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Jewish World Review April 30, 2003/ 28 Nissan, 5763

Mark Steyn

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It's named UNSCAM for a very good reason! |
Iraq: Should the UN have "a" vital role, as Messrs. Bush and Blair have suggested? Or should it have "the" vital role, as M. Chirac is demanding?

If you want the short answer to that question, consider the matter of whether UN sanctions should now be lifted, so that Iraqis can sell their oil and start rebuilding their country. Here is the official Russian response:

"This decision cannot be automatic," says the Foreign Minister with a straight face. "For the Security Council to take this decision, we need to be certain whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or not."

Got that? Last month, the Russians were opposed to war on the grounds that there was no proof Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This month, the Russians are opposed to lifting sanctions on the grounds that there's no proof Iraq doesn't have weapons of mass destruction.

There are a few striped-pants masochists in the State Department who enjoy this sort of thing and have spent the last four weeks pining for M. Chirac to walk all over them in steel-tipped stilettos one more time. But most Americans, given a choice between being locked in Security Council negotiations with the Russians, French and Germans or being fed feet-first into one of Saddam's industrial shredders, would find it a tough call.

You don't have to be a genius to see that, since September 11th, we have entered a transitional phase in world affairs. But reasonable people are prone to reasonableness and, as I mentioned the other day, they're especially vulnerable to the seductive power of inertia in human affairs. The wish not to have to update one's Rolodex burns fiercely in the political breast. Brent Scowcroft, George Bush Sr.'s National Security Advisor, wanted to stick with the Soviet Union even after the Politburo had given up on it. The European Union was committed to the preservation of Yugoslavia even when there had ceased to be a Yugoslavia to preserve. In the Middle East, clinging to the status quo even as it's melting and dripping on to your shoes is one reason why the region is now a problem. You may recall G. W. Hunt's famous 19th-century London music-hall song, the one that introduced a new word for the kind of militant patriotism most distasteful to the enlightened soul:

"We don't want to fight, but, by jingo if we do,
We've got the ships, we've got the men,
we've got the money too ..."

What's often overlooked is what all this flag-waving was in aid of:

"We've fought the bear before
And while we're Britons true
The Russians shall not have Constantinople."

Why? Because the British coveted it? Not at all. Her Majesty's Government was interested in cherrypicking the odd isle and emirate -- Cyprus here, Oman there -- but, other than that, they were committed to maintaining the Ottoman Empire: all that jingoistic rabble-rousing not for British glory but just to keep some other fellows' simpleton sultan on his throne. The Middle East is in its present condition in part because the European powers kept propping up the Turkish Empire decades after it had ceased to be prop-up-able. It would have been much better for all concerned if Britain had got its hands on Syria, Mesopotamia and Arabia in the 1870s rather than four decades later. But, even in the later stages of the Great War, after the British had comprehensively sliced and diced Turkey from top to toe, London's official position was that somehow the Ottoman Empire should be glued back together and propped up till the next war.

Now another Middle Eastern war has come and gone, and the bien-pensants are anxious that once again an obsolescent institution be glued back together and propped in position. This time it's the UN. The editors of Britain's Spectator concede it has more than its share of "irritating do-gooders," but surely even that's a euphemism: The do-gooders are, in fact, do-badders.

The "oil-for-palaces" program (as Tommy Franks calls it) is a grotesque boondoggle even by UN standards: It was good for bureaucrats, good for Saddam's European bankers, good for his British stooge George Galloway, but bad for the Iraqi people. A humanitarian operation meant to help a dictator's beleaguered subjects has instead enriched the UN by over $1-billion (officially) in "administrative" costs. There's no oversight, no auditing, nothing most businesses would recognize as a legitimate invoice, and, although non-essential items can only be approved by the Secretary-General himself, Kofi Annan (Mister Legitimacy) has personally signed off on practically anything Saddam requested, including "boats," from France.

You don't have to agree (though I do) with George Jonas that the UN is a fully fledged member of the axis of evil to recognize that there's little point in going to war to install yet another branch office of UNSCAM. If the problem is America's image in the Arab world, in what way does it help to confine the Stars and Stripes brand to unpleasant things like bombs while insisting all the nice post-war reconstructive stuff be clearly labelled with the UN flag?

