UN Resolution Does Not Authorize US To Use Force Against Iraq

Despite successfully pushing the U.N. Security Council to toughen further its already strict inspections regime against Iraq, the Bush administration appears ready to engage in unilateral military action. “If the Security Council fails to act decisively in the event of further Iraqi violations, this resolution does not constrain any member state from acting to defend itself against the threat posed by Iraq or to enforce relevant United Nations resolutions,” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte claimed immediately after last Friday’s vote.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The U.N. Security Council, in its unanimous adoption of resolution 1441, declares in Article 14 that it “decides to remain seized of the matter.” This is diplomatic language for asserting that the Security Council alone has the authority to determine what, if any, action to take regarding current or future Iraqi violations of their resolutions.

The U.N. Charter declares unequivocally in Articles 41 and 42 that the U.N. Security Council alone has the power to authorize the use of military force against any nation in noncompliance of its resolutions. It was the insistence by France, Russia and other nations that any alleged Iraqi violations be put before the Security Council to determine the appropriate response that delayed for seven weeks the adaptation of the U.S.-sponsored resolution.

Originally, the United States insisted upon the right of any member state to unilaterally attack Iraq if any single government determined that Saddam Hussein’s regime was violating the strict new guidelines. The U.N. Security Council categorically rejected the U.S. demand to grant its members such unprecedented authority to wage war. Instead, the resolution adopted insists that any alleged violations be brought forward by the inspection teams consisting of experts in the field, not by any member state. At such a time, according to the resolution, the Security Council would “convene immediately in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance.”

Why, then, has the Bush administration and its supporters in Congress and the media disingenuously reinterpreted the resolution? Apparently, President Bush has been determined for some time to go to war regardless of the level of Iraqi compliance but — given that public opinion polls indicate a majority of Americans would support a war against Iraq only if there was U.N. approval — he needs to claim U.N. authorization.

Lacking such authorization, he and his congressional and media allies have decided to claim that the United States has such authorization anyway.

One can therefore picture a scenario like this: In the early stage of the inspections process, some technical or bureaucratic glitch will emerge that other Security Council members believe is resolvable, but the United States will claim to be Iraqi noncompliance. The rest of the Security Council will insist the problem is not that serious, but the Bush administration will exaggerate the nature of the dispute and will claim the right to enforce the resolution unilaterally.

The vast majority of the international community will not support this conclusion, but Bush and his supporters will claim that the United Nations is prevaricating again and that it is up to the United States to enforce U.N. resolutions since the United Nations is supposedly unwilling to do so itself.

Iraq agreed back in September to accept a return of UN inspectors under conditions put forward by the Security Council that were already far stricter than those initially imposed after the Gulf War. In response, the Bush Administration threatened war unless the Security Council voted to strengthen them still further, essentially moving the goalposts.

There are more than 100 U.N. Security Council resolutions being violated by member states. Iraq is in violation of at most 16 of them. Ironically, Washington has effectively blocked the enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions against many other nations, since they include such countries as Morocco, Indonesia, Israel and Turkey that are allied with the United States.

At the same time, the Bush administration insists that the credibility of the United Nations is at stake if it doesn’t enforce by military means the resolutions against Iraq.

In reality, it is this kind of double standard that threatens the credibility of the United Nations.

Pelosi Win Not A Progressive Victory

Many liberals are celebrating the apparent victory of San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi to the leadership of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives. With foreign policy concerns now front and center in the political debate, some liberals concerned with peace and human rights issues hope that her election to the post of House Minority Leader is evidence that the Democrats may finally be ready to play the role of an opposition party. As evidence of this shift, so goes the argument, is Pelosi’s outspoken role as a defender of human rights in Tibet, East Timor and elsewhere.

A closer look at her record, however, reveals a far different picture. When the human rights abuser happens to be a key strategic ally and a recipient of large amounts of U.S. armaments, Pelosi has defended the Bush Administration’s policies.

