want to make a bad situation worse. That mandate, by the way, was renewed earlier this week for another year.
That's about as much as can be said about the UN role. As you know, the UN headquarters in Baghdad was blown up in August of 2003, with the loss of many valuable lives. Lakhdar Brahimi—and you might have heard from him at the time here—played a valuable role in helping Washington form the new Iraqi government in 2004, but it was a very difficult exercise for him I think, and not one he would care to repeat.
Some of the lessons I thought that I would come at you with. There was an interesting period of intellectual entrepreneurship in the United States in 2002-2003, when we started hearing from scholars—some of them people of real repute, so this was very unnerving—that international law had ceased to matter, what mattered was the military strength of the United States; that the United Nations was an inconvenience that had outlived its usefulness; that this idea of getting a resolution from the United Nations was really to accommodate that tiresome man Blair; and that the United States now was a country of unbounded power, prepared and able to create its own legitimacy for any of its policies.
And this debate got tangled up in other debates. Some of you may remember Niall Ferguson, who I much admire as a historian, being in this room and essentially cheering on the campaign against Iraq as a first step towards American empire—obviously a very bad idea, suggesting that scholars should stick to what they know. But we had a lot of that.
I remind you of this because so many of these intellectuals are now trying to pretend they had nothing to do with any of this. In my own view, they need to be held to account, if only to make them more prudent in the future.
So talking of legitimacy, whether a UN Security Council resolution is required under American law is something that can be debated very intelligently by lawyers on both sides of the debate. So let's leave aside the legality argument. For most of us—certainly my country—a Security Council resolution is required for Canada to participate in the use of force, although we made one exception in the case of Kosovo.
But what a Security Council resolution does of a more positive nature is it casts legitimacy over the operation, and generates international support. This support can translate into actual company, military company and other forms of company, and greatly thus enhances the likelihood of success of a risky operation.
A UN Security Council resolution also, by the way, creates conditions for financial burden-sharing. It is important to remember that in the first Gulf War, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and many others picked up the bills for the United States. In the recent operation, American taxpayers have been facing their own bill.
So while the legality argument can cut a number of ways, legitimacy really does matter when one is taking on another country, a risky country as it turns out. Company matters—the more company one has, particularly regional company, that is, other Arab countries, is tremendously important. Thinking ahead to financial burden-sharing would have been nice for American taxpayers. All of these prudential steps in thinking about why a Security Council resolution might have mattered would have been, I think, well considered.
Beyond that, had the testosterone rush in Washington been less severe after 9/11, the fact that the United States couldn't convince the Security Council to support this should have been a red flag to Washington. Was the evidence so weak that the majority of the Council was unconvinced? The answer turned out to be yes, the evidence was very weak. Does one wish to proceed on the basis of very weak evidence in a very risky operation? So there was an element of 9/11-induced adrenaline rush and recklessness at play in late-2002/early-2003, as we know today.
In future situations, I hope Washington and other capitals will bear in mind the importance of considerations of legitimacy, the vital importance of good company, including extensive military company, and considerations of burden-sharing.
Now, it was clear pretty quickly probably to most people in this room that Iraq was going badly. I looked back on what people were writing at the end of 2003—already clear then that disaster was impending in Iraq—and that over the last three years all that has happened is we have been hobbling along in this disaster zone.
But in fact it has changed the modus operandi of the Bush Administration in ways that journalists haven't always documented or followed. By the beginning of the President's second term, the United States had recognized again the value of allies, even allies disagreeing with the United States; was again bringing its principal preoccupations to the Security Council, be they Lebanon, be they Iran, be they North Korea. So already now, without Washington advertising it as such, we are back to a much more normal mode of American diplomacy in which the United Nations is made use of whenever it can be useful—which is roughly, by the way, the mode of the other Permanent Members, so I don't think anybody needs to feel particularly sanctimonious about that being the mode of the United States at the moment.
One thing about Iraq that was striking when I was writing the book—I'm not an expert on Iraq myself, although it is a country I have visited. It was a fascinating case of extreme dictatorship, so all of us were aware of it. But of course, researching the book brought me into reading a lot of Iraqi authors and other authors.
