This commentary appeared in New York Times on September 13, 2003.
"Let NATO do it."
This admonition has become a standard response to military challenges, from
Bosnia to Kosovo to Afghanistan. It should now be applied to Iraq.
President Bush's address on Sunday acknowledged that America needs help from
other countries. American and British casualties continue, postwar costs have
prompted Mr. Bush to seek more than $70 billion from Congress, and occupation
troops are increasingly required to carry out police work and other tasks they
are not trained to perform. This comes after Secretary of State Colin Powell
praised NATO for taking on "new responsibilities it must meet in parts of the
world that could never have been contemplated" when it was formed.
So what are we waiting for?
First, there are still some doubts in Washington that key allies will be prepared
to take part, and also concern that some might use their veto power within NATO
to thwart effective action. But these fears have more to do with the bitter
prewar debate than with current reality. In fact, much of French, German and
popular European opposition to the war stemmed precisely from concern that postwar
Iraq would pose the challenges it does now. Proved right, many Europeans are
sympathetic to the Iraqis' plight.
And whatever our NATO allies thought of the war, they know that the old security
system in the Middle East has been shattered. They—and every other country
with a stake in oil, global stability, Israel-Palestine peace, ending terrorism
and stopping weapons of mass destruction—have no choice but to support
the thrust of American policy. Furthermore, several allied states have more
experience than America does with "nation building"—for instance, France
in West Africa, the Scandinavians in the Balkans and elsewhere—and they
can deploy their well-trained paramilitary forces.
Yes, France could always play dog-in-the-manger. But President Jacques Chirac
has sketched out terms under which it will be involved—the direction of
France's policy is decided; only the price is in doubt. And, as the American
ambassador to NATO during operations in Bosnia, I know that France performs
militarily as well and as faithfully as any other ally, even when NATO runs
The administration is also concerned that NATO will become involved only under
a broad United Nations mandate, which could cause America to lose control and
be replaced by United Nations bureaucrats. Yes, if Washington simply turned
matters over to the United Nations, that fear could be realized. But almost
no one suggests that the United Nations would take operational control.
Rather, we have plenty of precedents for an effective NATO intervention that
starts from a far-reaching United Nations mandate. In 1995, the Security Council
created a force to go into Bosnia but made clear it would be run "through the
NATO chain of command." NATO thus acted as the United Nations' agent, and the
arrangement worked. Something similar was done in Kosovo, with equal military
It is also clear that when NATO is formally in charge, America dominates operations
under the organization's supreme allied commander, now a Marine general, James
Jones. For half a century, every ally has accepted this—including France,
which has deployed forces under our leadership even in engagements falling outside
the organization's charter.
For several weeks, the administration has debated whether it should modify
the view that as sole superpower, it can do whatever it wants wherever it wants.
To get needed help in Iraq, including major financial support from European
Union countries, returning to the last half-century's commitment to working
with others seems the obvious choice. NATO is the answer, and the sooner the
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