North Korean nuclear imbroglio

By Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty


IT had taken several months of diplomatic efforts by China to organize the six-nation meeting in Beijing from August 27-29 to discuss the impasse reached over North Korea’s nuclear programme. After a cordial first day, during which the US and the North Korean delegations also held informal consultations, the meeting ended in apparent acrimony. There was neither a joint communique, nor any indication that another meeting would be held.

Though the Chinese hosts tried hard to ensure that the meeting ended on a positive note, the North Korean delegation chose to call it a waste of time owing to the inflexible US attitude. The idea holding of further meetings was rejected, and the North Korean stance of maintaining and developing its nuclear deterrent was reiterated.

On the second day, the North Korean delegation even threatened to carry out nuclear tests to demonstrate the country’s nuclear capability. The US delegate chose to put a positive spin on the meeting, which facilitated a useful exchange of views, and hoped the meeting would be held again, in Beijing or elsewhere. The Chinese expressed the hope that the group would meet again in Beijing in two months.

The outcome reflects the standoff that has existed between the US and North Korea since October 2002, when Pyongyang had informed the US about its nuclear capability. This bombshell, coming a month after the proclamation of the Bush doctrine, has created an air of crisis that also closely affects the countries attending the Beijing moot (China, Russia, Japan and South Korea).

The nuclear issue that complicates the situation in the Korean peninsula is perhaps the last problem that bears traces of the cold war years. In Europe, the collapse of the Soviet Union following the end of the cold war in 1989 virtually eliminated the communist regimes in East European countries. However, in the Korean peninsula, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (or North Korea) that had emerged and survived with Soviet and Chinese support, has managed to retain its communist style system, under Kim IL Sung, the “Great Leader”, who was succeeded by his son Kim Jong IL in 1996. The country has acquired a military and nuclear capability it is seeking to exploit to safeguard its interests, confronting some 37,000 US troops deployed in South Korea.

Though US President Bush included North Korea in the “axis of evil” in his State of the Union message in 2002, together with Iraq and Iran, he has found it necessary to adopt an approach different from that of “pre-emption” followed in Iraq. Even though the US has the military capability to pulverize North Korea in a conflict, the latter has the capital of South Korea within range of its artillery and can inflict unacceptable damage.

Therefore, despite the bluster and outrage of hawks around him, President Bush has yielded to the advice of his allies, Japan and South Korea, to seek a peaceful way out. China, which is a traditional ally of North Korea, with a stake in peace and stability for its economic agenda, has assumed the leading role in promoting a negotiated settlement.

Since the end of the cold war, and the decline of Communist fortunes in the world, the Stalinist regime in North Korea has had a hard time defending itself, since its two traditional allies, China and Russia, have abandoned the ideological confrontation of the cold war years. The shortcomings of the command system of economy have been exacerbated by a series of natural disasters, including years of floods followed by persistent drought that cut down agricultural production drastically. As a result, the country suffered from successive years of famine, and its political isolation prevented adequate food assistance, so that almost a million persons perished.

Facing a perceived threat, the regime continued to devote a high proportion of scarce resources to maintaining disproportionately large armed forces, and developing nuclear and missile capability. Indeed, exports of arms became a major source of foreign exchange, and the country’s nuclear programme became a cause for serious concern to the US, as South Korea remained vulnerable, while Japan also worried about Pyongyang’s missile tests that affected its security.

The Clinton administration sought to take advantage of North Korea’s economic straits, especially shortage of energy, by promoting a Framework Agreement that was signed in Geneva in October 1994. North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear programme, in exchange for two modern light water reactors to produce electricity to be built by a US led consortium. Though the reactors were to be completed by 2003, the US dragged its feet. This led North Korea to continue with its clandestine nuclear programme, and to reject IAEA demands for inspections.

The arrival of the Bush administration on the scene in 2001 led to a further worsening of US relations with North Korea, with Washington even opposing the “sunshine” policy of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, who sought to promote better relations between the two Koreas. Though he held a summit with President Kim Jong IL in Pyongyang in June 2001, any further progress towards better relations was discouraged by the Bush administration, which considered North Korea as a “rogue State”.

