SEARCH:     Search Options
 News Home Page
 National Security
    War in Iraq
 Search the States
 Special Reports
 Photo Galleries
 Live Online
 Nation Index
 Real Estate
 Home & Garden
 Weekly Sections
 News Digest
 Print Edition
 Site Index

American Enterprise Institute Web Site
War in Iraq Special Report
War In Iraq Discussion Transcripts
Talk: washingtonpost.
com forums

Live Online Transcripts

NEW! Subscribe to the daily War In Iraq or weekly Live Online E-Mail Newsletters and receive highlights and breaking news event alerts in your mailbox.

War in Iraq:
The Role of the UN

With Danielle Pletka
Foreign and Defense Policy Studies Vice President,
American Enterprise Institute

Wednesday, April 9, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

What role should the United Nations play in Iraqi reconstruction? What is the best way to bring elected government to Baghdad? Should the United States and coalition partners take the lead in rebuilding the country or allow the international community the authority over Iraq's future?

Danielle Pletka, vice president or Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, was online Wednesday, April 9 at 11 a.m. ET, to discuss the role of the UN in rebuilding Iraq.

From 1992-2002 Pletka was a senior professional staff member for Near East and South Asia with the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

The transcript follows.

Washington, D.C.: Do you think that the UN or the U.S. will take a more aggressive role in maintaining the peace then what has occurred in Afghanistan? We already see some lawlessness in Iraq with citizens fighting each other for war spoils out of government agencies. I am concerned that the failures of Afghanistan will be repeated in Iraq. It seems that warlords, and thugs could become Iraq's new government if the U.S. or the UN strive to return Iraq to the "people" as quickly as possible. Do you think that Iraq will look much like Afghanistan does today?

Danielle Pletka: You ask an excellent question. One of the ironies in juxtaposing Iraq and Afghanistan is that while the Afghans have been persistent in requesting a larger troop presence (more ISAF), the Iraqis have made clear that what they want is less. In truth, what we should deduce is that there are few parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan; the Iraqi economy, the Iraqi people (educationally), and the broad overall situation in Iraq are light years ahead of Afghanistan on the development scale. Looting is a sign of oppression and poverty. One hopes that as coalition troops are able to provide a secure environment (something to come), the Iraqi people will come to understand that there are other ways of resolving needs (human, political, economic) than through force. I think we should have confidence that they will try hard.

Cumberland, Md.: After all the diplomatic wrangling and then the failure to get a 2nd (18th) resolution on Iraq, followed by the success of the coalition military in Iraq, hasn't the UN made itself irrelevant? After all the UN did not support Kosovo or Bosnia due to Security Council opposition. Isn't it safe to conclude that the UN is irrelevant in real crises situations?

Danielle Pletka: The UN certainly could become irrelevant, but that is up to its members. Should France (and others) choose to use the required consensus in the Security Council to stymie the legitimate national security needs of UNSC members, the UN could well join the League of Nations on the ashheap of history. But the UN can rise above the debacle of the past few months. We should start small and not ask too much of members; let's test the UN and see if it can meet some of the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. Rehabilitation is ultimately up to the UN member states, not to President Bush and PM Blair alone.

Melbourne, Australia: Does the UN's lack of accountability and transparency worry you? And are there any indications that the U.S. will insist that any UN role in Iraq be conditional on guarantees of greater accountability and transparency?

Danielle Pletka: Great question. The UN's lack of accountability and transparency has so troubled the US Congress that in recent years, assessed contributions to the UN have been conditioned on internal reforms. While some of those reforms have occurred, most have not. I read yesterday that some 30 percent of the Kosovar economy is now related to UN salaries, employees and the like. This distorts an economy in ways that make it tough to recover. But if the US is the only voice demanding accountability and reform (the UN's books are open to NO ONE), we will fail.

Cherry Hill, N.J.: Obviously, the United Nations is still somewhat resentful of the American decision to ignore to its resolution and go ahead with the war. The United States has ignored the Security Council decision not to invade Iraq.