What struck me as I researched the beginning of the war and the drive to war in Iraq in 2002-2003 is the lack of expertise on Iraq that was brought to bear in the capitals that were rushing to war. The experts on Iraq were not consulted.
Britain has several historians who specialize in Iraq, who are quite brilliant, Charles Tripp being one of them. Blair did meet with them, but didn't much listen to them, because he had decided by then already to go to war.
It is very important if you are going to go to war with a country and then occupy it to actually try to understand that country. Otherwise, the likelihood of failure in occupation is very, very high. So I would say one of the things that went wrong with planning most sharply in both London and Washington was a lack of respect for the specifics of Iraq, and, in particular, in Britain—where much was known about Britain's occupation of Iraq in the 1920s, which turned out very badly for the Brits—you would have expected a bit more intellectual curiosity. It is a capital that is known for it. So if you are going to take on a country like Iraq, which isn't a small country, try to understand it.
I mentioned that the Security Council had created a great deal of machinery of various sorts to address its decisions on Iraq—Oil-for-Food, sanctions, committees, weapons inspectors of several stripes—all of which made sense in a broader scheme of things, none of which the Security Council equipped itself to oversee. The Security Council created these bodies, but was vague about the relationship between itself and several of these bodies in terms of accountability.
When the Oil-for-Food scandal hit, the Volcker Report did a marvelous job of documenting corporate corruption, a degree of fraud within the United Nations itself, and mal-administration by the United Nations. But what the Volcker team didn't do, claiming rather weakly that it wasn't in their mandate, was look at the Security Council's role. The Security Council's oversight of all of this was scandalous, and it has to bear the burden of many of the poor results. And, I'm afraid to say, that, the United States being a member of the Permanent Five, having enormous influence in the Security Council, was part of that problem. So throwing bricks at the UN Secretariat is very nice, resisting examination of one's own role in management disasters, less attractive. So I would have wished that Volcker would have delved into the Security Council's role.
Some of these operations went relatively well. The UN Compensation Commission in Geneva did about $22 billion worth of business, with no complaints whatsoever. I think it was helped by being in Geneva, away from the politics of New York.
The weapons inspections, alas, in both cases became politicized, challenged for political reasons. Not helpful. They were there in an expert capacity. They were trying to provide expert advice. Challenging their findings on political grounds didn't work well.
Oil-for-Food ran into all sorts of problems. But if you are doing $64 billion worth of business and you have not been set up in any formal way to do $64 billion of business and have very weak oversight, you are going to get Oil-for-Food scandals. So, hopefully, lessons have been learned there.
My own view is that if the Security Council cannot radically improve its own seriousness about oversight, then it should abandon its trend towards creating very large regulatory bodies that it is unlikely to oversee with any degree of seriousness.
In my own view, what the Security Council does very well is serve as a political body, making determinations on the behavior of international actions, occasionally launching where they can be effective a peacekeeping operation to buttress a political strategy. But always remember that without a good political strategy, the Council's various endeavors will probably end poorly.
Now, just looking to the future, and then I will stop.
I mentioned that Iraq has really been a dormant issue in the Security Council in recent years. Will this go on for long? I think probably not. I think as the coalition countries become increasingly desperate to leave Iraq, there will be an effort to look for countries and organizations that could help cover this withdrawal from Iraq and make it as honorable as possible.
What might the United Nations helpfully do in these circumstances? It shouldn't even think of deploying a peacekeeping mission in Iraq. The security situation on the ground simply doesn't lend itself to it.
What the United Nations is good at is bringing parties together, parties that often have great trouble speaking to each other. I live in India at the moment. There has been a very bitter quasi-civil war in Lebanon recently. Ian Martin, whom many of you know, currently serving as the United Nation's envoy in Nepal, has done a terrific job of bringing the Maoists and the current government together. These are the sorts of things that, with the right personnel, the UN does brilliantly, quietly, very usefully.
The new Secretary-General I don't think will have the luxury for long of ignoring Iraq. Indeed, I am pretty sure a number of the interested parties are already knocking on his door. He will need a strategy for Iraq, I think, revolving around what the organization does well—this political dimension, specifically the mediation dimension. The United Nations will have to find partners on the ground. The Arab League could play a useful role in my mind. Other configurations of countries could play a useful role.
