October 12, 2004
By Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. and James Phillips
Few have merit, but do any make less sense than "illegal"? Yet
that is what United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the
war in an interview with the BBC, adding that "I hope we do
not see another Iraq-type operation for a long time."
U.S. allies who had supported the liberation of Baghdad,
including Britain, Australia, Poland, Bulgaria and Japan,
immediately condemned his remarks - and rightly so. It was only the
latest in a long line of blunders by Annan, whose leadership on the
world stage, from Rwanda to Iraq to the Sudan, has proven a
But, some may ask, can't Annan express his opinion? Yes, but his
ill-considered jibe carries serious repercussions. It undercuts
efforts to stabilize postwar Iraq efforts that have been endorsed
by the U.N. Security Council. It stigmatizes the embryonic Iraqi
government and strengthens the hand of Iraqi insurgents and foreign
terrorists determined to strangle democracy and defeat the
U.S.-led, U.N.-backed security operation.
Why would Annan want to undermine the U.N.'s own efforts in Iraq
at a time when the world body faces mounting criticism for failing
to respond effectively to international crises?
Annan's statement that the war was "illegal" is both false and
spurious. By Annan's logic, the 1999 U.S./British-led intervention
in Kosovo, which was conducted without benefit of a Security
Council resolution, also was "illegal" despite the fact that the
international community supported it.
It's true that Washington failed to convince Paris and Moscow to
vote for a final Security Council resolution that explicitly
endorsed the use of force if Iraq's dictatorship continued to
renege on its legal commitments to disarm. But the Security Council
unanimously passed resolution 1441 in November 2002, which
threatened "serious consequences" if Iraq failed to do so. And Iraq
already had defied 16 other Security Council resolutions on
disarmament, human rights abuses and support for terrorism.
Moreover, Iraq technically put itself into a state of war with
the United States by violating the cease-fire that ended the 1991
Gulf War. Long before the 2003 war, Iraqi forces were shooting
daily at American and British warplanes assigned to enforce the
U.N.-imposed "no-fly zones" over Iraq.
The Clinton administration chose to ignore these attacks and
other cease-fire violations, but the Bush administration decided to
take action in view of Iraq's manifest failure to prove that it had
dismantled its prohibited programs to build weapons of mass
destruction and missiles that threatened its neighbors. The U.N.
Charter explicitly recognizes the right of every state to act in
self-defense, a fact that Annan curiously neglects.
Annan's ill-timed comments should be seen as a poorly judged
attempt to indirectly influence the U.S. presidential election. The
notion of U.S. isolation is a myth that Annan is keen to promote on
the world stage. He ignores the fact that more than 30 allies are
backing the U.S. with troops on the ground in Iraq, including 12 of
the 25 members of the European Union, and 16 out of 26 NATO
The U.N. Secretary-General's gratuitous comments were an
extraordinarily undiplomatic and inappropriate intervention from a
world figure who is supposed to be a neutral servant of the
international community. They raise serious questions regarding
Annan's judgment and his suitability to continue in his post.
Moreover, Annan's attack illustrates the insecurity running
through the corridors of power (or what's left of it) at the U.N.
headquarters. Its prestige and reputation are running at an
all-time low. The world body failed spectacularly to deal with the
Iraqi dictatorship under Saddam Hussein, is failing to provide
leadership in disarming Iran, and is weak-kneed in the face of
genocide in the Sudan.
At the same time, it's facing allegations of mismanagement and
corruption relating to its administration of the Iraq Oil-for-Food
The U.N. is in steep (and possibly terminal) decline, struggling
for relevance in the 21st Century. Mr. Annan's remarks only further
underline his organization's growing impotence.
Gardiner is Visiting Fellow in Anglo-American Security
Policy, and James Phillips is
Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Affairs, in the Davis Institute
for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation, a
Washington-based public policy institution.
First appeared on FoxNews.com
Opponents of the war in Iraq have used many choice words to describe the U.S.-led military action there.
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D.
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
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