North Korea has followed a high risk policy of defying the US, hoping to capitalize on the threat it poses to South Korea and Japan through its nuclear and missile programme to extract concessions from the West, in terms of political recognition and economic aid. The US has been obliged to explore the path of negotiations, though it enjoys broad international support to its goal of eliminating North Korea’s nuclear capability. Even China and Russia have been supportive of the goal of making the Korean peninsula a nuclear free zone.

It was during the visit of US assistant secretary of state James Kelly to Pyongyang, for nuclear talks in October 2002, that he was informed about North Korea’s achievement of nuclear capability through uranium enrichment. As some of the plutonium producing facilities had been dismantled under the 1994 agreement, speculation rose as to how North Korea got access to uranium enrichment.

The allegation that Pakistan had passed on this technology to North Korea in exchange for missile technology was made in sections of the US press and the US government sought clarification from President Musharraf. Though secretary of state Colin Powell expressed satisfaction over Pakistan’s reply, there was even speculation in some sections of the US and Pakistan press that the US might target Pakistan after Iraq. It appeared that this alleged link was used to put pressure on Pakistan to conform to the US agenda in the region. While carrying out its obligations as a member of the coalition against terrorism, Pakistan was able to articulate its legitimate national concerns effectively, since the allegation has not been repeated.

North Korea’s strategy is an ambitious one, and is also designed to escape from US pre-emption as one of the countries named in the Nuclear Pressure Review. The provocative attitude maintained by North Korea has been described as “nuclear blackmail”, to extract security assurances, and diplomatic recognition from the US on the one hand and economic aid, directly or via Japan on the other. The US, on its part, insists on “complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination” of North Korea’s nuclear programme, before it considers its demands. The problem arises over priorities, whether guarantees and recognition by the US will come first, or the renunciation of nuclear weapons.

The process of evolving a settlement does not look as hopeless as the rhetoric from the two sides suggests. Prior to the Beijing meeting, the US had shown signs of readiness to provide written security guarantees to North Korea, in exchange for its renunciation of nuclear weapons. China, which is playing the most active role in this standoff between the sole superpower and an impoverished and isolated communist dictatorship using brinkmanship, is likely to continue its role. However, with Pyongyang having the capability to inflict unacceptable damage on South Korea in case of a conflict, it may well succeed in securing security and economic guarantees before giving up its nuclear teeth. The path to that destination could be a rather long one.

Mr Bush and the flag

THE White House supports the wrongheaded constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power “to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.”

Yet in light of an incident last month, President Bush should consider whether he might be the first person jailed should this perennial foolishness — passed most recently by the House of Representatives earlier this year — ever become part of the Constitution. Bush, at a political event in Livonia, Mich., autographed supporters’ flags, an apparent violation of an obscure provision of American law that details the respect with which flags should be treated.

“The flag,” reads the code, “should never have placed upon it ... any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.” The last time Congress sought to ban flag-burning, in a statute the Supreme Court struck down in 1989, it made a criminal out of anyone who “defaces” a flag — language Bush likewise appears to have violated. — The Washington Post

Debate on recognizing Israel

By Mahjabeen Islam & Saif Hussain


WHAT was once taboo is now a subject for open debate. Pakistan’s recognition of Israel was never an issue but now the unmentionable is debated with an unexpected “let’s do it quickly” chorus.

It is interesting that the three-billion dollar aid package promised by Washington during General Musharraf’s last visit to the United States has multifarious strings. One of them, better defined as a rope, is the recognition of Israel by Pakistan. The dictionary definition of recognition is “the official acceptance of the national status of a new government by another nation”. The key word here is “acceptance”.

Many articles on the subject speak of recognizing Israel and not necessarily accepting its policies. And yet in the word “acceptance” is implicit the

concept of condoning. Especially since both countries are not newly created and Israel, also known as the “last apartheid state”, has the brutalizing of the Palestinian people to its discredit with no end in sight yet.

Claims are made that the time to recognize is now, but dispassionate examination will show that Israel has been on bad behaviour for the last couple of years.

