U.N. Go Home
by Stephen Schwartz
THE WAR FOR IRAQ'S LIBERATION began on March19. The fourth anniversary of the NATO intervention in Kosova was March 24. Kosovar Albanians, a majority of whom are Muslims, lead the Islamic world in their enthusiasm for America. But they hate the United Nations and the European meddlers in whose hands their fate was largely left after NATO's bombing ended. And Kosovar journalists are now warning the Iraqis of the fate that might await them if the U.N. is entrusted with their country's reconstruction.
My own experiences in Kosova after the NATO intervention may shed some light on the feelings of these journalists. I remember one night in particular, in the capital, Prishtina, in July 2000. Late in the evening, I had gone to a favorite café that served roast chicken. I had just finished my meal when the electric power went off throughout the province--a frequent occurrence. A groan swept through the little restaurant, because the place had no gasoline generator, and without power it couldn't cook, or serve food, or make coffee, or even get its dishes washed. Candles were lit on the patio, and a few hardy souls--Albanians, not foreigners--sat and smoked, drinking wine and brandy. The owner and waiters came out and joined them.
I got up and began making my way home, through the ancient Ottoman streets, with no light to guide me. I knew the town pretty well, and felt safe there; my only real worries were the potholes, other unseen obstacles, and the task of getting up the steps of my apartment building without tripping. My leg still hurt from an incident on another night without power, when I had thought something down in the darkness, pressing against my leg, would give way, and found out the hard way that it was a steel stanchion; I'd come away with deep cuts, and limped for a month.
Once I got home, there would be nothing to do; I had learned that one can't really read by candlelight, and I had no oil lamp. My television wouldn't work, I couldn't check e-mail or otherwise use my computer, and couldn't even listen to music. Like the restaurant I had just left, I had no generator. I wondered if the water would also shut down, leaving the toilets unflushed. I thought about the morning, and wondered whether there would be hot water, which depended on the power supply. I could wash my face and shave using bottled water. But without power I couldn't bathe, make coffee, or watch the news before heading off to my job. And there would be no air conditioning, not even an electric fan, in the oppressive summer heat.
Just then I passed the headquarters of UNMIK, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. The building, a skyscraper formerly occupied by a successful Yugoslav bank, was ablaze with light. All the windows shone, as if the bureaucrats within were working late. Of course, I knew almost nobody was there; by then they would have headed home to apartments better equipped than mine, where they might even have generators. The structure stood out in the darkness, a symbol of U.N. power in the wartorn province. And it struck me that the contrast between the burning lights and the surrounding darkness was also a symbol--of the gap between the two worlds in the occupied territory, the world of the international authorities and the world of the people. It fleetingly occurred to me that U.N. officials might actually have ordered the lights kept on to taunt the Kosovars with their might--but of course that couldn't be.
Yet in Kosova, the thought was not necessarily paranoid. True, people living in such conditions might easily experience a mild disorientation, as the power cuts and the filth imposed by unreliable water supplies took their toll. But it was also the case that jaundiced thoughts were a normal concomitant of life under the U.N. and its sister agencies in the "reconstruction" of Kosova. Along with the U.N., the European Union (E.U.) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) made up the "Four Pillars" charged with the healing of Kosova: The U.N. handled the First Pillar, police and justice, and the second, civil administration, while the E.U. took charge of economic reform, and the OSCE handled democratization and the formation of institutions.
The result has been a wholesale disaster, which, if it can serve for anything, must be taken as a textbook illustration of how not to proceed in postwar Iraq. The acronym UNMIK closely resembles the Albanian word anmik, which happens to mean enemy, and it was not long before this linguistic parallelism became a source of grim humor among Kosovar Albanians. Today, the leading Kosovar journalists fill their newspapers with commentaries on the bitter lessons of "reconstruction" by the U.N., the E.U., the OSCE, and their handmaiden, the "humanitarian mafia."
THE ELECTRIC POWER SITUATION, still a contentious topic today, was problematic from the beginning of reconstruction. In that same hot July 2000, in the very same plant that failed to produce electricity, I interviewed the chief technical officer of the Kosova power system, an Albanian. I listened to his litany of complaints about the foreigners--the lack of resources, and the endless appeals to his workers to commit their time and energy whether or not they were paid. What kept the power system going, he said, was "personal appeals and patriotism." In the second quarter of 2000, the 10,000 employees of the system had each been paid a total of 150 deutsche marks, or $77. At the end of our discussion, he suddenly turned to me plaintively and said, "Most of the foreigners I have met here don't seem to care what happens. You seem interested. You must help me. What is your advice to me?" The moment was as disturbing to me as it must have been to him.
