HAVING seen the United Nations in action (or inaction), I wouldn't trust it to run a school safety crossing on a traffic-free day in a roadless town with no children.
The notion that the United States should cede any significant authority for the reconstruction of Iraq to the United Nations may appeal to forlorn lefties as well as to chicken hawks of the sort who like to declare wars then duck the responsibility for their aftermath. But it should outrage anyone who cares about the sacrifices made by our soldiers, the respect earned by our country or the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Iraq's citizens.
As a former soldier who supported the destruction of Saddam's criminal regime on practical and moral grounds, I am disgusted by those whose support for the war lay in selfish agendas and who now wish to escape the political costs of our actions.
Make no mistake: The United States can afford to do what remains to be done in Iraq. But we can't afford to be seen as a cheapskate superpower, seeking to evade our responsibilities while sticking others with the bill.
We must have the fortitude and spirit to finish what we have begun.
Certainly, voluntary aid is welcome, whether in the form of troops or funds. But we must resist any initiative, no matter the party of its sponsors, to cede the future of Iraq's long-suffering people to a U.N. administration. It is better to tighten our belts than to loosen our morals.
Why not just turn Iraq over to the United Nations and eat humble pie? Certainly, there are those among the never-served-in-uniform-and-never-will pack in Washington who deserve a mighty helping of comeuppance for their unwillingness to evaluate honestly the demands of a post-Saddam Iraq.
Nonetheless, there are vital reasons for keeping the United Nations in, at most, a subordinate role in the attempted transformation of Iraq - reasons even beyond the need for the United States to demonstrate that it can not only win wars, but answer the demands of peace:
* Human life may not be eternal, but U.N. projects are. The United States will strive to help Iraq, then leave. The United Nations would build yet another huge bureaucracy, employing out-of-work diplos and kleptos from Europe and the developing world. A U.N. administration in Baghdad (let's call it UNCARCI - the United Nations Coordinating Authority for Resurrecting Corruption in Iraq) would have no incentive to finish the job, but every reason to extend the mission indefinitely. Its primary interest would be self-perpetuation.
* The United Nations is blithely corrupt. Now, even America's best efforts will never eliminate corruption in any Arab society, including Iraq's. But good examples and firm policies can improve the situation. Iraqis need to learn a basic level of trust in their government, to gain some measure of confidence that not everything requires a bribe. It's a matter of degree, but a vital matter, nonetheless. Corruption, which we do not even consider as a strategic factor, has been the greatest single reason for the developing world's failure to develop. Does anyone in Washington really want a Nigerian to take Paul Bremer's place?
* The United Nations is anti-American. Sorry, but it's true. A U.N. mandate for Iraq's reconstruction would give our enemies a license to undo the considerable good we have done. The French, in particular, have no interest in democracy or human rights, preferring amenable dictators to any recognition of the popular will. Just ask the people of France's former colonies.
* While it may sound like an easy way out for our overstretched ground forces to have the United Nations relieve us of a large portion of our military responsibilities in Iraq, such a transfer of authority would be a gift to the last, die-hard Ba'athists and foreign terrorists. Just in the nick of time, they'd gain safe havens. The proposal to assign Egyptian or Turkish troops "peaceful" sectors in Iraq, thus freeing our soldiers to concentrate on the troubled Sunni triangle, simply means that the terrorists and assassins would find refuge outside of the Sunni-Arab area to which they are now largely confined.
* Image matters. America must demonstrate its strength of resolve and depth of resources. The Arab world - and the rest of the globe - watches to see if our military triumph will be followed by administrative failure. And we must have no illusions: Turning Iraq over to the United Nations would be seen as an American failure by our friends and enemies alike.
Given the magnitude of what we have achieved in Iraq thus far, the cost in treasure and blood has been remarkably low. If any political party's accountants warn that we "can't afford" to go on funding operations in Iraq, I will gladly give up my share of the recent tax cut. Our nation's dignity and purpose, and the respect accorded us by friends and enemies alike, is of far greater import than ideological shenanigans, whether committed by those on the left or those on the right.
The United Nations does, indeed, serve some worthy purposes. It gives the powerless the illusion of a voice (and reminds us, quite rightly, why so many of those thuggish voices remain powerless). It runs a number of reasonably effective, if whoppingly expensive aid programs. It can do peacekeeping in a benign environment, although it cannot make a peace. And it is the world's most effective employment agency for out-of-work bureaucrats - better even than the European Union.
But the United Nations cannot inspire values that a majority of its members do not share. How can we expect states that do not respect the human rights of their own populations to help the people of Iraq forge a rule-of-law democracy?
Whores should not be employed to teach morality. And the United Nations should not be employed to rebuild Iraq. Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of "Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World."