PARIS -- Statements by both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell at the start of last week made it clear that the United States does not intend to give the United Nations a political role of any consequence in postwar Iraq.
Washington says that as the United States and Britain waged and won the war they will also manage the peace. The United Nations, a Pentagon official says, will have no role ‘‘in constructing a democratic Iraq.’’
The intellectual and political position of the administration and its supporters is that the United States, as sole superpower, legitimately defends international order because the United Nations has defaulted on this responsibility, having never enforced its resolutions demanding Saddam Hussein’s disarmament.
Unilateralism and preemptive war are said to be necessary to defend the United States, and to establish and maintain a democratic international order, which the United Nations cannot or will not do.
However, Iraq is not that simple. The Fourth Geneva Convention imposes on the military occupier full responsibility for the well-being of the civil population. It severely restricts the occupier’s right to make use of the occupied country’s resources.
No one is going to stop Washington from doing what it pleases in Iraq, but if it goes against international law it will have to pay and stay. The Bush administration would prefer to have the international community pay for reconstruction and have other countries’ forces do the peacekeeping.
Otherwise some kind of deal will have to be struck with the members of the self-proclaimed ‘‘peace camp’’ in the Security Council, and with the European Union, the principal potential international source of reconstruction aid.
This confronts the United States with a problem the Bush administration is unwilling to acknowledge.
The Iraq intervention destroyed ‘‘the reputation the United States has enjoyed for so long as a benevolent power,’’ to quote Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, writing in The Boston Globe.
Pape says that the United States broke the rule ‘‘that democracies do not wage preventive wars’’ by doing what no other democratic state has done in the more than 200 years of the American nation’s existence.
The government of George W. Bush has made it American security policy to prevent any other nation from attempting to equal the United States in military strength. This is unprecedented.
It has inevitably produced a fundamental change in how other nations see the United States. It has caused some other democracies to resort to classic countermeasures against a government newly perceived as a potential threat.
These measures are not military but diplomatic and economic, which are more relevant, and to which Washington is more vulnerable. Thus France, Russia, Germany, Belgium and China used diplomatic methods to isolate the United States on Iraq.
The same methods may be used again in the developing controversy over a UN role in Iraq and over the contribution of the international aid community to war reconstruction.
Pape notes that the European Union is now a more powerful economic and trading power than the United States and argues that if there were a concerted effort to require oil suppliers to bill in euros rather than dollars, this would undermine the position of the dollar as a reserve currency.
A move out of dollars by Asian or European investors would contribute to making it impossible for the Bush government to continue to run its enormous budget deficit. The University of Chicago political scientist estimates that a fall of 1 percent or more in U.S. gross national product could result.
By renouncing America’s traditional foreign policy and adopting one of global military domination, the Bush administration has made a fundamental change in the international balance.
It seems proud to have done so. It seems not to understand that this has been to its own potential disadvantage and to the American nation’s future risk.
Copyright © 2003 the International Herald Tribune