International Papers

Occupational Hazards

Newspaper descriptions of the Bush administration’s policy shift regarding U.N. involvement in Iraq pulled no punches: Britain’s Guardian called it “a humiliating diplomatic climbdown”; the Times declared it “an about-turn”; Canada’s Globe and Mail dubbed it “a remarkable reversal”; and Libération of Paris wondered if it was “the start of an American volte-face.”

For many papers, the administration decision to accept a wider role for the United Nations in Iraq—without ceding U.S. control of the country—represented a huge reversal: The Times called it “the most dramatic change of direction since the start of the war,” and the Australian said White House claims that there is no strategy change “do not stand up to scrutiny.” Spain’s El País sniffed that Bush had turned to the United Nations, “more from convenience than conviction.” Libération said, “The mixture of ideology, arrogance, and incompetence that has marked U.S. policy since the decision to cut down the Baghdad dictatorship is on its way to being engulfed in Iraq’s shifting sands.” Still, the editorial concluded, France and the other war opponents should not “let Iraq sink” in order to “see Bush put in check. … Pragmatism must take precedence over ideology, in Paris as in Washington.”

The Australian, which said the policy switch should “make Bush blush,” interpreted the administration’s approach to the United Nations as “an admission that the financial, political and human costs of the war on Iraq are too great—even for a superpower.” The op-ed offered the U.N. Security Council some reasons to comply with the U.S. appeal:

First, there is the moral imperative to help the Iraqis, free of the tyrant but still suffering. Second, the US is no longer in go-it-alone mode and looks to be in the mood to negotiate. Then there is the question of money. The Russians and French, having risked no lives in the conflict, may wish to position themselves to secure business deals in the oil-rich country.

An op-ed in the Financial Times agreed that nations that opposed the war should now resist that temptation to frustrate the United States:

Just as Washington has gone grudgingly to the rest of the world for help, so the rest of the world will come grudgingly to Washington. … They can hardly sit back and refuse the role they have been pressing for. However great the temptation to see Mr Bush forced to clear up his own mess, they know that the consequences of turmoil in Iraq are as unpalatable to them as they are to Washington.

The Times’ foreign editor wondered if the United Nations would have any more success in sorting out post-Saddam Iraq than the Bush administration had enjoyed: “[G]iven the scale of the problem … there must be a question about whether the magic of UN endorsement can conjure up a coalition large enough to fill [the] gap. If the world’s superpower is struggling after just four months, the concern must be that the task of rebuilding Iraq could strain the resources even of a UN coalition.”