WASHINGTON, March 28 (UPI) -- Ten days into the American invasion of Iraq, think tank policy experts with varying views are digging into the question of what role the United Nations should play in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. This debate mirrors the ideological conflict between factions within the administration of President George W. Bush.
Daniel L. Byman, a nonresident senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the liberal-centrist Brookings Institution, told United Press International that United Nations involvement would be a way of legitimizing what will be seen in some places around the world as an illegitimate American presence in the country following the war.
"I think it is actually useful to have the United Nations involved. The question is what price should be paid?" said Byman.
Byman compared the situation to the events surrounding the Kosovo conflict in the 1999. In that instance, the Security Council did mandate the initial military action, but gave legitimacy to the mission after the fact through United Nations involvement in the post-war effort.
Byman also said that despite recent confusion over how the United Nations should handle humanitarian relief efforts in Iraq, it is widely assumed that the international body will play a major role in providing aid to Iraqis after the war. Nevertheless, doubts remain about whether the legitimacy that Security Council backing would confer upon America's post-war reconstruction policies is worth a protracted fight like the one that erupted when the United States attempted to get Security Council support for the invasion of Iraq. It is also uncertain whether such support could even be gained in the current political environment.
From the beginning, White House advisors have been divided into fractious camps over international involvement in post-war Iraq. One side is epitomized by the neoconservative civilian elements at the Pentagon who believe that involving the United Nations in Iraq in any way is a mistake because it limits U.S. options. On the other side are State Department officials who argue that a broad international effort is needed to ensure credibility. Administration officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, told UPI that the extent of the involvement of the United Nations, if any, in the post-war process is still a matter of debate at the White House.
The Pentagon has prepared to install a civilian administration in the immediate aftermath of the war that would oversee post-conflict reconstruction. The body would report directly to the Pentagon. Critics of the plan say that such a transitional administration would amount to little more than a U.S. military occupation of Iraq and would be viewed as illegitimate by most of the international community.
Comments by Secretary of State Colin Powell to a Congressional panel Wednesday indicated that the Bush administration is unwilling to completely cede control of the post-war reconstruction effort to the United Nations. But Powell did say that the United Nations should play some role, especially in funding the rebuilding of Iraq.
Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the liberal Institute for Policy Studies, said Powell's testimony made it clear that the White House has no intention of sharing power with the United Nations except in an attempt to gain some international credibility for its military occupation of Iraq.
"The administration's view is to use the United Nations as support cover, a political fig leaf to allow other governments to give money to the reconstruction effort and not have it look like America is going it alone," said Bennis. "That is a serious problem."
Bennis said the United Nations should be a central part of the effort to rebuild war-torn Iraq, but also indicated that she was worried that United Nations participation would ultimately legitimize the type of U.S. policies that lead to the invasion.
"There will have to be new government agencies and institutions, and I think the United Nations is well suited to helping Iraqis plan that out," she said. "That can't be imposed by U.S. tanks if it is going to have any legitimacy to it."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair is another important factor in the debate. Blair, who remains the international community's key supporter of the American invasion of Iraq, is lobbying for a strong United Nations role in the rebuilding of the country, and many analysts think the White House will make an effort to address Blair's wishes.
Marina S. Ottaway, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that the United Nations must be involved in the post-war reconstruction process precisely because it would lend legitimacy to the American effort to bring democracy to Iraq.
"I see a real need for United Nations intervention because I think any government which is set up only under U.S. occupation will have trouble both inside the country and within the region," she said. "The problem is the United States doesn't seem to be inclined to give up much control of Iraq."
Another key consideration is just how long the United States will need to remain as a controlling force in Iraq. Some believe that U.N. involvement could result in a briefer American presence in the country if the American government transferred control to international forces, but this remains an unlikely scenario.
Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato institute, said the United States must not involve the United Nations in the post-war process because of the need for a rapid transition to a new Iraqi regime in order to avoid an Islamic backlash against America.
"The model I don't want to see under any circumstance is what has emerged in Bosnia and Kosovo," said Carpenter. "That means we will be in there for years, we will be micro managing the country and that is a dangerous caricature of nation building."
Although Byman, Ottaway and others believe that working to establish a democracy in Iraq offers the best prospect for solving the nation's problems, Carpenter said it is important that the type of regime that develops be left to the Iraqi people. This means the Bush administration must accept the outcome, even if it is not democratic in nature, unless it threatens U.S. interests.
"We have to face the reality that democracy may not endure in Iraq," he said "A few years down the road we might face a military coup and another authoritarian regime. We have no control over that unless we plan to occupy the country for the next 10 to 20 years."
Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the conservative Hudson Institute, said that both a lack of international involvement and a quick turnover to Iraqi control should be the central tenets of the post-war transfer of power.
"I do not think we should have a prolonged U.S. occupation," she said. "We should immediately and rapidly transfer power to the Iraqi opposition who have developed democratic structures (outside the country), and who are there and actually fighting the Baath government with us side by side."
Although Wurmser's proposal is believed to reflect the dominant idea in the White House, the question is still open as to which of the candidates the United States should support to lead post-Saddam Iraq. Eric Schwartz, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned that the United States must be careful not to anoint any particular Iraqis as the future leaders of the country.
"That would be fundamentally undemocratic, as you would be choosing people who have yet to be tested or validated by any democratic process," he said. "There will be a real imperative for the United States, or whomever is involved, to try and let the Iraqis decide their own authority independently."
Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also warned that President Bush's promotion of Iraq as a possible platform for political reform in the Middle East gives ammunition to Iranian and Saudi factions that support Iraqi elements that would work to undermine political stability there.
"The more the Bush administration talks about bold ambitions to use Iraq as a platform to transform the political status quo in the Middle East, the more the Bush administration implicitly, and in some ways explicitly, threatens Iraq's neighbors, particularly Iran and Saudi Arabia," Alterman said Wednesday at a CSIS briefing on the war. "The more talk about it, the more (bringing political stability to Iraq) becomes a much more difficult effort."