It is now ruled by a man who was found complicit in the Sabra Shatila massacres by his own government’s inquiry commission. Sharon also presides over a cabinet with several self-declared racists who openly advocate ethnic cleansing, known euphemistically in Israel as “transfer” of the Palestinians, so that a pure Jewish presence can be maintained.

Massacres, assassinations, home demolitions, closures, arbitrary detentions, concentration camps, destruction of infrastructure, torture and indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas are just some of the highlights of this campaign. All this is done with impunity and in arrogant defiance of international law.

When the question of recognition was broached along with an offer of aid in 1949, Quaid-i-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan’s response to the US officials was: “Gentlemen, our souls are not for sale”. One may ask the present military-dominated regime whether three billion dollars plus fringe benefits is now an acceptable price for the soul of the nation.

Even if recognition is debated as an idea, the timing amounts to not just condoning the Israeli atrocities unleashed on the Palestinian people but rewarding them.

The theory that Israel and Pakistan are both ideological states and so should embrace each other simply on this premise is also flawed. Pakistan was the outcome of a legitimate national and ideological struggle of indigenous Muslims to gain a sovereign state in areas where they had been resident for generations.

Israel, on the other hand, is the illegitimate child of an occupying colonial power (Britain), whose aim was to benefit alien emigrants at the expense of indigenous Palestinians evicted from their ancestral homes by force threats and intimidation. And it is important not to forget that Israel’s boundaries in its Zionist mind extend far beyond what Pakistan may think it is recognizing.

Pakistani proponents of Israel’s recognition seem also to forget that the overwhelming majority of delegates to the last UN Global Human Rights Forum (Durban, South Africa, 2001) declared Israel a “racist apartheid state” guilty of “war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

Pakistan’s self-interest is also a much-touted point in this recognition debate. One writer speaks of visa refusals to Pakistani students by the US and many of these students being routed to Israeli universities for attaining higher education at a much lower cost. Perhaps the writer needs to know more about Israel’s entry exit policy, especially for Muslims, before making such a ludicrous statement. Entry into the “land of the free and the home of the brave” may look like a cakewalk by comparison.

Another facet of this self-interest argument is business opportunities. According to a recent analysis Israel is second and Pakistan the third highest ranking country in respect of terrorist attacks. The conditions in the two countries and clearly conducive to terror not trade.

Besides, Pakistan is a member of the OIC and is closely linked with the Arab League and hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis depend on these countries for their livelihood and millions of dollars in remittances are at stake in these relationships. Even though some of the countries of the Arab world do recognize Israel or trade with it, Pakistan benefits far more by strengthening relations with the Arab world, instead of placing a damper on relations between the common Arabs and the Pakistanis that the recognition of Israel by Pakistan would act as.

The argument that the Arabs are cushy with the Indians and have never strongly supported Pakistan on Kashmir is also not quite correct. Besides, in international relations there are issues where principles must take precedence over the practice of reciprocity, and Palestine is certainly such an issue.

To say that Israel is neutral on the Kashmir issue is entirely disingenuous. Relying on its own experience of subjugation and occupation, Israel has trained and aided Indian army personnel in their repression of the people of occupied Kashmir. The recent statements emanating from Tel Aviv and New Delhi about the formation of a tri-country axis the US, Israel and India - to confront “terrorism” (read “Islam and Muslims” in the Neocon/Zionist/Hindutva vocabulary) serve to underline Israel’s true colours.

Another potential advantage promoted in the context of the recognition issue is the small harvest that Pakistan could make in the Israeli arms market. This is a myopic view.

America will tightly control what Israel sells and if it did not itself fork over the already paid for F-16s, it is highly unlikely that it will allow its protectorate to trade in this area with Pakistan.

It is also incorrect to ascribe the opposition to the recognition of Israel as only the domain of the extremist. Israel is in unlawful possession of Al-Quds the third holiest site of Islam, after Makkah and Madina.

It is naive to think that Pakistan would be able to play a significant role after accepting the nationhood of Israel to persuade it not to desecrate the Al-Aqsa mosque and persecute the Palestinians and more importantly to return Al-Quds to the Palestinians.

