By Alan W. Dowd

Another Failure

With elections scheduled for this month, Iraqi officials are raising concerns about inadequate assistance from the United Nations to ensure integrity of the polls. “We feel very disappointed that the participation of the UN employees is not up to the required level,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the New York Times. 

“We definitely need a larger UN presence,” Zebari said, “at least to establish confidence in the electoral process.” According to Zebari, the UN has sent only 35 workers to assist in the Iraqi electoral process—a paltry amount for a country of some 25 million people, where 30,000 polling places and 100,000 Iraqi citizens are needed to carry out nationwide elections. In fact, only five members of the UN team even specialize in electoral issues.  

In Afghanistan, by contrast, the UN deployed a vast bureaucracy to assist in Afghanistan’s political transition from medieval Taliban rule to pluralist democracy.  Set up in late 2002, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has hundreds of staff members. The UN has just under 30 different offices in Afghanistan, either representing particular UN sub-agencies or serving particular population centers. Ahead of the elections last autumn, the UN even assisted 1,200 workers in registering Afghan refugees in neighboring Iran and Pakistan.  

Likewise, when tiny East Timor (with a population of one million and a landmass of just 15,000 square kilometers) held elections in 1999, the UN sent 300 officials to monitor and assist the process. 

The main impediment in Iraq, according to the UN, is the lack of contributions to an international force to protect the UN election team. Secretary General Kofi Annan wants a 4,000-member force. Never mind that UN election monitoring teams have been deployed to other hotspots without a security force of that size. Indeed, the real cause of the UN’s less-than-halfhearted interest in Iraq’s democratic transition is the UN bureaucracy’s opposition to the Iraq War. As embedded reporter Karl Zinsmeister observed upon his return from postwar Iraq, “Politics is keeping the UN out of Iraq,” adding that “The UN is virtually AWOL because they say it’s a dangerous place. But Liberia is a dangerous place. Rwanda is a dangerous place. Yet the UN is in those places.” 

But what could be more fitting? Iraq was liberated in spite of the UN; and it will be democratized in spite of the UN.  

Black, White or Grey?

The war in Iraq has drawn heavy criticism around the world: The Vatican condemned it; UN chief Kofi Annan declared it “illegal” under international law; and the campaign of John Kerry dismissed it as “the wrong war at the wrong time.” This last source of criticism is what makes Michael O’Hanlon’s recent piece in the Washington Times so interesting.  

O’Hanlon, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank based in Washington, D.C., also helped in drafting foreign policy speeches for the Kerry campaign. Yet O’Hanlon countered Annan’s criticisms masterfully by detailing the many ways the war was justified under international law. Echoing the Bush administration line, he noted that Iraq was in violation of 17 UN resolutions, including the prewar resolution known as 1441. Although he stated that the postwar situation is not rosy, he questioned Annan for impugning “the use of force to overthrow a brutal dictator who had systematically and dangerously defied official demands made of him by the entire international community.”    

While conceding that the war may have been launched in a grey area, O’Hanlon concluded that “being in a grey area is not the same as being illegal.” 

Same Old, Same Old

Thanks in large measure to the news media’s short memory, many Americans have a mistaken notion that the wave of anti-American attitudes that seems to be washing over the earth is something new—a byproduct of the US-led war on terror. Anti-Americanism is actually as old as America itself. 

Consider Adam Smith’s worrisome assessment of the North American colonies in 1776: Americans, he wrote, are “employed in contriving a new form of government for an extensive empire which will become one of the greatest and most formidable that ever was in the world.”  

According to Barry Rubin of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, “The first clear statement of anti-Americanism came from the French lawyer Simon Linguet in the 1780s. The dregs of Europe, he warned, would build a dreadful society in America, create a strong army, take over Europe and destroy civilization.”  Of course, that “strong army” went across the ocean to liberate Europe and later protect it.  

French statesman Georges Clemenceau echoed his countryman’s slur a century later by sneering, "America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization." In the shadow of two world wars that began in Europe and ended with more than 65 million dead, perhaps Clemenceau’s swipe would have been better directed at his side of the Atlantic. 

Not surprisingly, Rubin calls France “the global capital of anti-Americanism.” Rubin concludes that “the level of hatred toward the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as other decades, has been arguably higher than today.” 

So why does it exist? Rubin believes it has something to do with America’s embrace of modernity. While other countries and cultures seek to preserve the past and often resist or fear change, Americans seem to relish and welcome it. Another reason for anti-Americanism is old-fashioned envy. Perhaps because of its adaptability and openness to change, America is populous, innovative, sometimes oblivious, and economically and militarily peerless.

Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.