Well, mes amis, it may be time to reconsider your crash solidarity order for Louis Vuitton luggage and Camembert fromage. The stalwart French have taken the crumbs offered by Uncle Sam, liberally garnished them with their own words and eaten them in public. On Thursday morning, May 22, they rolled over to support UN Security Council Resolution 1483, which to a large extent legalizes the invasion and occupation of Iraq that were previously denounced by most of the Council as illegal. It's almost as if a jury returned a verdict of justified homicide for a lynch mob. Ironically, one of the many absolutely cosmetic concessions the French wrung from the Americans was the change of the word "collaborating" to "working together," to describe the role of the United Nations Special Representative, who had also been upgraded from Special Coordinator. There may be some deep psychology at play here. The French ambassador pointed out that the word "collaborate" has some pretty nasty connotations in French.
It does in English as well. And so does the deed of collaboration. Most members of the Council decided that fighting for their principles would exact too high a price in blowback from the White House, and, well - how else to put it? - they then collaborated with the resolution. Only Syria absented itself, but to be honest, one is never sure whether it's high principle that decides Damascus's votes. The vote on the 15-member council: 14-0, without Damascus.
The resolution leaves "The Authority," as the occupying powers euphemistically call themselves, in full control of Iraq. Am I alone in being reminded of "The Organization" that used to rule the roost in Pol Pot's Cambodia?
Another cosmetic concession was that the Security Council would review the resolution in six months. But typically, the U.S. could veto any attempt to change it. The Russians had been insisting that the UN weapons inspectors declare Iraq disarmed before sanctions be lifted. But they went along with a promise in the resolution to review the functions of UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The by-play over the inspectors is highly revealing about the motivations and the powers involved. The British would very much like to see the UN inspectors back in Iraq, since they realize that the refusal to admit them makes nonsense of their entire legal case for the war. And, in the increasingly unlikely case that anyone other than Judith Miller of the New York Times finds any weapons, no one will believe weapons are there unless the UN is involved.
On the other hand, the Americans are prepared to let in the IAEA immediately, because they're worried about what might have gone missing from the Iraqi nuclear plants and only the IAEA can tell them.
However, on a personal grudge level, the Pentagon has never forgiven former chief weapons inspector Hans Blix for being right about the prohibited weapons, or lack thereof, in Iraq, and so it seems that they will not consider allowing UNMOVIC back in until after Blix's retirement in June. The message is not only that the Pentagon is petty, but also that it is powerful: certainly powerful enough to override its British allies, not to mention powerful enough to ignore common sense.
In return for such minor concessions, the U.S. has secured pretty much all that it wanted. The resolution "welcomes" the willingness of other states to provide forces, thus giving a UN fig leaf for coalition members who want to ingratiate themselves further with the White House by sending troops, without themselves being "occupying powers."
The occupiers will finance their occupation with Iraqi oil money that will now go into the Iraqi Development Fund, under occupiers' control but monitored by an allegedly independent board. This board will "include" representatives from the UN, the IMF, the World Bank and the Arab Fund for Development. It does not specify how many other representatives "The Authority" can appoint. The fund, and any subsequent Iraqi government, will still have to pay 5 per cent of Iraq's oil revenues for reparations to Kuwaiti and other claimants from the last Gulf War.
The UN Special Collaborator, as some wags about the UN have taken to calling him, does have a little more power of initiative than before, if only the power to report back to the Security Council. But cynics cannot help but conclude that unless an extraordinary personality gets the job, the real job description will be "UN Special Scapegoat," to carry the can when the Occupiers make a hash of reconstruction.
So, is there any upside? Well, up to a point. The U.S. was forced to come back to the UN because it could not legally sell Iraq's oil without a Security Council resolution and because even alleged coalition countries wanted a UN resolution before they would join in the occupation. The U.S. had to admit that it was, in fact, an occupying power.
But overall, once the threat to their debt repayments and contracts was lifted, along with the sanctions, the other Council members decided that, despite the powerful leverage the sanctions and UN-regulated oil sales would give them, they had no dog in this fight, so they declined to do serious battle.
And why am I picking on the French? Because this week is the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the western Saharan struggle for the rights the UN says the world's people are entitled to. Delayed a few days by the Iraq resolution, the latest version of James Baker's plan for the region will be presented this week by Kofi Annan will.
Preliminary whispers suggest that it will be a warmed-over version of the old one, five years of alleged autonomy followed by a referendum in which all the Moroccan settlers will be entitled to vote.
The Moroccans are supposed to have objected because the plan includes some tougher monitoring of their behaviour under autonomy. However, from previous experience, we can predict that the French and the United States, and the little poodle UK trotting behind them, will be as one in their determination to sell the Sahrawis down the river. Back to business as usual. They're only Arabs, after all.