Mahjabeen Islam, email: mahjabeenislam@hotmail Saif Hussain, email: saifh@aol.com

Combating corruption

By Sultan Ahmed


WHEN President Musharraf addressed a conference on combating corruption in the public and private sectors, the campaign against the pervasive evil appeared to have hit the proverbial political wall. The same routine remedies for the cancer eating into the vitals of society were suggested as had been done in the past and no radical new solution came forth.

The president spoke of the need for strong institutions, merit-based systems and doing away with the discretionary powers of officials. He said other means to check corruption including reducing human contact through E-governance, improving the quality of law enforcement agencies and an honest, dedicated and correct leadership.

The merits of such remedies, though not all, cannot be disputed but what matters is the enforcement and sustaining of such reforms. Wishing is one thing and making a success of such remedies is quite another.

At a time when it appeared the government does not intend to come up with radical anti-corruption measures, it has arrested two former secretaries to the government on charges of corruption. They include captain (retd) Naseer Ahmed, former petroleum secretary and Shahid Ahmed, a former director-general, petroleum, and they have been charged with causing a loss of up to Rs 1.5 million to the national exchequer. The NAB has also arrested Safdar Hussain Kazmi, former secretary, local bodies, on a charge of embezzling the development funds allocated for members of the National Assembly during Benazir Bhutto’s regime. Mr Kazmi was suspended from service on charges of corruption during the period when Mohammed Khan Junejo was prime minister and was restored to service later.

It has been reported that many more top bureaucrats who had worked in different sectors are likely to be arrested on charges of corruption. Meanwhile, an accountability court in Lahore has put off until September 6 further proceedings in a reference against Interior Minister Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, as the prosecution witness failed to appear before the court. The minister has been facing charges of being a wilful defaulter of some financial institutions.

Though the fact that the cases against the home minister have not been dropped for good has been welcomed by the people, the question arises whether the embezzlement cases against some senior officials will be vigorously pursued now and that whether the cases against the politicians will be dropped or set aside. In the interest of the country, there must be no discrimination in handling these cases and no partisanship to gain political advantage.

The president has prescribed a merit-based system to check corruption. Merit is not what counts in our political system today. That is evident from the manner in which the PML (QA) was hurriedly formed. Such ruling parties were formed by military rulers at the end of their direct military rule earlier. Merit is not what counts in the choice of leaders or members of such parties or the selection of ministers. Political opportunism often reins supreme in such circumstances.

And such governments choose those senior officials who can conveniently serve their political purpose, and not based on merit. While it is good to do away with the discretionary power of officials and introduce uniform rules in a country with too many people and too small supplies, the officials will have to use their discretionary powers to help the people who are in distress or in greater need than others. While reducing human contact through E-governance can be essential or welcome, how many millions in the country have access to the Internet, and how often does it fail for the want of power? And in a country where corruption is common, the people would seek access to senior officials, than be content with the adverse decisions of junior officials. We have to create perfect conditions of governance before we can eliminate the need for contact between officials and citizens in need or with a problem.

An honest, dedicated and sincere leadership, which the president regards as imperative for eradicating corruption, is possible only in ideal conditions. While such a leadership tries to create ideal conditions in society, such conditions keep the leadership on the right path, if the people are vigilant and uphold the principles of democracy.

In such conditions law enforcement can be proper and regular and people will fear criminals more than the police and not avoid filing complaints with the police, or the police refusing to register FIRs. The president says that corruption at the highest level is unpardonable and that the corrupt should be punished. But he has not specified at what level of government should such punishment take place and how severe the punishment should be. But the fact is that the most of the people deal with junior officers like the policemen or the taxation officials who tell them that the graft money they receive is passed up and not all is retained by them. It is hence essential that corruption should be punished at all levels, with more severe punishment for the higher officials.

Lt-Gen Munir Hafeez, chairman of the NAB, suggested that an anti-corruption awareness campaign would be launched with the active help of the youth and with the cooperation of the education ministry. That can be a good move if a serious anti-corruption drive heedless of personalities is meant. But if such a campaign is launched through the education system, the students will ask many questions about corruption in the country, and they have to be satisfied. If not, they will agitate, protest and even come out on the streets against corruption. Is the government prepared for such eventualities?

