Diplomacy, they say, is the art of having all sides feel they won. At the United Nations last week, President George W. Bush scored one for diplomacy in the transition to a democratic Iraq.
In the unanimous 15 — 0 vote at the United Nation's Security Council on Thursday morning, opponents of the invasion of Iraq, including Russia, Germany, France and Syria, all voted for the U.S.-led resolution for a post-war plan to rebuild Iraq. A bird's eye view of the Security Council Thursday morning showed a very satisfied U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte raising his hand to lead the consensus support.
After five different resolutions and 11th hour postponements of a final vote the night before, all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council voted to set a deadline of Dec. 15 to establish the timetable for the writing of a new constitution and holding elections in Iraq.
The success of the U.S.- led Resolution 1511 brings the battered United Nations back onto the scene in Iraq and allows the Bush administration to share the military, economic and political burden of the continuing conflict in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. It came about because of the persistence of U.S. negotiators to craft a compromise position while maintaining control of the actual transfer of power from the U.S. to an elected government.
But within minutes of the unanimous vote, the big three opponents of the invasion — Russia, France and Germany — stood before the U.N. press corps and took some wind out of the sails of the Bush Administration's success when they read a joint statement that complained of the pace of the transfer of authority and the role of the U.N. in the process. "In that context," the ambassadors said, "the conditions are not created for us to envisage any military commitment and no further financial contributions beyond our present engagement."
With daily casualty reports, ethnic conflicts rising and rampant crime, conflict-torn Iraq needs some solutions to avoid making the newly-approved U.S. contribution of $87 billion seem like merely a down payment for peace in the region. And regardless of all the reluctance, the vote at the U.N. was, at a minimum, a symbolic statement that the problem in Iraq is the world's problem — not just one for the U.S. — and that the U.N. can help.
Now, the administration has time to assess how to make the December deadline happen, to get a truly multinational military force involved, pony up some financial support and keep the U.N. in Baghdad, despite recent violence directed against it. Diplomatic solutions are only as worthwhile as their ability to actually effectuate change. Will Rogers once said that "Diplomats are just as essential to starting a war as soldiers are for finishing it....
You take diplomacy out of war, and the thing would fall flat in a week."
Frederic Eckhard, the U.N. Secretary General's spokesman told CBS News, "The Secretary-General is pleased that all 15 members voted for [the resolution] because in unity there is strength," but added, "He will do his utmost to carry out what the Council has asked him to do in support of this goal, but appreciates their recognition of the constraints he faces, particularly as regards the safety and security of U.N. Staff."
Unlike the previous votes on starting the war, the U.S. kept at it, picking off opponents one by one and revising the resolution five times, including some (although not all) of the amendments proposed by Germany, Russia, France, Syria and Pakistan, who wanted a more immediate transfer of authority to the Iraqis.
When the Bush Administration's diplomatic team returns from Asia, they will have the time to ask themselves why this resolution succeeded while the resolution to get into the war did not. "We have come together to help the Iraqi people and put all of our disagreements of the past in the past," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said after the vote on the U.S.-drafted resolution.
Several diplomats at the U.N. argued back in March that a resolution supporting the invasion could have been negotiated as well. "It was the lack of patience and flexibility," French foreign ministry spokesperson Marie Masdupuy told CBS News, adding "Why would we have supported earlier resolutions when the U.S. made it clear that it would invade with the U.N. or without it?"
This time at the U.N., American negotiators kept the ultimate decision-making on Iraq in the hands of the U.S.-led Coalition Authority, maintained a flexible timetable for the transfer of authority — and still brought the rest of the world on board. The vote was an important diplomatic victory for President Bush, giving him new credibility as he seeks support for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. CBS News Correspondent John Roberts, traveling with the president, reported. "The principle of give and take is the principle of diplomacy — give one and take ten," was Mark Twain's take on diplomatic wrangling.
This time the principle appeared to work at the U.N. — a lesson that the Bush Administration must keep in mind at this week's important donor conference in Madrid, Spain on Oct. 23-24 — a meeting of U.N. member states to pledge money for the stabilization of Iraq. As it stands now, the U.S. contribution is far and away the largest amount in the kitty. In an election season, American politicians seem to know how to fill their campaign coffers and next week's Madrid donor meeting is a good time to hone those skills to ante up some financial help for Iraq.