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Should we support a UN occupation?

By Elizabeth Schulte | May 16, 2003 | Page 6

THE U.S. occupation is proving that the antiwar movement was right to question whether the Bush gang cared about ordinary Iraqis. U.S. forces have been slow to accomplish the most basic humanitarian tasks, much less to promote democracy in Iraq. Meanwhile, U.S. corporations are already pumping Iraqi oil.

This is in keeping with the long and ugly history of U.S. imperialism. Washington never sends its soldiers to fight for democracy and liberation. It intervenes when economic interests or political power are at stake.

For this reason, some antiwar activists have concluded that the solution lies in an impartial, international force--like the United Nations (UN)--to carry out "nation building" in Iraq.

To judge from this week's draft resolution to the UN Security Council, the U.S. wants to cut the UN out of any significant role in postwar Iraq. But even if it did have a role, the UN's record shows that it is neither impartial nor successful at peacekeeping or nation building.

Take the case of Namibia in Southern Africa. For decades, Namibians had struggled for independence from apartheid South Africa without UN intervention--until they came close to winning in the late 1980s. At that point, UN forces came to monitor a cease-fire between SWAPO liberation fighters and South African troops.

Under the watchful eye of UN peacekeepers, SWAPO fighters were disarmed--while South African troops butchered 200 of them. In the run-up to the 1989 elections, UN and South African troops together terrorized the population.

UN forces were also on the scene to monitor elections in Angola in 1991 between the U.S.- and South Africa-backed UNITA rebels and the country's left-wing government. The UN presence effectively gave credibility to the brutal UNITA and its candidate, Jonas Savimbi, who promised a bloodbath if he lost. Savimbi kept his promise. For the next two years, some 1,000 people a day were killed in Angola, as UN observers looked on.

The stated intention of the U.S.-led UN mission to Somalia in 1992 was to feed starving people whose country was being ravaged by civil war between hostile warlords. But the U.S. had more to gain from leading this intervention--as a test of its use of the UN as a humanitarian cover for its military interventions around the globe.

The mission to Somalia failed on all counts. Not only did starving people continue to go unfed during the UN intervention, but the illusion of helpful international forces coming to make peace was burst. As the occupation continued, it became clear that the U.S. was using the UN as a cover to install its preferred military faction in power.

In addition, the sickening racism and brutality displayed by international troops further stoked the anger of Somalis, who rightly came to see these forces not as peacekeepers but occupiers. An estimated 10,000 Somalis were killed during the peacekeeping. One news service distributed a photo of Belgian peacekeepers holding a Somali child over a fire.

In 1999, the U.S. led the NATO alliance in a war against the Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic--supposedly to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo. But while UN peacekeepers deployed after the war stood by, Albanians drove tens of thousands of Serbs from their homes--in effect, reverse ethnic cleansing. Rather than keeping the peace in Kosovo, UN troops have presided over violence and misery.

The UN's mission of "promoting peace" hasn't stopped it from backing wars. As in Somalia, the UN happily provided cover for the U.S. war on Iraq in 1991--in the name of preserving "democracy" in Kuwait, a country run by a hereditary monarchy. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the bombing campaign alone. But the crippling economic sanctions that followed--imposed by the UN, under orders from the U.S.--took an even greater toll.

Then there are the crises that the UN ignores--like the genocide of as many as 1 million ethnic Tutsis by the Hutu-led Rwandan government. In the spring of 1994, as the genocide began, the UN--at the insistence of Washington--began pulling out of Rwanda.

Why is the UN such a miserable failure at nation building? One reason is that it is dominated by the U.S. government, which can either bend the UN to its will, or flout it if it can't.

But the UN's failures are inevitable--because it is an "international body" whose actions are dictated by the leaders of world's most powerful states, for their own interests at the expense of the people of all countries. The only "international body" capable of bringing true democracy is the international working class--which is the opposite of what the UN represents.

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