The punishment for corruption should not be mere sacking of the official with all the loot so that he can enjoy at leisure. Instead he should be dispossessed of what he had grabbed and he and his family should be prevented from becoming industrialists or starting a political career. Admiral Mansoor ul Haq, former chief of the naval staff, was a classic case of an official made to part with his illegal earnings. What proportion of that he was forced to surrender, we do not know. But the dispossession should be complete and total so that the families too will know that they cannot enjoy the loot of the head of the family. The poor country needs the recovery of such embezzled funds instead of only a part of that.

The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are coming up with two to three billion dollar loans to finance certain reforms, beginning with the CBR as well as judicial reforms. This is a very costly way of reforming ourselves, but it seems to be the modern way and we have to make the best use of the reforms.

The president has stressed the importance of strong institutions to check corruption. That means having strong and clean political parties but it is too much to expect in the present situation. Frequent military rule with its loose political strings does not help create a democratic order, but a political mish-mash. Strong institutions are based on strong and eternal values which are not upheld in our midst. And until the rulers and their official aides uphold such values, good governance wilt be a distant dream.

State Department blues

I WAS sitting in the park with J. Clancy Vanderbilt (not his real name), who has a high position in the State Department.

He said, “Besides all the Axis of Evil countries around the world, we now have to deal with the Pentagon.”

“They are dangerous?” I asked.

“You better believe it. Rumsfeld is sticking a Black Hawk in Colin Powell’s back.”

“How so?”

“The Pentagon wants complete control over our foreign policy.”

“Why? Doesn’t Rumsfeld have enough to do in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

“My theory, but if you quote me I’ll deny it, is that Rumsfeld is a take-charge guy and he has the aircraft carriers to do anything he wants.”

Vanderbilt showed me a top-secret cable. It said Rumsfeld had sent Pentagon people to meet with Iranians and a very shady arms dealer several times without telling Powell about it.

“Our intelligence department found out about it from a mole who works in the Nato Officers Club kitchen. A general revealed that Rumsfeld wanted State to stay out of Iranian negotiations since it might lead to peace.”

“Do you think the Pentagon is out to completely close down the State Department?”

“Not completely,” Vanderbilt said. “Rumsfeld still wants the State Department to issue passports and give fat-cat Bush supporters ambassadorships. But the important foreign policy will be handled by Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle.”

“You aren’t going to let this happen?”

Vanderbilt said, “How many tank divisions does Colin Powell have?”

I asked, “Where is the president in all this?”

“Our people believe he is on Rumsfeld’s side because Bush thinks State is always sucking up to the United Nations.”

“And does the president also believe that State is always trying to find a diplomatic solution to a problem?”

“Bush would rather have a military solution to show the world he is not going to be pushed around.”

“What about the 16 words in the State of the Union address that said Iraq was buying uranium from an African country?”

“The White House tried to blame us for that, but they finally made George Tenet, the CIA chief, walk the plank.”

“Do you think the Pentagon wants to destabilize Iran by force?”

“The U.S. has a lot of troops over there and they don’t want to send them home if there is going to be another war next door.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“Hang tough, leak stuff to the press that will reveal what the Pentagon is doing, publicly announce that Iran is also (ITALICS) our (END ITALICS) problem, and see that Powell gets as much time on television as Rumsfeld. If we don’t, Defence will turn the State Department building into a hanger for B-52’s.”

“I will quote what you have just told me and you can deny you said it.”

“Good boy.”— Dawn/Tribune Media Services

I WAS sitting in the park with J. Clancy Vanderbilt (not his real name), who has a high position in the State Department.

He said, “Besides all the Axis of Evil countries around the world, we now have to deal with the Pentagon.”

“They are dangerous?” I asked.

“You better believe it. Rumsfeld is sticking a Black Hawk in Colin Powell’s back.”

“How so?”

“The Pentagon wants complete control over our foreign policy.”

“Why? Doesn’t Rumsfeld have enough to do in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

“My theory, but if you quote me I’ll deny it, is that Rumsfeld is a take-charge guy and he has the aircraft carriers to do anything he wants.”