So my suspicion is that within the next six months or so we will see the Secretary-General engaged in the issue. He won't be able to spend all of his time in the Middle East, so he will need a special envoy or two. The United Nations has quite a large pool of people who can serve as envoys, people of real talent in that sphere.
So those are the types of roles I think we might see the United Nations taking on in months ahead, in an effort to help the Iraqis by helping the coalition remove itself in circumstances that don't leave the Iraqis even worse off.
One of the things that went wrong in the debate on Iraq in Washington, in London, all over the place, was that the interests of the Iraqis themselves were lost sight of. This loops back to my point about the specificity of Iraq. It was all about the geo-strategic designs of great-power capitals, be they Paris, Moscow, Washington. Thinking about the Iraqis themselves and what will work for them in the future, I think, is the central objective. Again, the United Nations is rather better at that sort of thing than most national capitals are.
I will stop there, Joanne. Thank you very much.
JOANNE MYERS: When you mentioned people of talent, I hope you would consider including yourself in that pool. Thank you for a brilliant discussion.
I'd like to open up the floor to discussion.
Questions and AnswersQUESTION: David, rather than asking you a question, I was going to ask you to comment on three points that really came up early in your discussion.
Number one is the relationship between Chirac and Saddam Hussein. It has been written that before 1995, their relationship actually went back to 1975, when Chirac was Mayor of Paris and Saddam was just coming to power in Iraq, and that there was a kind of almost love relationship between the two that had manifested itself in diplomatic circles a lot later.
The second point is when you talked about Niall Ferguson. There are also other intellectuals. One, Michael Mandelbaum, who served the Clinton Administration, has written that the United States doesn't function as an empire, but in fact more as the world's government, and therefore takes its knocks from people who don't especially feel that they want to be governed.
The third point is regarding the diplomatic arena and the power void. Your former colleague, Kishore Mahbubani, from Singapore has written in his most recent book that one of the problems is the United States then tried to act as a normal power, a normal nation, rather than asserting its real status as the international power, and therefore created a leadership void.
If you could comment on those three points, I'd appreciate it. Thank you.
DAVID MALONE: Very, very briefly. Thank you. They are all interesting.
Do I think that Chirac's relationship with Saddam Hussein, which went back a long time, drove French policy? Actually no. I think it's akin to saying that because Rumsfeld visited Saddam and supplied him, at a cost, with American weapons, that made Rumsfeld an acolyte of Saddam Hussein.
I do think the French had economic interests in Iraq, just as the Russians had economic interests in Iraq. One of the things that went wrong with the occupation very quickly is Washington adopted extremely hostile positions towards countries that had had economic interests in Iraq and excluded them from contracting. In my view that was a great mistake, forcing Russia and others to renegotiate oil contracts and trying to force them out of Iraq. It wasn't yet clear that Washington would need active Russian and French help to get out of Iraq, but that is clear now. So big mistake, frankly, at the time.
On various people who have written about American power, American empire, I find it easier to take when it is Americans who write about American empire. When it is Brits who write about American empire—the British Empire was great for the Brits. I am living in India at the moment. Let me tell you it wasn't great for the Indians. The Brits left the Indians starving in large numbers, having sucked the country dry. For me empire just isn't such a fabulous thing. And by the way, I think it is beyond the reach of the United States, not least because Americans don't want it.
Talking of power, one of the paradoxes of the Iraq saga as it has unfolded is after 9/11 I think many in Washington—and this was widely supported—wanted to demonstrate the full reach of American power. I think the invasion of Iraq was largely about that. The Taliban weren't a very credible opponent, but wiping out Saddam Hussein, now that would produce a deterrent effect.
But the terrible thing is, Iraq today demonstrates the limits of American power in ways that actually are very damaging, not just to the United States, but to the rest of us. When you are a Canadian, you rely on American power a great deal. We have always been defended by the United States. A United States that is patently much weaker than we thought it had been is of advantage to none of us. So I'd say it is one very unhappy outcome of all of this.
QUESTION: I'm Frank Majoor, Netherlands Ambassador to the United Nations. Thank you very much for your introduction, because it brings back part of the memory of this, I think, unfortunate time. But I wanted to check two things with you.