If the answer is that that's the price you pay for healing the rift with Old Europe, that presupposes Old Europe is interested in healing it. Tony Blair may be keen, but the Continentals have different agendas. Will the Belgian government approve the complaint against Tommy Franks for "genocide"? The petition accuses the General of "inaction in the face of hospital pillaging," which apparently meets the Belgian definition of genocide. Unlike the deaths of over three million people, which is the lowball figure for those who've died in the current civil war in the Congo -- or, as I still like to think of it, the Belgian Congo.

The Congo's civil war is everything the NIONists (Not In Our Name) claimed Bush's war would be: There were more civilian deaths in a few hours in Ituri province last week than in the entire Iraq campaign; while the blowhards at Oxfam and co -- the Big Consciences lobby -- insist on pretending that Iraq is a humanitarian disaster, there's an actual humanitarian disaster going on in the Congo, complete with millions of children dead from disease and malnutrition. While the lefties warned that Ariel Sharon would use the cover of the Iraq war to slaughter the Palestinians, the Congolese are being slaughtered, and you don't need any cover. Because nobody cares. Because no arrogant Americans or sinister Zionists are involved.

The Congo is a useful reminder of the laziness of the term "Western imperialism." There's Belgian imperialism, which, as the Congo continues to demonstrate, is a sewer. And then there's Anglo-Saxon nation-building, which, from India to Belize, works quite well, given the chance. St Lucia, Mauritius, Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea, to pluck four at random, have enjoyed the attributes of a free society a lot longer than, say, Greece, Portugal and Spain, which were dictatorships a quarter-century ago. The argument of my old friend Ghazi Algosaibi, the Saudi Minister of Water, that freedom is "European" is not borne out by the facts. If Latin Americans, Pacific islanders, and even the Muslims of south Asia can live in liberty, it's surely a little racist to suggest that Arabs are uniquely incapable of so doing. Had Britain begun administering Mesopotamia in 1877 instead of 1917, we wouldn't even be asking the question.

But if you want to turn a long-shot into a surefire failure, there's no better way than handing post-war Iraq from the Americans to the UN -- the successors to the Belgian school of nation-building. At best, you'll end up with Cambodia, where the UN has colluded in the nullification of democracy, or the Balkans, where once-functioning jurisdictions are reduced to the level of geopolitical tenements with the UN as slum landlord in perpetuity. At worst, you'll wind up with the West Bank "refugee" "camps," the most extreme reminder of how the UN has little interest in solving problems, only in establishing bureaucracies to manage them. Washington should ignore the French, dare the Russians to veto, let the Iraqis turn on the spigots, and pay no attention to "do-gooders."

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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

04/14/03: Movers and shakers have moved on to the next 'disaster'
03/25/03: Give Saddam credit
03/18/03: 'Eurabia' will have to look after herself
02/27/03: Death wish
02/19/03: The curtain will come down on the peaceniks
02/10/03: Let's quit the UN
02/03/03: Columbia reality-check
01/29/03: Go forth and multiply
01/09/03: America's fake identity crisis
12/31/02: GOP underperforms, but Dems are laughable
11/26/02: A bombing pause --- for 12 months!?
10/30/02: Stop making excuses for Muslim extremists
09/27/02: The more inventively you try to ''explain'' the Islamist psychosis as a rational phenomenon to be accommodated, the more you risk sounding just as nutty as them
08/23/02: Battered Westerner Syndrome inflicted by myopic Muslim defenders
08/09/02: Friends in low places
08/02/02: Armageddon out of here
07/26/02: Enjoy the ''scandal'' while you can, lads
07/16/02: Arafat is toast; Bush knows it --- so why doesn't the rest of the world?
07/10/02: Hey, FBI: So, denial really is a river in Egypt!
06/20/02: A fight to the finish
06/11/02: Rock, royalty a good match
05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free
05/14/02: Extreme hypocrisy in the pursuit of 'peace' is ...
05/10/02: The home office of extremism
05/01/02 Slipping down the Eurinal of history: France, the joke is on you
04/23/02 It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
04/16/02 Mideast war exposes 'ugly Europeans'
04/09/02 Arafat has begun his countdown to oblivion. Now it's time to crush the Palestinian uprising
03/27/02 The good, the bad and the Gallic shrug
03/20/02 Grand convocation of the weird

© 2002, Mark Steyn