A step

October 17, 2003

ALMOST AT THE LAST moment, the Bush administration succeeded in the difficult task of winning unanimous consent on the United Nations Security Council for a resolution that endorses American plans for the future of Iraq. The resolution essentially acknowledges the reality of the occupation; that is not, perhaps, a stunning victory for diplomacy, but it does suggest that other nations have at least been persuaded to stop standing in America's way simply for the sake of doing so.

Now comes the far more difficult task: acting on the resolution in a way that will give it real meaning. Otherwise, it risks becoming a pointless scrap of paper.

The resolution should be taken as a starting point. The United States fended off demands by Russia, France and Germany that it agree to share power in Iraq with the Security Council; those countries, in the end, concluded that some kind of agreement was better than none. Their aim, clearly, is to haul the United States -- gradually, if need be -- into a more cooperative stance.

That's not necessarily counter to American interests. Help in Iraq -- political, military and material -- would be welcome. The administration has been perfectly clear on that. The best way to secure such help would be to seize on the spirit of the resolution, take the trouble to engage in extensive consultations with America's allies, and act as though international opinion not only matters but is welcome. America, in other words, should aim to haul the rest of the world -- gradually if need be -- into a more cooperative stance.

The resolution may not represent a brilliant triumph of American policy but it is a very encouraging step forward -- not least because the administration was willing to pursue it despite widespread initial opposition on the Security Council. The United States took the trouble to win over its erstwhile allies. That's new since last winter.

At one time, Washington was hoping that such a resolution would give Pakistan and India the political cover at home that they would need to send troops to Iraq. It no longer appears to be sufficient. But it could at least lay the groundwork for later agreements with willing countries.

Recently the administration put pressure on Turkey to contribute soldiers, but then it ran into the inconvenient -- and apparently unexpected -- opposition of the Iraqis themselves. Evidently, the thinking in the White House was that Turks as Muslims would make fine peacekeepers, but Washington neglected to consider the history of the Turks in Baghdad. Less than a century ago, they were imperial overlords there, and old memories die hard. And there's nothing old at all about Kurdish distrust of Turkey.

That kind of blundering could be better avoided if the White House would consider taking an occasional bit of advice from others, including foreigners. This resolution holds out the prospect that that might happen.

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