First of all, when you speak about the ultimate decision to move to the war, or the military intervention, you talk about the elements of legality, the company in which you find yourself, burden-sharing elements, the evidence. That's all true, and I think much can be said about all of them.
But you have to look at the circumstances of the moment as well. If I remember rightly—and that would be my view—there was not much of a free choice at that point, because at that point there was tremendous pressure being built up for Saddam to live up to the demands of the Security Council, including, I think, a heavy buildup militarily, and particularly by the countries that at the end of course undertook the action, which are the United States and the United Kingdom. So they were there already for quite some time with a tremendous amount of forces. And Saddam was not moving on any of those subjects. So at that point, I suppose, there were two bad choices—either to go to war or to withdraw—because they could not hold their forces, I think, for much longer at that particular point.
Also if I remember rightly, my second point is that the first part of the intervention was extraordinarily—even, I think, unexpectedly—successful, without a lot of collateral damage, and done very quickly. The problems started, I think, after that, because there was no clue whatsoever, no strategy, and a lot of miscalculation and misinformation on what then should happen and how it was received within the country itself. So the real problem was not so much in my view the war, but the period immediately following. That, I think, changes also a bit how we look at things at that time.
DAVID MALONE: Frank, very good points. Ambassador Majoor and I were colleagues for many years at the United Nations, so it is great to see him here.
By the way, we all need to be very grateful to the Netherlands because systematically they are with the United States and other allies in the most difficult places. They were in Iraq, they are in Afghanistan today, they have a dangerous sector of Afghanistan. So when a Dutch friend speaks to me on these issues I take him very seriously.
Yes, I'd say the coalition countries had put themselves in a position by building up in the Gulf where simply slinking away wasn't much of an option. But painting yourself into a corner and then complaining you are in a corner isn't necessarily terribly convincing either.
Yes, the first part of the operation went well, not least because Saddam didn't have his troops fight. But it is important to go back to the reasons the first President Bush decided not to move into Iraq. In his memoirs, which are well worth reading and rereading, he said basically two reasons: (1) I didn't have a Security Council mandate to do it; (2) if I moved on to Baghdad and got rid of Saddam Hussein, then I'd own the country, and then what? So the first President Bush had apprehended the problem, being responsible for a country about which Canadians and Americans know very little, and was nervous about that.
So while, Frank, I'd say your analysis is right, that the military operation against Saddam Hussein went well, subsequently I think what went wrong wasn't just the decision to de-Baathify and do away with the army, the two decisions that are constantly pointed to. I think there was a complete lack of understanding of Iraq, how it functions, how Iraqis think, and all of that, and no amount of good decisions, had they been taken, which they weren't, would have made up for that.
This episode should make us extremely cautious about the idea that oppressed peoples want to be governed by outside powers, which was part of the belief at the time.
QUESTION: First of all, David, thank you. This book is a real tour de force and a contribution to everybody here.
I wanted to draw you out a little more on U.S. policy toward the United Nations. You made this interesting point a minute ago that the press kind of missed, sort of a different approach in the second Bush Administration. First of all, do you think that the preemption strategy concept is definitely dead? And secondly, related to this—and something you have written about elsewhere, what you called forum shopping—do you think that in the future the United States, or the P5 if you like, would work even harder to work through the Security Council, or do you think this is just kind of a particular episode and things will still remain rather ad hoc with regard to forums for decision making on key security issues in the future?
DAVID MALONE: Interesting question. On preemption, no, I don't think it's dead. And I don't think preemption started with the neo-cons. I think we have seen short, sharp American military actions to take care of irritants, particularly in its own neighborhood, for quite a while. Cast your minds back. Under the first President Bush to Panama, under President Reagan to Grenada, both militarily very successful operations, which we don't complain about very much today. In Grenada, there was a lot of provocation from a murderous thug, Coard. And in the case of Noriega, are we really sorry that he is enjoying the hospitality of the Florida jails? So I think an element of preemption will continue without too much international protest.
I should remind everyone that my country was very irritated with the Grenada invasion and voted against it, largely because we weren't consulted. Such is diplomacy. Mrs. Thatcher felt exactly the same way.