Now, nearly four years after the fighting stopped, Kosova still endures a two-hour power cut every four hours, night and day, and even that schedule is by no means reliable--this in a province that, before the Milosevic era, exported power for hard currency to neighboring Albania and Greece.
Ibrahim Rexhepi, economics editor of the Prishtina daily Koha Ditore, wrote on March 21, "The United States promises that the Iraqi people will have a completely different life after the war--salaries, repaired roads, and electricity around the clock--whereas Kosova, four years after the war, is facing low salaries, a disastrous economy, roads rebuilt and then torn up again, and power cuts, as well as cuts in the supply of water and heat." Estimates of the funds disbursed for the reconstruction of Kosova range from $2 billion to $9 billion, the latter figure coming from the U.N. As Rexhepi pointed out, "The funds were spent, but Kosova now is not very different from what it was four years ago."
One problem is that not all the funds were used as intended. At the end of April, the former chairman of the Kosova Energy Corporation's advisory board, a 36-year-old German named Joe Trutschler, will go on trial in Germany. Trutschler is charged with embezzling $4.3 million in E.U. funds earmarked for purchase of power for Kosova from Bulgaria. Trutschler himself was paid $500,000 for his services in Kosova over three years, according to Koha Ditore, and faces a second indictment for falsifying his academic credentials. The missing money was transferred to Gibraltar, and Trutschler was located in nearby Alicante, Spain, where he surrendered to German authorities in December 2002. Trutschler reportedly offered differing cover stories for the theft, saying, for example, that he had taken the money with the intention of protecting the Kosova workers' pensions. Unnamed Kosovars are suspected of complicity in the scheme.
Maybe it seems unimaginable that Iraq, with its immense oil resources, could ever be without electric power in its cities. But, to repeat, Kosova once exported electricity, and its power plants were undamaged by the NATO bombing. The Kosovars themselves blame the chaotic state of their power system on the foreign reconstruction authorities. Koha Ditore editor Veton Surroi, in a column published March 22, described his surreal conversation with a Tunisian official of the International Monetary Fund. She was surprised that nobody spoke French in Kosova, and recommended that money be spent on education. But she had no idea where the money for education would come from, commenting, "We must analyze this." In reality, there is no money, and there is not even a Kosova state budget law.
The francophone Tunisian recommended an opening to foreign investors, and when confronted with the lack of legal guarantees for investment, repeated, "We must analyze this." As to the lack of electricity, she suggested importing energy from neighbors . . . except that there is no money to pay for it. For that, she had an answer: The Kosovars must pony up for the power they use. Some Kosovars themselves say revenue from power consumers could finance other needs, like education. But this is fantasy. Few Kosovars can afford to pay their current electricity bills; far fewer can pay their arrears; and even if they could, there is no accounting system in place to permit the responsible handling of the resulting revenues. Not surprisingly, Surroi concluded, "I was glad when I read in an article in the Wall Street Journal that the United States had decided to conduct the initial reconstruction of postwar Iraq itself, with contractors who work for the U.S. government. At least the Iraqi people will not have to undergo experiments."
KOSOVARS can offer a valuable insight into the situation we expect to face in Iraq. The U.N., they point out, never supported the NATO bombing of Serbia in the first place, so why should U.N. functionaries care how they carry out a mandate given them for reconstruction? Americans were naive, say Kosovars, to believe that the U.N. would effectively fulfill the tasks ceded to it in Kosova, after the international organization had opposed the intervention.
Many people seem to misunderstand what the U.N. is. They hear about potential United Nations involvement in Iraq, and believe that the peoples of the world will unite, through their U.N. ambassadors, to make Iraq whole after the war. But this perception is mistaken. The U.N. is not the nations of the world united. It is an enterprise located in a building in New York, with satellite operations around the world, employing a certain cadre of people of many nationalities, most of whom are time-servers and ideologues.
In my six years' experience in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosova, I never met a U.N. representative who failed to conform to a certain professional profile. They call themselves "internationals," and are generally young and inexperienced, although the heads of their missions tend to be old and uninterested. They have a strong prejudice against privatization, and too many of those chosen for economic responsibilities hail from Sweden and other countries where statist socialism remains the political religion.