The clearest example is her strident support for the right-wing Israeli government of Ariel Sharon, the former general widely considered by the international community to be a war criminal. While Israel represents only one-tenth of one percent of the world’s population and Israeli Jews enjoy the world’s sixteenth highest per capita income, Pelosi has supported sending a full one-third of all U.S. foreign aid to prop up Sharon’s fragile coalition government and to support his occupation forces in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights.

While insisting that Iraq and other countries the Bush administration does not like abide by UN Security Council resolutions, she considers UN Security Council resolutions directed at Israel as subject to negotiation with the Palestinians. Not only does Pelosi’s position ignore Israel’s legal obligations but it also ignores the clear asymmetry in power between the weak and corrupt Palestinian leadership and their Israeli occupiers.

Late last month, Amnesty International released a thoroughly-documented 80-page report detailing war crimes by Israeli occupation forces during its offensive in the West Bank this past March. This follows up upon a preliminary report issued during the offensive which noted how “the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] acted as though the main aim was to punish all Palestinians. Actions were taken by the IDF which had no clear or obvious military necessity.” The report went on to document unlawful killings, destruction of civilian property, arbitrary detention, torture, assaults on medical personnel and journalists, as well as random shooting at people in the streets and in houses.

These observations were confirmed by Human Rights Watch and other reputable human rights groups, including Israeli groups like B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Yesh G’vul.

In response, Assistant House Majority Leader Tom DeLay introduced a resolution which claimed that “Israel’s military operations are an effort to defend itself … and are aimed only at dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas.”

Most House members, who rarely get around to reading human rights reports, look to their leadership as to how they should vote on such resolutions. As assistant minority leader and a member of the so-called Human Rights Caucus, scores of Democrats looked to Pelosi to determine whom to believe: the right-wing fundamentalist Republican Congressman from Texas or the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights organization?

Pelosi chose to believe Tom DeLay, leading her fellow Democrats in voting in favor of his resolution, a vote widely interpreted as an attack on the credibility of Amnesty International and the human rights community as a whole.

During this same period, as peace and human rights activists spoke out in condemnation of the Bush Administration’s support for Sharon’s offensive (including a declaration by President George W. Bush that the rightist prime minister was a “man of peace”) Pelosi rushed to the administration’s defense, supporting a Republican-sponsored resolution praising President Bush’s “leadership” in the crisis. In throwing her support to Bush, she openly defied the growing discontent within the Democratic Party rank-and-file over the party leadership’s insistence on kowtowing to the Republican administration’s militaristic foreign policy agenda.

In response to demands by peace and human rights activists for a suspension of U.S. military aid to the Sharon government’s violations of the U.S. Arms Control Export Act, Pelosi supported a Republican-sponsored resolution calling for increasing military aid to Israel. In essentially rewarding Ariel Sharon for his rampage, she put herself on record as validating President Bush’s contention that increased arms transfers (not arms control) is the key to security in the Middle East.

In yet another example of where her priorities lie, Pelosi spoke at the annual convention of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a right-wing lobbying group with close ties to the Sharon government, during the height of the offensive, praising the Israeli government and condemning the Palestinians. At the same time, she refused a longstanding invitation to appear before a human rights forum in her own district.

Pelosi has long insisted that the Palestinians’ 1993 decision to recognize Israeli control over 78% of Palestine was not enough and that the Palestinians must learn to “compromise.” She has consistently blamed the Palestinians exclusively for the violence and for the breakdown in the peace process.

In addition, to rationalize for her support of Israel’s repressive occupation, she has chosen to re-write history. Pelosi now claims that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak’s proposal to create a Palestinian Bantustan on approximately 18% of Palestine that would have effectively divided the territory into four non-contiguous units with Israel controlling the borders, air space and water resources as “a generous and historic proposal.”

