Quagmire, anyone?

After spending the past year showing the United Nations who’s boss, the Bush administration is looking to the Security Council for help in Iraq. (That’s got to hurt.) Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that Washington may now be willing to internationalize its occupation of Iraq via a new U.N. resolution. Details are still vague, but it’s clear the administration’s first choice would be to secure international money and military support (and have other countries take a share of the blame if things go wrong) in return for…total U.S. control. The U.N. has other ideas.

As David E. Sanger and David Firestone from the New York Times note, the Bush administration’s conversion to multilateralism is the clearest sign yet that the situation in Iraq has gotten out of hand. In other words, the Bushies are freaking out:

“Mr. Bush’s decision came in a meeting this afternoon with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. While not unexpected, it was a tacit admission that the current American-dominated force is stretched too thin. It also amounts to one of the most significant changes in strategy since the end of major combat in Iraq.”

Washington may want to retain control, but the draft resolution, writes the Financial Times’ Jean Eaglesham, will likely be a quid pro quo between Washington and the Security Council, giving the U.N. a larger role in Iraq’s economic and political future in return for military and financial support. According to Reuters, Powell said the U.N will be given in “a broader role in helping raise money for reconstruction, creating an electoral system and other ‘nation-building’ tasks.”

As the Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Ford points out, other nations are (understandably) reluctant to put their troops in harm’s way unless they get something for their trouble: “Potential contributors of larger numbers of troops trained for conditions in Iraq, such as India and Turkey, are nervous about sending their soldiers into an increasingly ugly situation. And a new U.N. Security Council resolution will probably require Washington to give up significant control over political developments in Iraq.”

But Counter Punch’s Virginia Tilley doubts whether the U.S. can, in fact, bring itself to cede control, given the amount of dough at stake in Iraq.

“The prospects for mulilateral action in Iraq are dismal for obvious reasons. Sinking over its hips in the muck of occupation, the US needs help of every kind: moral, political, military, and financial. To get this help, the US clearly needs the UN both for its resources (experienced staff and relevant aid agencies) and for its unique legitimacy in peacekeeping that can usher in other powerful allies and their own resources. Even denuded of any semblence of independence, the UN retains enough of this legitimacy to allow the French and other major powers, as well as NGOs, to help rebuild Iraq–but only if the UN is formally granted authority over the occupation. Will the US grant that authority? Doing so would compromise the three goals which drove the US invasion: unilateral US leverage over the world oil supply; unassailable US hegemony over western and central Asia; and fabulously lucrative contracts to its crony capitalists. With these glorious goals seemingly in their hands, will the neoconservatives running US foreign policy sacrifice them by inviting rival states to share in them, for the sake of Iraqi welfare and reconstruction? Unimaginable.”

But the administration may yet conclude that even Iraq’s riches aren’t worth the trouble of going it alone. The Congressional Budget Office released a study (PDF) on Tuesday putting the cost of military operations in Iraq at anywhere between $8 billion and $29 billion a year (which is one way to improve your odds of being right), and pointing out that the U.S. Army doesn’t have enough active-duty troops to continue its current mission in Iraq. To make up the shortfall, says the report, the military would have to draw from the reserves, create additional units, or terminate or scale back operations in other regions to field a larger force.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va, who commissioned the report called called it “quantified evidence that the long-term occupation is straining our forces close to the breaking point.”

Of course, as a Democrat, he would say that. But et tu, John McCain? “Obviously we are not getting the job done,” said America’s favorite straight-talking veteran on Good Morning America.

“If we don’t turn things around in the next few months, we are facing a very serious long-term, problem, our men and women are doing an outstanding job, but there’s not enough of them. The State Department is not doing their job.”

Enter the United Nations, and welcome back.


What's going to happen next as the headlines grow crazier and more disconcerting by the day. But we do know the job of an independent, unrelenting press is more important than ever—and the ongoing commitment of MoJo readers to fight for a democracy where facts matter and all can participate is absolutely vital.

If you feel the urgency deep in your bones like we do, please consider signing up as a monthly donor during our fall pledge drive to support Mother Jones' fair and fearless reporting for the long haul (or make a one-time gift if that works better for you). The headlines may fade, but the need to investigate the powerful never will.