By abandoning the idea of giving the United Nations a larger role in making Iraq safer and more secure, the Bush administration has made its difficult job in that country even more difficult. The decision not to seek the U.N.'s help seems to have been motivated by an optimism that is becoming increasingly difficult to justify.
For months, the United States has been trying to persuade other countries to join the 136,000 American GIs who are trying to create conditions that would allow Iraq to revive its economy and build some reasonably democratic political institutions.
This seems to be wishful thinking. The sad but inescapable fact is that many people around the world don't want their governments to sign up for peacekeeping duty in Iraq unless it is a U.N. operation. Other people may simply wish to pay back the U.S. for what they think was the high-handed way they were treated by the Bush administration before the war.
Whatever the reason, the administration's recruiting drive is not likely to go very far unless the demands of would-be partners can be satisfied. What's more, getting the U.N. more involved in the peacekeeping operation does not seem unreasonable. In fact, it was the U.S. that sought the U.N.'s endorsement before it went to war in Iraq on March 19.
The Defense Department, in particular, fears that giving the U.N. a bigger role in Iraq would impair the flexibility of U.S. commanders in the field. But rules governing military operations in Iraq can almost certainly be written in such a way as to preserve maximum effectiveness. If thousands more friendly soldiers can usefully be thrown into the fray, it would be silly to reject the possibility out of hand.
The administration obviously thinks it can do the job in Iraq alone or with the help of Britain and a dozen or so other countries. And perhaps it can. The U.S., after all, has been in Iraq for scarcely five months, and the sweltering heat won't last forever.
At the same time, the administration has consistently underestimated the difficulties of governing Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime, and it may be doing so again. The ongoing attacks on Americans, the involvement of terrorist groups in the resistance and what may be a growing enmity of ordinary Iraqis toward the occupation certainly are reasons for concern and seem to erode the case for optimism.
It may not be possible, for logistical or political reasons, to get the U.N. more heavily involved in Iraq. But a U.N. force, if it can be assembled, would lighten the burden on the shoulders of the GIs now there. That's an objective the Bush administration ought to embrace, especially if it isn't prepared to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
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