Forum shopping, yes. The trouble with forum shopping is if it is an attempt to legitimize something the Security Council won't legitimize, that will be transparent manipulation of the international system. But will it often make sense to work through a regional organization, a pickup group of allies in a coalition, generally with a UN mandate? Yes, I think we are going to see much more of that.
But on geo-strategically important issues—Iran, North Korea, what has been going on in Lebanon recently—I think it is critical there that the United States in its own interests engage the other major powers because it needs their cover in anything it does. That is why I think the Security Council is going to go on being a central forum for American diplomacy. You are much better off if China has acquiesced in whatever it is you are planning to do than if China is offside, and that goes for others too.
QUESTION: As always, David, you made a wonderful, excellent presentation. Thank you so much.
One of the many unintended consequences of this misbegotten adventure of ours was the empowering of the Shia, not only in Iraq, but one speaks now about a Shia Crescent that has developed and is developing all the way from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon—with the strengthening of Hezbollah, which has affected Lebanon—and even Syria, and even communities within the Sunni countries and the Arab League. I guess it is a little bit off the subject, but I would be interested to know what you think this portends for the future of the region and the world.
DAVID MALONE: Thank you.
One paradox, of course, of the Iraq venture is that there are two winners I can identify. The Iraq venture has produced losers all around, but there are two winners. One, the Kurds, whose situation is certainly better than it was fifteen years ago. The other winner, of course, is Iran, and Iran is in a much better position today to pursue its various strands of policy, as in Lebanon last summer. In now has the ability to make trouble for the great powers if they are considering slapping sanctions on Iran. So again, the relative balance of power isn't quite what we might like it to be.
As to the idea of a Shia-Sunni clash of civilizations, my gut feeling—I grew up amongst the Shia in Iran—is that I don't think even Iraqi Shia want to be dominated by Tehran. I think Iraqi Shia are actually Iraqis, that they are Arabs. I think that Tehran may have some influence within their community. A number of Iraqi Shia leaders found refuge in Tehran for a number of years, but that doesn't make them Iranian stooges. So I think this idea of a vast Shia-Sunni clash is overplayed.
I do think Sunni Muslims in the Middle East are unnerved by seeing Iran lifted up, so to speak, by this series of events, and they worry about a large Shia rump state in Iraq, which is one of the things that might emerge from further civil strife in Iraq. Would that new Shia rump state be entirely pro-Tehran? I doubt it very much.
QUESTION: Thank you, David. I am very interested by your book, especially for two reasons. You take the long view, and I think that is a good way to approach the subject. But also, you are doing it—and it is logical coming from you—through the lens of, let's say, in a multilateral setting in the Security Council, the United Nations generally and elsewhere.
I want to focus on that precisely, on the role of the Security Council in the aftermath of the more recent conflict. Of course, you had to do it in a very summary fashion, and you said correctly that right after the war the Security Council didn't want to make the situation even worse, and then there was a resolution somehow blessing the occupation in a way. But that was not the end of the story. There was another resolution in mid-2004 which transformed the legal regime from occupation to a different kind, a multinational force, with the agreement of the new Iraqi authorities, and there were a number of functions for the United Nations. You mentioned the function of Mr. Brahimi as the political representative of the United Nations. And there was there the seed for something else.
But I have the impression that since then the Security Council has functioned on autopilot regarding the crisis precisely for the reason that you mentioned, because it didn't want to take too much of the responsibility for how the situation was developing. So I, myself, was a bit surprised that last week what the Security Council basically did was to extend the existing regime for one more year.
I agree with you, that the Security Council and the new Secretary-General will not be able to pay themselves the luxury of doing so indefinitely. So I do very much hope that, one way or the other, as you say, in the coming year the Security Council will be called to be more actively engaged in seeking as positive as possible a way out from this dreadful situation.
DAVID MALONE: Many of you know that Lakhdar Brahimi has been one of the United Nations' most skilled negotiators and mediators and did, at President Bush's request, help form the Iraqi government in 2004, the first Iraqi government.