I am a high school journalist who has researched student reaction to the United States behavior toward the UN. One of the students I interviewed said "Our treatment of the United Nations has been disgraceful and our membership has been tarnished."

In light of that, how can the United States expect UN support if it has insulted the UN by ignoring its decisions? And what would be the nature of this help, if given?

Danielle Pletka: #1: There is no United Nations to be "resentful". The UN is a building, and one of the first mistakes we make is to assume that the UN is something more holy than the sum of its parts.

Certain nations are resentful that the US, UK and others felt the need to move forward in the disarmament of Iraq on a timetable not of their choosing (sorry, dreadful grammar). That is natural, but let's be clear: The disagreement, particularly with France, was not over use of force (France allowed war might be necessary), nor over ultimatums (France suggested 30 days). It was over who gets to make the call, France or the US. That's what I would call petty politics; after all there was little doubt in either Paris or Washington that Saddam would disarm fully.

On the final question of how we can expect UN support, the UN is not about "supporting" the US. It is about doing the right thing for international peace and security. Should the members of the UN, and particularly the UNSC, wish to do the right thing for the people of Iraq, we will quickly have consensus. Should they wish to manipulate the process for their own political ends, we will see yet another example of the toothlessness of the UN process.

Alexandria, Va.: I am a believer that the U.S. and U.K. should take the leadership in the post conflict situation in Iraq on the grounds of their special warrior occupying status and their effective self interest and real capability to take responsibility and deliver law and order. I am however annoyed by lots of UN bashing based on complete ignorance that UN is first and foremost a political reflection of the power and influence of his big states -- bad diplomacy and lack of political tact can not justify recrimination against the UN Secretariat. The UN is after all in its most successful cases a function of what the big and powerful members states want to be it -- especially the U.S. Your comments are welcomed.

Danielle Pletka: I agree with you, at least in part. Certainly, the US and UK should take the lead in post-Saddam Iraq. In addition, I agree (if I understand you correctly) that the UN is not greater than its members wish it to be, and any weakness on the part of the UN can only be attributed to its members and not the Secretariat. But let's not let Annan off the hook entirely; over the years, he took it upon himself to make deals with Saddam Hussein that should never have been made. As an employee of the Security Council, he could have been stopped, it is true. Nonetheless, his own instincts seem to incline more in the direction of preservation of process and status than in the direction of achieving the stated goals of SC resolutions.

If I may throw a question back, a conclusion we might draw is that the UN can only function effectively if we ask very little of it. What do you think?

Baltimore, Md.: Hello Ms. Pletka:

I'm somewhat confused as to why the UN would want to be involved in fixing a long-term problem that it did not create. Should there not be a premium placed on countries that invade other countries to accept the financial and political consequences of their actions? I realize that this would soon lead other countries to prey on weaker countries and expect to control the spoils of war (e.g., the U.S. could think about invading African countries with violent dictators, with the goal of capturing their mineral resources), but the U.S.'s contempt for the rule of international law and convention seems to be rewarded by the UN stepping in to clean up the mess created by the U.S. and U.K. Please explain why the UN wants to get caught up in that quagmire?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Danielle Pletka: a) The US does not have contempt for international law or convention. The US has been willing to use its military, political and economic might to ensure that those selfsame international laws and conventions are upheld. Can one say the same of the other member states of the UN?

b) Not a mess of its own making? Had the members of the UNSC been willing to enforce the language of UNSC resolutions, we may have averted this crisis. But words without meaning result in the overall weakening of the credibility of the Council.

c) As I have said to other contributors, the UN is not about rewarding or punishing the US; it should be about doing the right thing, in this instance for the Iraqi people. The proof will be in the pudding.

Springfield, Md.: I was fascinated to read yesterday that this week Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, named Rafeeuddin Ahmed, a retired UN official from Pakistan, as his special adviser on Iraq. Reportedly, Mr. Ahmed chaired a group that drew up plans this year for the UN to step in about three months after the end of the fighting to help form an interim administration.

