American Enterprise Online | 1.26.05
By Alan W. Dowd

With elections just days away, Iraq will soon join the family of free nations. Yet the Iraqi people are getting precious little in the way of help from the United Nations--an organization committed, according to its own Charter, "to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom."

Failing to live up to the letter or spirit of that mandate, the U.N. 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. (For the record, it should be noted that another 150 U.N. security personnel from Fiji are also in country.)

Iraqi officials have taken notice. "We feel very disappointed that the participation of the U.N. employees is not up to the required level," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the New York Times late last year. "We definitely need a larger U.N. presence," Zebari said.

That help has never materialized. In fact, the U.N.-backed International Mission for the Iraq Elections concedes that on election day most of its personnel will be in Jordan or Canada, with perhaps as few as a dozen inside Iraq. This would be laughable if it weren't so pathetic.

So why isn't the U.N. helping? "The U.N. is not willing," as one U.N. diplomat admitted to the Financial Times. "No one is willing." He's only half-right, of course, since some 30 nations have actually shown a willingness to stand with Free Iraq.

U.N. officials blame the U.N.'s paltry presence on Iraq's security situation, which is anything but stable. Parts of Iraq remain dangerous, as we are reminded by the daily car bombings and kidnappings that wrack the so-called Sunni Triangle. However, as TAE's own Karl Zinsmeister has observed, "Liberia is a dangerous place. Rwanda is a dangerous place. Yet the U.N. is in those places." According to Zinsmeister, who has made two tours in Iraq, "Politics is keeping the U.N. out of Iraq."

When compared to other recent U.N. interventions, it's hard to argue with Zinsmeister's assessment.

In Afghanistan, for instance, the U.N. deployed a vast bureaucracy to assist in the country's political transition from medieval Taliban rule to pluralist democracy. Set up in late 2002, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan at one time had 443 staff members. The U.N. has just under 30 different offices in Afghanistan, either representing particular U.N. sub-agencies or serving particular population centers. And ahead of the elections last autumn, the U.N. assisted 1,200 workers in registering Afghan refugees in neighboring Iran and Pakistan. All of this happened against a backdrop of terrorist bombings and Taliban recriminations.

Likewise, when tiny East Timor (with a population of 1.01 million and a landmass of just 15,000 square kilometers) held elections in 1999, the U.N. sent 300 officials to monitor and assist the process. The PBS program WideAngle notes that there are more than 500 police and security forces and some 260 civilians working under the U.N. banner in East Timor today.

In nearby Indonesia, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) boasts about its role in training the small army of election workers who managed 580,000 polling stations around the country. In addition, the U.N.-backed International Observers Resource Centre helped foreign embassies deploy 560 international monitors across the archipelago.

War-torn Cyprus, with its 770,000 people, hosts 1,229 U.N. peacekeepers, 45 U.N. policemen and 42 U.N. civilians.

The list--and double-standards--go on. According to the U.N. Electoral Assistance Division, the U.N. has helped at least 90 countries and regions hold elections. Some of them, like proto-Palestine and Kosovo, aren't even members of the U.N.

There are almost 100 U.N. civilian personnel based in the Palestinian territories, a place that is a far cry short of "secure." As the Christian Science Monitor reported in December, the UNDP provided the Palestinian Central Elections Commission with office space, international election experts and training. Thanks in part to the UNDP, "Systems for registration, vote tabulation, and data entry were put into place as well as mechanisms for observer accreditation and voter education." Impressive for a country that doesn't even officially exist yet.

There are some 4,000 U.N. police and security personnel in Kosovo, and another 785 U.N. civilians in this mini-state with a population of 2 million. The U.N. has taken on a vast number of responsibilities in Kosovo (quite eagerly, it should be noted). According to the U.N. itself, these include "basic civilian administrative functions...the establishment of substantial autonomy and self-government...humanitarian and disaster relief...reconstruction of key infrastructure."

The U.N. has its hands in everything from Kosovo's schools to its banks. And unlike the U.N.'s abortive mission in Iraq, which ended when terrorists targeted the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters, terrorist bombings haven't intimidated the U.N. out of Kosovo. Just this month, a U.N. police officer was killed by a car bomb. He wasn't the first and won't be the last. (By abruptly pulling out after the August 2003 bombing in Baghdad, the U.N. gave Iraq's enemies exactly what they wanted.)

This is not a criticism of the U.N.'s role in serving as midwife to representative government in these places, a role that embodies perhaps the U.N.'s most important and honorable work. But it is a criticism of the U.N.'s selectivity and hypocrisy.

According to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, the main impediment to a wider U.N. role in Iraq is his inability to raise a 3,000-man U.N. security force. Never mind that U.N. personnel have been deployed to other hotspots without a security force anywhere near that size. Indeed, the real cause of the U.N.'s less-than-halfhearted interest in Iraq's democratic transition is the U.N. bureaucracy's opposition to the Iraq War and to the Bush administration's policies, an opposition nurtured and sustained by certain members of the U.N. Security Council.

But what could be more fitting? Iraq was liberated from Saddam Hussein in spite of the U.N., and it will be democratized in spite of the U.N.