Vanderbilt showed me a top-secret cable. It said Rumsfeld had sent Pentagon people

to meet with Iranians and a

very shady arms dealer several times without telling Powell about it.

“Our intelligence department found out about it from a mole who works in the Nato Officers Club kitchen. A general revealed that Rumsfeld wanted State to stay out of Iranian negotiations since it might lead to peace.”

“Do you think the Pentagon is out to completely close down the State Department?”

“Not completely,” Vanderbilt said. “Rumsfeld still wants the State Department to issue passports and give fat-cat Bush supporters ambassadorships. But the important foreign policy will be handled by Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle.”

“You aren’t going to let this happen?”

Vanderbilt said, “How many tank divisions does Colin Powell have?”

I asked, “Where is the president in all this?”

“Our people believe he is on Rumsfeld’s side because Bush thinks State is always sucking up to the United Nations.”

“And does the president also believe that State is always trying to find a diplomatic solution to a problem?”

“Bush would rather have a military solution to show the world he is not going to be pushed around.”

“What about the 16 words in the State of the Union address that said Iraq was buying uranium from an African country?”

“The White House tried to blame us for that, but they finally made George Tenet, the CIA chief, walk the plank.”

“Do you think the Pentagon wants to destabilize Iran by force?”

“The U.S. has a lot of troops over there and they don’t want to send them home if there is going to be another war next door.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“Hang tough, leak stuff to the press that will reveal what the Pentagon is doing, publicly announce that Iran is also (ITALICS) our (END ITALICS) problem, and see that Powell gets as much time on television as Rumsfeld. If we don’t, Defence will turn the State Department building into a hanger for B-52’s.”

“I will quote what you have just told me and you can deny you said it.”

“Good boy.”— Dawn/Tribune Media Services

Should UN bail out Bush?

By Dr Iffat Idris


THE Iraq adventure that had once seemed so exhilarating and easy is turning out to be precisely the opposite: uphill every step of the way, with the gradient of the slope getting steeper by the day. Whenever the occupying powers appear to have reached a plateau, some new calamity strikes to remind them that the worst is yet to come.

The latest calamity was the bomb blast at Najaf that killed Ayatollah Muhammad Baqar Al-Hakim and 128 other Shias. This atrocity has infuriated Iraq’s Shia community, which holds the US responsible for security (or lack of it). A leading Shia cleric resigned from the American-sponsored Iraq governing council in protest. From the American point of view this is the real calamity: that a so far quiescent and docile community could be pushed into militant opposition. Forming 60 per cent of the population, the Shias would be a formidable foe.

The Americans themselves blame ‘elements loyal to Saddam’ and ‘international terrorists’ for the Najaf carnage. This is their stock reaction to the growing number of attacks on US soldiers, acts of sabotage (another pipeline was blazing on the weekend) and other such ‘negative’ incidents.

Usually, such excuses are a complete denial of the reality, which is that ordinary Iraqis are angry and frustrated, and venting out against their occupiers. But in the case of the Najaf massacre and the bomb blast that destroyed the UN headquarters, the Americans could be right. The scale and sophistication of the attacks (and other recent acts of sabotage), as well as the obvious similarities between them, do point to Al Qaeda-like elements operating inside Iraq.

Washington had, of course, long claimed a connection between Al Qaeda and the Saddam regime. At the time everybody else knew this was impossible: only someone with the knowledge and insight of George Bush could postulate that the ultra-fundamentalist Al Qaeda was in league with the secular Baath party.

Now, if as it appears Al Qaeda is active in Iraq, it is not because of Saddam Hussein. It is because the Americans have ousted Saddam and occupied a Muslim country. Put another way, the US has created a Muslim terrorist problem in Iraq where once there was none. One could almost savour the irony of this development — were it not for the dozens of innocent victims caught in the middle. Prior to Al-Hakim, Sergio Vieira de Mello was the highest-profile figure to be assassinated in Iraq (he was being buried in Geneva as the Shia cleric was killed) in Najaf. The failure of the Americans to protect the UN secretary-general’s special representative (not to mention the UN headquarters) has sent the UN staff and other international aid agencies packing. Oxfam has pulled out of Iraq, while the Red Cross has slashed its personnel. All have lost faith in US control.