He emphasizes that a genuine international conversation on Iraq can only start if the United States accepts that it is not running the game, that it is not controlling Iraq. I am not sure we are quite there in Washington yet. I think there is a recognition in Washington that there are serious problems and that the United States needs a new strategy. But if past is prologue, then, once Washington has its strategy, it might be tempted to try to impose it on everybody else. I don't think that is going to work. I think if we want neighboring countries to come in and be part of the strategy, whatever Jim Baker and others come up with will have to be discussed with others and Washington will need to be sensitive to the views of others. That isn't always easy in Washington, given American domestic politics, how inter-Washington dynamics play out.
So the new Secretary-General is going to have to be very careful and make sure that if he starts engaging in this there is a genuine role, rather than a role of simply trying to sell an American strategy. Sérgio Vieira de Mello died in Baghdad trying to sell the American strategy for Iraq in August 2003. We don't want to see that happening again.
QUESTION: Shashi Tharoor of the United Nations. David, excellent as always. Just two quick questions that may require longer answers than you have time for.
The first is if you can briefly be sort of counterfactual and indulge in a little fantasy with me. I was not the only one who feared, back in March 2003, that if the Americans conducted a swift military victory in Baghdad that they would turn to the Council and say, "Well, we've done the hard part, we've expended blood and treasure, now you take it over, the UN, you run Iraq." Tell us what would the Council have done if that had happened and where would we be today if that had happened, just as a theoretical exercise?
Second question, going beyond Iraq. You mentioned the importance of legitimacy, and of course that is music to my ears. I have written along similar lines and I agree entirely with you. But there is a slight gap between that affirmation and your throw-away line about how all the Permanent Members of the Council simply use the Council when it suits them. It seems to me surely one of the lessons we have learned in recent years is precisely that if you want the Council's decisions to be taken seriously and honored and respected by the rest of the world, you have to show a willingness yourself to honor the Council's decisions when they don't necessarily suit you or don't necessarily follow your priorities, because that is the whole difference between the "UN a la carte" and the "UN a le chat [?]." Are you not in danger of seemingly in this throw-away line sanctifying a practice that will actually erode the usefulness of the Council to those who want to use it a la carte?
DAVID MALONE: Thank you, Shashi.
Well, had the coalition stopped, as Frank Majoor was hinting at, at its great success, which was the military removal of Saddam Hussein, and then suggested withdrawing in favor of a UN presence in Iraq, I think the United Nations would have needed to be very careful about that. Iraq is a big country, a fractious country. Everything we knew of Iraq suggested it was going to be extremely difficult to run.
Secondly, the United Nations' reputation in Iraq itself had been entailed by UN sanctions. So while we all tend to think the United Nations has a good name everywhere, if you have been subject to UN sanctions for twelve years, your view of the United Nations may be somewhat different. So I think that would have been a factor that the S-G would have needed to think about.
The plus side of the counterfactual you present is it would have forced the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own country much more quickly. I think one of the things that went wrong in Baghdad was that the Coalition Provisional Authority was running everything and the Iraqis they worked with were the ultimate puppets. One of the reasons that Iraqi governments have had trouble gaining legitimacy among their own people is this factor, the suspicion, less well-founded today than it was three years ago, that the Americans are calling all the shots. Bremer certainly didn't dispel in his memoirs the idea that he was calling all of the shots.
Now, the Permanent Members—you are right absolutely, Shashi, in principle. I tend to take the Permanent Members as they are rather than wishing that they were different from what they are.
They all engage the Council instrumentally in line with their interests. Some are much better. The French are brilliant at getting the Council to do what they want in their own interests. Think of Ivory Coast and the regime for Ivory Coast that the Council has approved, with American support, while the French were making trouble for the United States in Iraq. It is an extraordinary story actually, if you look back at these intertwined files.
I think probably the Permanent Member that has most consistently wanted to use the Council and respond to your hopes for Security Council members is Great Britain. Great Britain sends—- all of the Permanent members send—people of great skill to the Council. The Brits try to channel as much as they can through the Council, work on it very hard, in part because I think it is the last vestige of their great power standing, but in part because they are very good at these things and they know it. So the rest of us can be grateful for that.
Do I think the great powers or any new Permanent Members are going to act differently in the future than they have in the past? Sadly, no.
JOANNE MYERS: With that, thank you very much, David.