My Turn: We need an effective U.N.

Posted: Tuesday, November 23, 2004

No matter which side of the political spectrum you're on, or like me find yourself with a foot in both camps, your world is affected by the United Nations. It is in all our interest to have it work effectively, and by that I mean including being critical of it when it doesn't. Such an instance, in my view, is the whole matter of sanctions and inspections between the U.N. and Iraq between 1991 and the present.

The New York Times has twice trumpeted the "astonishingly successful" effect of these sanctions recently. In the opinion of their editorial board, everything went pretty much as it was drawn up; sanctions and their attendant inspections succeeded in disarming Saddam and with the added adjustment of the Oil-for-Food program, humanitarian needs were answered as well. The concept of collective security was vindicated in a landmark case, according to them.

Seldom have I read an account of something in a major publication that is more rose-colored. To begin with, if these sanctions were so successful how come they were in place for 12 years? Their purpose was peaceful coercion of the Iraqi regime to pay reparations to Kuwait and comply with weapons inspections. They should have lasted a year or two if they worked so well; so why were they maintained? The answer is that Iraq never cooperated beyond the minimum it calculated it could get away with, and between 1998 and 2002 not at all.

If sanctions were so "astonishingly successful," why did President Clinton feel compelled to intensively attack Iraq with bombers and cruise missiles in 1998? The answer is that Saddam had just expelled U.N. weapons inspectors outright, after years of increasing obfuscation, and even the reluctant Mr. Clinton became convinced it necessary to respond with force. This use has rightly been termed ineffective, not because military action was inappropriate, but rather because it did not fundamentally change anything.

If the inspections were so comprehensive and effective, how were the intelligence services of virtually every country in the world (the Duelfer Report includes the Iraqis themselves) so grossly deceived? The answer is inspections succeeded pretty well, but nobody knew it for sure because, in what has to be one of the great ironies of our times, Saddam was so determined to, and successful at, portraying himself as strong and powerful he wouldn't come clean even when faced with imminent invasion and overthrow. He wouldn't be seen to not possess what he knew he didn't even at the price of his own power.

Finally, the Times editorials ignore the fact they are written with the benefit of hindsight, not only in time, but with the certainty of fact that was provided by the military action they are so quick to call "unnecessary." If it was so unnecessary, why did the U.S. Congress, including both John Kerry and John Edwards, feel compelled to grant the Bush administration authorization to "take all necessary action" to disarm Iraq? The answer is that in the ultimate sense, that of positive verification of disarmament and prevention of war, was not accomplished by U.N. sanctions and inspections. I hope next time it will be different. I want the U.N. to succeed in what they attempt because it represents a better way of doing things. However, turning a blind eye to realities by one of the most preeminent and influential newspapers in the country only delays that happening. When the U.N. Security Council passes a resolution (let alone 17) and demands it must be backed up to retain credibility, if that includes the use of force and the admission of failure of less drastic measures, so be it.

• Rick Kaufman is a Juneau resident of 30 years, a retired city employee and a lifelong amateur historian.

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