The U.N. can end these wars
It alone has enough clout to bring about peace in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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This question has new urgency, given the recent upswing in violence in Afghanistan and the sense emerging among many US leaders – from both parties – that military resources need to be speedily diverted there from Iraq.
One thing is clear. Neither of these victories will look like your grandfather's victory in the Pacific in 1945. Back then, Japan's army chief and top-hatted foreign minister traveled to the USS Missouri to sign a surrender document and hand it with full pomp to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
But victory in Iraq and Afghanistan will not depend, as in Japan, on defeating a standing national army. Instead, in each country, it will depend on defeating or defanging antigovernment insurgencies and helping midwife a governing system that:
•Enjoys domestic political "legitimacy," that is, it has the support of the vast majority of the country's citizens,
•Is sustainably able to deliver public security and other basic services to citizens throughout the whole country, and
•Has the tools to resolve in nonviolent ways the still-unresolved and yet-to-emerge conflicts among its citizens.
What we don't want is a replay of what happened in Vietnam, where the US declared "victory" but then withdrew humiliatingly, under fire, leaving the victors free to enact brutal retribution against our former allies.
Only one body can provide the leadership that's needed to defeat the insurgencies in both Iraq and – over a longer time frame – Afghanistan. That is the United Nations. Though it's far from a perfect institution, only the UN has the vital quality of worldwide legitimacy that allows it to mobilize global resources and expertise and make the tough decisions required in these two countries.
Regarding Iraq, we need to ask the UN to urgently convene two negotiating forums. One would sort out the thorny political dilemmas that remain inside the country. The other would bring together Iraq, all its neighbors, the US, and perhaps also the Arab League to agree on a plan for the drawdown – or total withdrawal – of US forces in a way that will not result in Iraq's neighbors moving in to exploit the resulting vacuum.