June 1, 2004

June 1, 2004 | Commentary on Middle East

Cashing in on Iraq

Listening to the French, Germans, Russians and Chinese demand changes to the proposed American-British U.N. resolution on Iraq last week, you'd think they hit the beaches with us on the march to Baghdad last spring. (Reminder: They didn't.)

Naturally, the arrangements these noncombatant nations are trying to shove through the United Nations (and down America's throat) are in their interests. But they're not good for the United States, and they're not good for the new Iraq. We shouldn't stand for it.

Led by China, these kibitzing members of the U.N. Security Council now insist on major changes to the draft Iraqi resolution. Their demands include:

  • Full sovereignty for Iraq.
  • Giving the new government full control over Iraqi military and police forces.
  • Requiring Coalition forces to consult with the new government on military operations except in matters of self-defense.

But it doesn't stop there. China's three-page paper, "Iraq Run by Iraqis" also stipulates that "the interim government of Iraq shall exercise full sovereignty, in the political, economic, security, judicial and diplomatic areas, including the power to control and dispose all the natural and economic resources, sign economic cooperation agreements and contracts and enjoy judicial independence and the power to administer prisons in Iraq." [Emphasis added.]

In the debate on the resolution, most everyone has focused on the security question: What role should Coalition forces play, and at what point they should leave Iraq? It's a very important issue because reconstruction, humanitarian operations and the January Iraqi elections all require a secure, stable environment. (Turning over the reins to Iraqi security forces before they're ready is a big mistake, likely leading to greater instability at the terrorists' hands.)

But what's gone unnoticed is why France, Germany, Russia and China are pressing for full Iraqi sovereignty as early as possible: They want to emasculate the Coalition that freed Iraq (the one they never joined) so they can be the first to get their hands on the potential bounty of the new Iraqi economy - especially its oil and gas reserves (the world's second and 10th largest).

In other words, their quibbling over the U.N. resolution has nothing to do with what's good for the Iraq. It's all about what's good for the Four Horsemen of the Money Clips.

China's booming economy has made it a voracious consumer of energy and a massive importer of oil. Beijing's only hope for keeping the lid on the political pressure cooker at home is to keep the wheels of industry turning and its nouveau riche prospering.

The French and Germans are already spending billions to exploit the gas and oil fields of next-door Iran -despite Tehran's sponsorship of terrorism and pursuit of nuclear weapons. They, like Russia, would like nothing better than to get back into - and expand - their previous lucrative, Saddam-era presence in the Iraqi energy market.

The Four Horsemen hope the Iraqis will quickly tire of America, toss it out and open the door to their political and economic influence. In their grand scheme, this will lead to large commercial contracts to develop Iraq's dilapidated infrastructure and prodigious natural resources.

This would allow these countries, which opposed the war from the start, to horn their way in - all the while pretending their efforts are acts of international altruism.

It's fine for America to play nice with the United Nations to the extent it supports our interests. The U.N. can be a value-added in conducting humanitarian operations, running elections, helping draft an Iraqi constitution and assembling a new government.

But we shouldn't allow ourselves to be shanghaied by amendments that undermine American interests. The United States and its Coalition partners did the heavy lifting in freeing Iraq from the grips of Saddam Hussein's tyranny, and our interests in Iraq's future must be preserved.

The run-up to the June 30 transition is critical to setting a solid foundation for a new, successful Iraqi government and positive change in the Middle East. The U.N. resolution is a first step in launching Iraq in the right direction. But it's also an entirely optional step.

The Coalition can transfer sovereignty to Iraq directly without U.N. involvement.

Now that it's time for the Coalition to begin ceding control to a new Iraqi government, it's vitally important that we don't cede our leverage - or our national interests - to a gaggle of Johnny-come-latelies.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post