Internationals have a bias against administrative regime change, and many rationalizations as to why areas they control should continue to operate under officials held over from totalitarian regimes. Recalling the socialist past of Tito's Yugoslavia, Surroi dubs the postwar regime in Kosova "UNMIK socialism." After NATO's intervention, the U.N. did everything possible to maintain or restore the positions of former socialist bureaucrats. Nor was restitution of private property seized under the Nazis, Communists, or the Milosevic regime ever considered. When U.N. and USAID officials cooperated to draft a regulation on privatization, Kosovar experts objected that its principal effect would be to reaffirm state ownership of nationalized property rather than to restore private property rights. The website of the Kosovo Trust Agency, the body overseeing privatization, states, "The KTA has been established to preserve or enhance the value, viability, and corporate governance of socially owned and public enterprises in Kosovo."
UNMIK socialism dispenses with even the deficient standards of auditing and accounting that existed under the old Yugoslav system. Writes Surroi, "Millions and millions of deutsche marks went from one hand to the other in the guise of rents or incomes of enterprises, and not one pfennig was ever placed in a Kosova budget account. During three years, hundreds of millions of deutschemarks have gone from one pocket to the other without the slightest exercise of public oversight. In Kosova, there are institutionalized opportunities for theft and corruption. Meanwhile, there are no opportunities for enterprises to function and new jobs to be created."
The internationals also have an unfortunate collective culture. Most of them sign three-month contracts, and can't wait to get away. Internationals do not learn the local languages. They do quickly acquire boyfriends and girlfriends from among the local populace, but they otherwise fear the natives, and tend to stay locked up in their compounds, driving around in large vehicles while local people walk. At worst, they introduce sexual exploitation in the form of prostitution; in Kosova, Moldovan and other impoverished women were imported for this purpose. If pleasant vacation spots are handy--like Dubrovnik for those stationed in Bosnia, or Greece for those in Kosova--the internationals spend as much time there as they can.
Once these locusts have descended on a country, the economic gap between them and the local population quickly yawns, with scandalous results. Internationals are typically compensated at 10 times the wages of the highest-paid local expert or employee, and while locals may have to pay taxes, internationals do not. Though local professionals, such as university teachers, earn the munificent sum of $100 per month (usually at least two quarters in arrears), their children earn $750 working as translators and drivers. In Kosova, at least 30 percent of all income was based on services to the internationals in 2000, according to UNMIK. If anything, the figure has risen since.
The "democracy" imported by the humanitarian mafia is an unattractive product, as well. In Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosova alike, foreigners imposed bizarre systems of "weighted" voting, and demanded that, to satisfy their own addiction to political correctness, 30 percent of candidates be women. Media came under the supervision of Europeans who do not believe in the First Amendment conception of freedom, or in libel laws as a remedy for press excesses, but who do believe in censorship and the licensing of journalists.
Worst of all, whole areas of public life are simply ignored. In the Balkans, the internationals were uncomfortable meeting with religious leaders, and almost never did so. They cared nothing about labor reform, or repair of collapsing pension systems, or culture. In Kosova, during decades of Serbian domination, the Albanians had established an extraordinary "parallel" school system, in which teachers were paid in clothing, food, transportation, and other goods and services. Kosova had 28,000 education workers, serving 400,000 students in more than 800 institutions. Children were transported to and from their classes, hot lunches were dispensed, medical personnel were available, and school premises kept clean--all by parents and other volunteers. The teachers, who represented the civic conscience of the Kosovars, looked forward to U.N. expenditures to regularize their schools. They were out of luck. The first action of the international administration in Kosova was to announce that education must start over from zero.
Since the U.N. had no money for education, the teachers would be paid in scrip, exchangeable for relief supplies. But first, all janitors, cooks, and nurses were fired. No more milk or hot food would be served; school bus service was shut down. It is no wonder, then, that the streets of Prishtina soon filled with children spending their days out of school, selling cigarettes. Nor was it surprising that in 2002 the first group of public employees to strike against the foreign rulers were schoolteachers.
The Kosovars had also done a marvelous job, under Serbian domination, of maintaining a "parallel" private economy, thanks to remittances from their large diaspora in Western Europe and the United States. Here again, the attitude of the U.N., E.U., and related entities was one of unrelieved hostility. Banking and insurance were not among the U.N.'s priorities. No support was given to Kosovar entrepreneurship, investment by the diaspora was discouraged, and the only schemes for economic revival were modeled on Yugoslav socialism. The Sharr cement plant, for example, was offered for tenders by prospective new owners in the spring of 2000, with great fanfare, but with all the familiar featherbedding and a discretionary fund for the political use of bosses. Kosovars soon came to understand that economic reconstruction meant going back to Tito's "self-managed" socialism, every industry top-heavy with parasitic bureaucrats. Claims to ownership of property by the former Serbian masters of the region were given equal standing with those of long-oppressed Albanians--hardly surprising, since no proper judicial system was put in place.
