OPINION

UN’s postwar role

What postwar role the White House will accept for the United Nations is becoming a significant factor in the growing gap between Europe and the United States. As the comfortable victories of the American forces in their first walkover battles in Baghdad show that the occupation of Iraq’s capital will prove much easier than expected, realism will impose a radical change of policy on France, Germany and Russia. They must accept both the absolute military superiority of the US and the fact that defeated Iraq will be administered by Washington, no matter how great the damage that entails for the European interests they were unable to defend by averting war. Minimizing their expectations and accepting accomplished facts, the European capitals will be obliged to seek ways of negotiating with the US from a subordinate position. If President George W. Bush’s government decides to allot them some role to help their governments adjust to the new relationship, then the UN is the best forum to bring this new compromise under the umbrella of the postwar «reconstruction» of Iraq. In exchange, the US will receive post hoc legitimation of its invasion and defeat of Iraq, actions which the leading European countries have so far deemed illegal. The British government, which has been isolated by the most important European governments and the vast majority of public opinion in all European countries, is being very active in this direction. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has not abandoned his attempt to secure White House agreement for entrusting the postwar administration of Iraq to the UN. This issue is not as insignificant as it may seem. The Arabs, and Muslims in general, see the war on Iraq as a declaration by the US of a «clash of civilizations.» An American occupation regime in Baghdad would certainly reinforce their conviction that a crusade has been launched to enslave them. Their feeling that they will in turn be victims and their despair at American military might is a dangerous mix, pushing hatred and fanaticism to the limit, while ensuring the fear and subjection of some Arab governments. The political situation in many Islamic countries is already explosive. Some efforts must be made through the UN, even at the last moment, to defuse the tension without explosions.