Was the work of this committee publicly reported or disclosed? Was it a transparent process? Was it kept under wraps while the UNSC "deliberated" about disarmament? Can we read these "plans," or are they entirely under wraps? Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: Annan Urges Big U.N. Role in Postwar Plan (AP, April 8, 2003)

Danielle Pletka: Quick answer: these plans were secret, because from Annan's point of view, there never should have been a "post-Saddam Iraq." If the Department of State knew about these plans, its news to me. Let's just hope Pakistan isn't the model they looked to for Iraq.

Sommerville, Mass.: When are the UN Weapon Inspectors going back into Iraq? It seems absolutely vital that the USA prove beyond doubt that Iraq had significant WDM's in order for the Attack on Iraq to have any justification. If there isn't independent verification of WDM's, then the invasion of Iraq was as illegal as Germany's invasion of Poland.

Danielle Pletka: I have little doubt we will find WMD in Iraq. I have some doubt that the group of inspectors brought on by Blix are the impartial group of experts we might hope for. Certainly, there will be ample opportunity for international verification of Iraq's WMD once the war is over. Your analogy to Poland and Germany is inapt (to say the least).

Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: By a UN role in postwar Iraq are we talking about the UN as an organization, like the UN High Commission on Refugees, or the UN through its independent member states where the UN itself just acts like a coordinating agency? The UN doesn't have an army, court system, medical department, or police force. Who's going to supply these needed security functions? The Iraqis themselves are in no condition to administer the country. In fact, the only thing the Iraqis seem able to accomplish now is looting and lawlessness, not a sterling recommendation for sustained, successful, and independent governance. So just what are we talking about when we say UN rebuilding? Thanks much.

Danielle Pletka: As I am not a huge proponent of a large UN role, I can't say exactly what they will do. The UN has experience delivering humanitarian assistance, but the Iraqi people (I hear from inside) are disgusted by the UN's role in the oil for food program and the sustenance of Saddam.

Don't be too hard on people looting. For decades, Iraqis have been denied the basic needs of life. Stealing is disgraceful, but understandable in the circumstances. As one of my colleagues notes, when someone is willing to schlep lightbulbs and mattresses away, it tells you something about their needs.

As far as the rule of law, judiciary etc, it is a good question. Many Iraqis in exile have been working hard on these questions. What they need is an environment in which they can operate safely, partners inside Iraq and the commitment of the international community to support a transition to a better government. It's not going to be easy, but they Iraqi people have enormous intellectual resources among them, and we should give them a fighting chance.

Wheaton, Md.: Why should the UN have a role in the rebuilding? The UN has proven itself to be a corrupt, incompetent organization incapable of handling any major international issue. The U.S. is the only party involved with a proven record of rebuilding nations.

Danielle Pletka: I agree about the UN, but in fairness, we should add that the US isn't too great at rebuilding either. We don't like to hang around and do "nation building". In the post-9/11 world, we have changed our outlook, and many recognize that the stakes in helping Iraqis rebuild are great. If it works, it can be the model for a better Middle East. If it fails... well, we can't afford to let it fail.

Cumberland, Md.: Don't you think that when we "ask" too much of the UN it fails due to inherent structural weakness that was "present at the creation." The UN, at the Security Council level, requires consensus for it to work. There never has been real consensus in the Security Council on major crises -- only on little one about which no one cares. Consequently, don't you think that the future of the UN is really one of continuing weakness when confronted with a major crises? It is already fumbling North Korea thanks to the Chinese.

Danielle Pletka: 100 percent agreement. But let's remind all those proponents of multilateralism of their responsibilities as the UNSC faces the referral of North Korea's violation of the NPT. China, Russia, France -- put your money where your mouths were.

Washington D.C.: I was wondering if the U.S.A and Britain are prepared during the rebuilding of Iraq to be sensitive to cultural issues. I am concerned that a conservative culture will all of a sudden be exposed to the horrors of reality TV for example. This will build more hatred towards Americans and although I believe Iraq would love American wealth, I do not think they want everything American cultural has to offer them.

Danielle Pletka: I must say, we have better things to export than reality TV. Cultural sensitivity is important, but let's let the Iraqis gauge what they need. I spent weeks in Saudi Arabia watching reruns of Three's Company; we didn't make them buy it. Perhaps the Iraqis will have similarly bad taste, but let's allow them the joy of choosing for themselves.