IS THIS THE FATE that awaits the Iraqis? Will they see the statist economy established by the Baath party preserved? Will ordinary people find, if they go into a government office, that the same Baathist bureaucrat who bullied them before "liberation" still sits at his desk? Will Iraqi workers continue to be dragooned into Baathist trade unions, with strikes virtually outlawed, while entrepreneurs find they must operate without secure banking and insurance systems? Will Shia, Kurdish Sufi, and other Iraqi religious leaders, including representatives of the country's significant Christian communities, find the doors of the internationals closed to them?
Will Iraqi journalists discover that "media commissions" have been established to govern their reporting? Will Iraqis vote under rules designed by foreigners who do not speak their language? Will internationals create a dual society, in which they live off the fat of the land while the locals are humiliated? Will a sex industry thrive off foreign patronage? Will Iraqis find, as Kosovars did, their streets patrolled by retired police from Europe and America looking for a job involving little work--or by incompetent police imported from Third World countries, some of whom had never driven a car or fired a sidearm? Will Iraq, like the Balkans under the humanitarian mafia, become at once a playground for restless young careerists and a dumping ground for has-beens?
Kosovar journalist Beqe Cufaj, German correspondent for Koha Ditore, summed up the situation eloquently on March 23: "This morning when Berlin announced that the U.N. secretary general and the Security Council have tasked Germany and its government with compiling an urgent plan for humanitarian aid to postwar Iraq, a Kosovar could not help but shudder. . . .Let us hope this really involves humanitarian aid and nothing else. . . . Because if the Iraqi people have to undergo anything like what we have in Kosova, God help them. . . . That should be the message to the Iraqis from the Kosovars, a people experienced with the U.N. and exhausted by life in UNMIKistan!"
The same message should also go out to President Bush, who should carry it forward as his own, American conception of postwar reconstruction in Iraq. The president should stress economic freedom and investment as the bases of political and social transformation. He should make it clear we stand for the downsizing of government under a new administration free of Baathist holdovers. He should announce a new orientation in the work of the relevant U.S. agencies: toward privatization and supportive of entrepreneurship.
President Bush should also outline a strategy of exporting American political principles rather than our specific institutions. While institutional transplantation may or may not work, an injection of basic American values such as freedom of the press, business accountability, and the security of contracts cannot fail.
President Bush should further state that our intention is not to repeat the experiences of Germany and Japan, in which an American postwar authority completely reorganized economies and imposed constitutional arrangements. Rather, he should point to South Korea and Taiwan as models: countries where the United States extended an umbrella of security that permitted local entrepreneurial and creative energies to be liberated, transforming each country from within, on its own cultural terms. Some of the most progressive Islamic figures today--exemplified by democratic politicians in Turkey--point to South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan as countries that have attained stability, prosperity, and freedom without sacrificing their non-Western cultural traditions.
Finally, President Bush should form a special task force of experts in privatization, drawn from the private sector and from academic departments committed to the free market in countries where privatization and democratization have been successful, such as Spain, South Korea, and the Czech Republic--countries that are, not coincidentally, members of the coalition of the willing.
Kosovars are not alone in seeing parallels with Iraq; the province's ugly experience is widely invoked. Michael Steiner, the current U.N. governor of Kosova, said only days ago that he believes Iraq must be rebuilt by the U.N., with ten times as many foreign functionaries as flooded into the Balkans--hundreds of thousands. Iraqi opposition leader Bakhtiar Amin visited Kosova at the same time and said the trip left him convinced the U.N. must be excluded from the reconstruction of his country.
The United States must not permit the U.N., with its terrible record in the Balkans, among the Palestinians, in Africa, in Cambodia, and elsewhere, to inflict its incompetence and neuroses on the people of Iraq. Iraq is fighting for its freedom, after the long brutalization it has endured. America the liberator must prove that we meant what we said about the freedom and prosperity of the Iraqi people--while the U.N., the E.U., and their associates preferred the status quo. Iraq deserves better--and so do we, for the sacrifices we shall have borne. The first step is to recognize what not to do in postwar Iraq. And the name of that tragedy is Kosova.