As have the Americans themselves. No more does one see American troops in Humvees driving casually through the streets of Baghdad and mixing with locals. The daily addition of 1-2 US personnel to the ‘post-hostilities’ dead has had a devastating impact on morale. Like their fathers and grandfathers in Vietnam, these people want to be out of Iraq.

One could carry on working through the list of American woes in Iraq: the increasingly angry demands from the Iraqi public for the ‘better life’ Bush had promised them — or even for the quality of life they had under Saddam; the diminishing possibility of Iraqi oil revenue coming in to meet the costs of occupation and reconstruction; the distinct lack of other-country volunteers for ‘security duties’ in Iraq. It is a long and lengthening list.

In fifteen months, George Bush will be standing for re-election as president of the United States. He knows that he has to find a way out of the Iraq mess before it costs him the election. The first attempt — overtures to the Indians, our own president and others to send their forces to Iraq — failed to yield anything. The Bush administration then miraculously rediscovered the United Nations. Not only was America willing to concede a role for the UN in Iraq, it would even support a UN-mandated peace-keeping force.

This is what many in the international community have been calling for all along. The green light from America should, therefore, be welcomed and blue helmets should be dispatched to Iraq pronto. — Or should they? The case for an international force might appear overwhelming, but is it really a good idea for the UN to relieve America of its Iraq burden?

The difficulties that America is experiencing in Iraq are entirely of its own making. There was no shortage of warnings before the war that it would be disastrous: leading to casualties, refugees, disease and disorder, and fuelling terrorism. The Bush administration ignored all those warnings. Its dismissal of the UN in the build-up to war was arrogant in the extreme — such was its confidence in its military might. Thousands of innocent people have and are suffering as a result. Basic morality demands that the US pay for its arrogance — by being forced to deal with the consequences in Iraq.

The condition for any UN force to be headed by an American general shows that the change of mind that should have prompted America’s return to the UN has not taken place. Washington is not repenting the folly of unilateralism and acknowledging the wisdom of multilateralism. It is seeking UN support solely out of expediency. Until the requisite change of heart is apparent — until, in effect, Washington learns its lesson and acknowledges the error of its ways — the international community should not bail it out in Iraq.

There is also the future to consider. If George Bush is allowed to get away from Iraq relatively scot-free, what is to stop him and his band of neocons tomorrow attacking Iran, Syria or North Korea? International law and international opprobrium have so far failed to halt their war machine. The only way they will learn that sole superpower status does not confer an international carte blanche is if they are forced to confront a situation in which superpower status makes no difference. Iraq today is just such a situation.

And what of accountability? Other governments, notably the British, are being forced to account for their participation in the war — in particular for the justification of WMD (and Al Qaeda) that they used. To date no such accountability is taking place in America, where the war movement started. The bills and body bags are piling up, but the gullible (and/or ignorant) American people generally still support their president and believe his ‘war against terror’ excuses.

If Bush is let off the hook now they will never demand to know his real reasons for waging the war.

This is called democracy. Its survival in the US is even more important than in the democratic black spots like Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe. Abuses of power in the latter victimize their own people; those in the US victimize everyone else. Americans have to re-learn the democratic traditions of opposition politics, questioning government policy, transparency and accountability — traditions that were all but wiped out by 9/11.

If they do not, there is a real danger they could bring George back for a second term. Stability in Afghanistan and Iraq, improving relations with Iran and North Korea, a domestic budget surplus, global environmental protection — these are just some of the casualties of Bush’s first term. The world cannot risk a second term.

So no, the UN should not dive into Iraq — at least, not yet. It is true that the Iraqi people are suffering under US occupation, but the arrival of blue helmets would not fundamentally ease their lives. Iraq needs money, investment, reconstruction, democracy. A UN dominated by America in its current mindset will not be able to deliver these. But a UN in which America participates as an enlightened, sincere partner for Iraqi progress, might just achieve them. The UN must hold back until that mindset (and/or administration) change takes place.

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