Time to Unite
By David Ignatius
Friday, August 22, 2003; Page A21
Sometimes tragedy forces people to see things in a changed light. Perhaps Tuesday's truck bombing at United Nations headquarters in Baghdad will have that galvanizing effect -- on the Bush administration, on its critics in countries such as France and Germany and most of all on the Iraqi people.
Amid the rubble that buried the brave U.N. emissary, Sergio Vieira de Mello, one can discern three lessons that, taken together, could produce an Iraq policy that might eventually succeed in stabilizing the country. But it will require all the players to put aside grudges and, as the slang expression goes, "get over it."
The most obvious lesson of Tuesday's bombing is that the terrorism and instability enveloping Iraq threaten the international community as a whole -- not just American soldiers but U.N. humanitarian workers, too. If truck bombers succeed in driving the United Nations from Iraq, the international organization will be weakened -- as will all the countries that see it as a cornerstone of international order and legitimacy. U.N. members should understand that whatever misgivings they had about the war, their interests are now at risk. They can be indignant at America for creating a mess, but they still have a powerful stake in helping Washington sort it out. The recent tone of schadenfreude from Europe as America's troubles have mounted -- the "we-told-you-so" commentaries in the French and German press -- are unworthy and self-defeating.
A grieving U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan put the matter succinctly Wednesday: "The pacification and stabilization of Iraq is so important that all of us who have the capacity to help should help."
The second lesson is that the Bush administration's Iraq policy is in trouble and needs some changes. Above all, it needs a broader and more active coalition of international support and the legitimacy that would provide.
To gain that internationalization, the administration will have to make concessions that, until Tuesday, it had rejected. The details will be tricky, but Washington will have to get over its anger toward Europe and ask forthrightly for help. That sort of humility hasn't been George W. Bush's long suit, but it's essential now. Pique isn't a foreign policy.
Fortunately, the Bush administration seems finally to understand that it needs more help in Iraq. With support from the White House and the Pentagon, the State Department is exploring a new U.N. resolution that might encourage nations such as India, Pakistan and Turkey to send troops. The right formula will give the United Nations more authority for rebuilding Iraq, while keeping security in the hands of the U.S.-led military coalition that fought the war. The United States may need to send more troops -- but they should have company.
The third lesson is that the Iraqi people need to step up and take more responsibility for security. By allowing a terrorist resistance to take hold, they are blowing their chance at becoming a prosperous, free nation that could lead the Arab world. Understandably, the Iraqis are disappointed that America has botched things in the initial months of occupation. But the only people who can truly safeguard Iraq's infrastructure -- its pipelines, water supply, power stations -- are Iraqis themselves.
At the end of the day, it's their country. The United States has spent blood and treasure to give the Iraqi people an opportunity to escape the torture chamber in which they have lived for a generation. But America can't force them to be free. In this sense, the Iraqis already play the decisive role. They can vote in the streets, by their actions.
U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer was right to press the members of the Iraqi Governing Council Wednesday to assert more authority. "You can't blame us for anything. We don't have any responsibility," responded a leader of the council, former foreign minister Adnan Pachachi. Okay, fair enough. Bremer needs to give the Iraqis more of the power they have been clamoring for, and demand that they exercise it wisely.
The people who sent that truck bomb to the Canal Hotel Tuesday made a blunder. They hoped to isolate America further from its allies and the Iraqi people and force the occupiers to leave. But unless the international community is as feckless as the terrorists hoped, the Baghdad bombing should pull people together and make possible a new start in Iraq.
This time the international community should work to get it right. The world is much sadder than a few months ago, and hopefully a bit wiser, too.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company