The difference between the United Nations and the United States was cruelly defined Wednesday as the world body collected its dead from the Baghdad car bomb and began evacuating its staff from Iraq. No matter how many car bombs, how many snipings, how many rocket-propelled grenades and knives in the night, the men and women of the U.S. and British allied forces in that country have no such option to leave. Under national military discipline, they stay -- and take the consequences and the casualties.
This is not to denigrate the courage of the U.N. staff who volunteered for what has become a murderous mission to Baghdad. The questions are why this has happened? Who was to blame? And what was their motive? The United Nations is now a target, and in that sense a co-belligerent, and it is important to understand why.
There are three main sources of inspiration for what we had better start calling Phase 2 of the Iraq conflict -- the guerilla war.
The first, obviously, is the remaining forces of the old, discredited regime of Saddam Hussein, his loyalists and security squads -- who tend not to be likely candidates for suicide bombing missions.
The second is the swelling band of Islamic fundamentalists and anti-American Arab nationalists who are flocking to Iraq to join the war against the Great Satan, and for whom the suicide mission has become an accepted tactic.
The third is that growing segment of the Iraqi population who see their "liberation" leading to neither security nor prosperity; neither to reliable water or power supplies. And with their sabotage tactics against oil and water pipelines, the first and second groups are clearly trying to swell the numbers of the third, and fan their disillusion into outright enmity. These are classic guerilla tactics.
But the attack on the United Nations -- and Tuesday's car bomb exploded directly under the window of the U.N. special envoy for Iraq -- complicates this hitherto clear pattern. The political question that must now be answered is whether the civilian staff who died alongside their deliberately targeted chief, Sergio Vieira de Mielo, were all victims of the same enemy as the British and American troops.
Were the bombers trying to equate the United Nations with the American forces as an equal and parallel enemy, or were they simply trying to drive the United Nations out of Iraq through intimidation? Did they assume that the U.N. mission's presence amounted to an endorsement and legitimization of the Anglo-American occupation that had to be evicted? Or were they simply going for a high profile and relatively soft target in the heart of Baghdad?
In any event, the United Nations now faces a major test. The Anglo-Americans have no choice; they own the war, and they own the aftermath. They have an obligation to their original decision to take military action, to their dead troops, and to their wider strategic goal of implanting a stable and prosperous democracy in the heart of the Arab world. They must stay the course -- whatever the exigencies of the U.S. election timetable.
The United Nations is different. Not only does the United Nations as an institution have a choice -- whether to scuttle or to remain half in bed with the Anglo-Americans and increasingly responsible for the stabilization of Iraq - it also has a decision-making process that puts an onus of choice on France, Russia and China as veto-wielding powers. They agreed that the U.N. staff should return to Baghdad, and to that extent they share in the responsibility to respond to their slaughter.
The issue is plain enough. Do these three great powers, and through them the United Nations as a whole, recognize that the suicide bombers of Baghdad who killed the U.N. staff are now the common enemy of humanity, and join to hunt them down? Or do they take refuge in their earlier pedantries, backing Resolution 1441 to require Saddam to carry out his various obligations, but ducking the military resolve to enforce it?
In the dulcet tones of French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, or the brisk self-contradictions of his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, one can already hear the footsteps of appeasement, of blaming the Americans, of identifying some supposedly righteous force of Iraqi resistance to the occupier.
None of this can change the raw fact. The United Nations has been attacked. The international community is honor bound to rally to its defense and to haul the men behind the attackers to justice.