Norman, Okla.: I have always believed and still do that this war is all about oil.

The best way for Bush to disprove it to me is to have the U.N. take a leadership in the re-building and have an interim government that has IRAQI names on it, not neoconservatives as the New York Times reported recently.

Danielle Pletka: Sir, I doubt you have a greater interest in the protection of Iraqi oil than the Iraqi people themselves. But if you always have believed this was about oil, I remain fairly certain you will not be dissuaded.

Alexandria, Va.: I know it's natural for Americans to feel resentful of other nations who've passionately voiced their opinions (as have we) and to some extent stood in the way our plans for Iraq. However, this war and the occupation period shouldn't be about getting business contracts and rewarding the "liberator." Rather, as our own government has said, the riches of the Iraqi people belong to the Iraqi people, and the focus should be on giving those contracts and business deals to whomever can meet them at the lowest price for the Iraqis. I realize this may be idealistic, but if we claim that we are there for the good of the Iraqi people and that their countries wealth belongs to them, then we have no choice but to focus on making sure the contracts go to the lowest bidder. And in the face of this, it's not only selfish but also wrong to suggest that we should divide them up based on who "liberated" Iraq.

To whatever extent the U.N can handle the logistics of this process the best, then they should be given that responsibility. And if France or Germany happens to be able to offer a better offer for the Iraqis than we can, then we should accept that this competition is good for the Iraqi people and give them those deals. Let's not get caught up in a power play that truly screws over Iraq and reflects very poorly on our humanitarian concerns for its people.

Danielle Pletka: Good for you. Just remember, the UN is not interested in market economics. Let's hope Iraqis are.

Phoenix, Ariz.: While many people seem to be against the idea of heavy U.N. involvement in a post-war Iraq, won't it be necessary to include the U.N. in the installment of any new system of government, as to avoid it being viewed as a puppet of the U.S. and Britain? What about the future of multilateralism if the U.S. denies the UN a role? Will the U.S. continue to shed international organizations toward a more unilateralist foreign policy?

Danielle Pletka: If Iraqis are running Iraq, they will not be perceived as puppets of the US. As to the future of multilateralism, please remember, it is not in and of itself a good. Like unilateralism, we must judge by its effectiveness. If the price of multilateralism is the abdication of an American president's responsibilities to his people, then that is too high.

Virginia: Will women have the right to vote in a new Iraq? How will the decision play in Europe if they do not? How will it play in the Mideast if they do? Which decision should the US support? Thank you.

Danielle Pletka: Women will have the right to vote in Iraq, as they do in many Middle Eastern nations. Iraqis have traditionally been a secular people; I have little doubt those secular traditions will continue.

Alexandria, Va.: How do you know the reader from Norman Ohio is a sir?

Danielle Pletka: I don't. Oops. Sir, Madam. My error.

Gaithersburg, Md.: Do you think that the rebuilding of Iraq will have similar coverage to the war? It seems in the U.S. interest to have as little live media coverage as possible. It would harm US global image to have unhappy Iraqis on TV 24 hours a day. No one wants to see the huge live media mood swings repeated in the rebuilding of Iraq especially since it could take months before any positive gains in rebuilding are made.

Danielle Pletka: An interesting point. This media saturation has been a little much, but I will welcome a continued focus on the future of Iraq. We may need to suspend judgment for some time, and that will be tough (OK, really tough) but the Iraqi people deserve our attention in liberation and in rebuilding.

Danielle Pletka: With regret, I have to sign off now. Just a few points based on everyone's interesting comments. Very few Americans disagreed when the US bypassed the UN to go into Kosovo. We did the right thing, but we couldn't get past a possible Russian veto in the UN. I did not hear the clamoring about multilateralism on that occasion.

The UN can work only when its members wish, but we should never allow the desire for consensus to stop us from doing the right thing... What makes America great is our belief that the things that we enjoy (freedom, liberty) are a basic human right. Thank you all, and apologies to those who did not receive an answer.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company