There are those who insist that Pelosi is actually a liberal at heart but she is forced to take these right-wing positions for political reasons.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Pelosi represents one of the most liberal districts in the country. It is also one of the safest districts in the country; she routinely wins re-election by close to 80% of the vote.

Furthermore, public opinion polls have consistently shown that most Americans believed that both sides are to blame for the ongoing violence. For example, a May 2002 poll indicated that a majority of Americans opposed Sharon’s invasion and his refusal to withdraw from the re-occupied Palestinian towns. It also showed that two-thirds of those polled believed the United States should be strictly even-handed in its approach to the conflict. According to Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Initiatives at the University of Maryland, “What this poll makes clear is that recent actions by Congress are out of step with the American public and their views on the crisis in the Middle East. Americans clearly hold both sides equally responsible for the current situation and are willing to increase pressure on a both sides to achieve a peace deal.”

Furthermore, a Time/CNN poll in April indicated that, in response to Israel’s offensive, 60% of Americans believed some or all U.S. aid to Israel should be suspended, while only 1% believed it should be increased. Pelosi aligned herself with that tiny right-wing minority.

If Nancy Pelosi is the best the Democrats can do for leadership, there is little hope of stopping George W. Bush.


It’s Iraq, Stupid!

This should have been the Democrats’ year.

The country is still mired in recession. Polls consistently have shown that the Republicans’ positions on such basic policy issues as the environment and the economy are decidedly unpopular. The connection of top administration officials with scandal-plagued corporations provided ample opportunities for a populist message against corruption and in support of economic justice.

Despite this, the Democrats became the first party out of office to lose one of the houses of Congress in an off-year election. It was the first time in a century that a Republican president saw his party gain seats in an off-year election and only the second time since 1934 that a sitting president’s party did not lose seats in Congress.

Instead of emulating the hugely successful 1994 Republican strategy of aggressively challenging the incumbent president and his party’s Congressional leadership, the Democrats instead decided to work on a consensus-building approach with the Republican administration. They even went as far as supporting President George W. Bush’s demand that he be granted the authority to invade Iraq without the legally-required mandate from the United Nations Security Council. In addition, the majority of Democrats went on record praising his support for last spring’s attacks by Israel’s right-wing government against civilian areas of the occupied West Bank. The Democrats went as far as supporting Republican calls authorizing the use of military force to free any citizen of the United States or an allied nation detained for war crimes by the United Nations’ International Criminal Court in The Hague.

As a result, many thousands of rank-and-file Democrats, longtime supporters of peace and human rights issues, voted for the Green Party or simply did not vote. Thousands more voted reluctantly for the Democratic nominee but did not put in the volunteer time or campaign contributions they would have otherwise, angered that the Democrats had shifted so far to the right.

It is noteworthy that both incumbent Democratic senators and five out of the six Democratic House incumbents who were defeated supported the Iraq war resolution. By contrast, no incumbent who opposed the Democratic Congressional leadership’s support of President Bush’s war plans lost, with the exception of Rep. James Maloney of Connecticut, who was pitted against a popular moderate female Republican incumbent in a redrawn district.

It is difficult to shift public attention to domestic issues in times of international tension. Making a strong case against the Bush administration’ s war plans, its support for repressive governments and its assaults on well-respected international institutions would have almost certainly resulted in a galvanizing of the Democratic Party faithful as well as large numbers of independents, insuring a Democratic victory.

The Democratic leadership should have recognized that calls for prescription drug benefits for seniors while the nation is concerned about an illegal, unnecessary and possibly devastating war simply did not catch the imagination of the voting public.

This was particularly problematic in that the Democrats were unable to explain how they intended to pay for such benefits while refusing to reverse recently-enacted tax cuts and in authorizing a military campaign that will cost up to $200 billion.

Hopefully, the Democrats will learn the lesson for Tuesday’s devastating defeat and decide to replace their discredited leadership with those who have the integrity and political smarts to return them to majority status.