Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rights and Wrongs

Yesterday, a comment* got me thinking about the relationship between the United Nations and the United States. I try hard not to confuse the Bush administration with America or Americans generally, nearly half of all US voters wanted the other guy remember, but my understanding of the situation is that the comment is basically correct. The UN is not held in high regard by a large section of the US population.

But why? Well one of the reasons is undoubtedly the UN position on the invasion of Iraq. That the UN was unable to agree to support the invasion was damaging to the credibility of the UN in the eyes of sections of the US public. It's fair to say that this is well accepted by most people.

When I think about this though, I struggle to understand why this should be the case. Consider Colin Powell's presentation to the UN in Febuary 2003. There were two main points to the presentation: Saddam had WMD, and Saddam had links to terrorist organisation. It's worth reading it all as a reminder of what he said, but here's a snippet.
Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets. Even the low end of 100 tons of agent would enable Saddam Hussein to cause mass casualties across more than 100 square miles of territory, an area nearly 5 times the size of Manhattan. Let me remind you that, of the 122 millimeter chemical warheads, that the U.N. inspectors found recently, this discovery could very well be, as has been noted, the tip of the submerged iceberg. The question before us, all my friends, is when will we see the rest of the submerged iceberg?
Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons.
Yes. We now know that Powell's "conservative estimate" was actually an overestimate to the tune of "between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent". And his second point, that Saddam had connections to terrorist organisations, is equally valueless. In 2005, two years after the invasion, the US administration has yet to produce a single piece of convincing evidence to substantiate this claim.

And the UN position? Well, the UN is really just the sum of the countries who are it's members. and many of those members were unconvinced by Powell's presentation. Many thought that the "evidence" presented by Powell was circumstantial at best, and they certainly did not think it was conclusive enough to authorize an invasion. "Give the inspectors more time" they said. They did not agree with the US assessment that Saddam was an imminent threat to the region and to the wider world. They also warned that a US led invasion of Iraq would most likely cause the country to adopt the shape of the pear.

Let's not beat about the bush here, the UN, through its member states, was right. It's not even a contentious issue. The two arguments put forward by Powell in support of his position were flawed. Saddam had no WMD, and he was not in league with terrorist organisations.** He was not an imminent threat to the region, never mind the wider world. Under US occupation, Iraq is, sadly, looking just as pear shape as was predicted. And there's no easy way out by shifting positions on this, as the Bush administration has done. The argument now used to justify the invasion, that it will bringing peace and democracy to Iraq, was not central to the case presented to the UN ( and it's looking a rather weak justification at the moment in any case).

It is strange then that the UN position lacks credibility in the US. With hindsight, the US administration's position was fatally flawed, while the favoured position at the UN, to give the inspectors more time, was emminently sensible. There were no WMD. There was no need for the invasion which has cost countless lives, and is likely to cause countless more***. Somehow this situation has been interpreted by many in the US as a failing of the United Nations. It is, to me, a curious state of affairs.

* Not that this is in any way an attack on that comment. It just got my thought processes flowing.
** I've yet to see a single convincing piece of evidence to show otherwise. I'm afraid I will expect suitable evidence to be produced if you want to disagree here.
*** The US military certainly doesn't count them.

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