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Obeying the law of occupation

[JURIST] After winning an Iraq war, the US might gain the trust of Iraqis and the world at large by obeying the international law of occupation. So says Suzanne Nossel, a former senior adviser to Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, writing in the next issue of Legal Affairs, the new magazine associated with Yale Law School:

The challenge of rebuilding Iraq after Saddam may offer the United States the chance to recover from the crisis of legitimacy it suffered en route to Baghdad. When a prospective U.S. role in postwar Iraq was first discussed last year, critics pounced from both sides. They ridiculed leaked U.S. plans to install a proconsul in the Douglas MacArthur mold, strutting around with a cob pipe and dictating orders to a humiliated people. The notion of charging such an emissary with securing Iraq as a beachhead for democracy in the Middle East was dismissed as naïve. Yet critics also warned the United States against turning its back on Iraq and leaving the country to succumb to its ethnic divisions.

To shield itself from this dilemma, the Bush Administration should look to an unlikely source of support: international law, specifically the law of occupation. Despite the Administration's pattern of resisting international legal obligations as unbefitting a superpower, a commitment to uphold international law in Iraq will allow the United States to secure its own interests and restore its much-needed legitimacy in the eyes of the world. It will allow America to strike the right balance between overreaching paternalism and hands-off neglect. While the United States would do far better to style itself Iraq's temporary "trustee" or "protector" rather than its "occupier," a public commitment to the law would help to win the confidence of the Iraqis and the international community.
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