U.N.’s Role in Iraq

As usual, Frank J. Gaffney Jr. makes a number of good points in his column, “Not the time to wobble” (Commentary, Tuesday), including the broad argument that the Iraq mission might go much worse if we internationalize it the wrong way.

That said, I believe there are ways to internationalize the mission without harming its prospects for success—and getting more help for U.S. troops in the process.

In particular, we should promote a U.N. Security Council resolution that would give the United Nations the same kind of control in Iraq that it has had in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor. However, we should insist simultaneously that NATO run the military mission. We should further insist that U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer be U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s first special representative in Iraq.

Chances are very high that the world body would accept this package proposal. First, everyone knows that U.N. peacekeepers or “blue helmets” cannot handle a military job as tough as Iraq. They floundered in difficult missions in places such as Bosnia and Somalia in the early 1990s; no one is interested in repeating those sagas. That is why NATO has taken on the missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. No alternative body is available for Iraq; only NATO is credibly up to the job, and this point is beyond serious debate in most of the international community.

That is good news for the United States, because NATO’s top officer is American Gen. James L. Jones. It is further likely that Gen. Jones could designate Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the head of U.S. forces in Iraq today, as his field commander for the military mission. Gen. Sanchez might have to work with an Italian, Norwegian or Polish deputy, but we can live with that. Other countries would recognize that it is only reasonable that given the preponderance of American forces in Iraq, an American be the top commander on the ground.

American troops would always be under the overall command of U.S. leaders with this approach. They might someday come under the tactical command of another NATO officer if we agreed to it in a specific situation or two. But NATO is a highly professional organization, and it works well even when NATO politicians squabble—witness what has been going on in the Balkans and Afghanistan over the past year. This is not a threat to American troops in any way.

Second, precedent also suggests that the party providing the most troops and funding, and with the greatest interests at stake, is accorded special civilian and administrative influence in any U.N. mission. Retired U.S. Adm. Jonathan Howe was Boutros Boutros Ghali’s special representative in Somalia; Europeans from NATO countries usually have held the top administrative jobs in Bosnia and Kosovo.

At some point in the future, we might have to see Mr. Bremer replaced, given how these missions typically work. However, we can stipulate that his first successor, at least, must be British, in keeping with the United Kingdom’s special contribution to the war and peacekeeping effort to date. Again, precedent is firmly on our side.