WASHINGTON Underlying the U.S. request for U.N. help in Iraq is a difficult acknowledgment by the Bush administration that America cannot always go it alone on the world stage.
Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the United Nations on Wednesday seeking a resolution that would give the world body a greater role in containing the violence that has unfolded in Iraq since the U.S.-led war pried the country from Saddam Hussein's grip.
As if anticipating I-told-you-so's from the nations that had wanted to deal with Saddam under a new U.N. mandate, Powell coupled his request with a reminder of the United Nations' collective decision ''not to fight the old battles'' over the use of military force, but to mend fences and join together in rebuilding Iraq.
''This is pragmatism winning out over unilateralism,'' said Max Boot, national security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. ''All this name-calling and one-upmanship really pales in comparison to the larger goal, which is reviving Iraq. I think we have to do what it takes to get that done. My sense is that the president is leaning more toward that mind-set as well.''
Still, it was a sizable slice of humble pie for the United States to eat after showing a clear preference for taking on big jobs by itself. In fact, Powell and other Bush aides wouldn't even call Wednesday's actions a shift in their go-it-alone approach; instead, they cast it as an ''evolution'' in Iraq policy, pointing out, for example, that more than 30 countries have sent 23,000 troops to Iraq.
''So many people have asked us for a political horizon, and this resolution is a way of creating such a political horizon, and demonstrating how we would get to that horizon,'' Powell said.
He spent time on the phone Wednesday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Russia, hoping to forge a more apparent global front.
''The president is belatedly doing the right thing,'' said Brookings Institution analyst Susan Rice. ''It is perfectly predictable that we would need the help and participation of others. But the price we're going to have to pay has increased substantially over what it might have been six or eight months ago. And it's impossible to quantify.''
Germany, for one, eyed the newest U.S. diplomacy warily, fearing the United States wants to get as many countries involved as possible while surrendering very little political control. The German government wants the United States to restore Iraq's sovereignty under U.N. supervision and is maintaining its anti-war stance, refusing any German military role.
France, a vehement critic of the U.S.-led war, immediately demanded that the United Nations ensure a swift transfer of power in Iraq to a new, internationally recognized government. Russia, long an advocate for a stronger U.N. role in Iraq, withheld its reaction to the push for a new resolution but said the United States had promised not to submit the document until it had consulted with Moscow.
The fact that these allies will have to be placated was a major factor in why the Bush administration was so slow to seek the world's help in Iraq, Rice said.
''The administration, unfortunately and foolishly, seemed to think that we knew everything, and could do everything by ourselves,'' she said. ''We're going to have to suck up our pride, acknowledge we don't know everything and do something (the Bush administration) doesn't like to do, which is consult. Build from the bottom up with others, rather than handing them a fait accompli.''
John Hulsman, European relations expert at the Heritage Foundation, suggested that the Bush administration adopt a ''cherry-picking strategy'' toward France, Germany and Russia to keep them from using the Iraq situation to thwart U.S. ability to act alone on future world issues.
The United States ought to work with those states on a case-by-case basis, avoid heated disagreements, take a leading role in reforming the NATO alliance and create a means for making ''politico-military'' decisions with them, Hulsman suggested in an Aug. 28 analysis.
"National security adviser Condoleezza Rice was wrong when she recently said, 'Punish the French, ignore the Germans and forgive the Russians,''' Hulsman wrote. ''A cherry-picking approach would lead to a different conclusion: Ignore the French (though work with them where possible), and engage the Germans and the Russians. This is, by far, the best way to secure America's diplomatic advantage in the wake of the Iraq war.''
Sonya Ross has covered national and international affairs for The Associated Press since 1992.
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