With its blueprint for Iraq in tatters, the Bush Administration has been forced to recognize the United Nations as the only body that can confer legitimacy on its continued occupation. In contrast to its disdainful dismissal of the views of the UN before the war, the White House repeatedly gave ground to win support of a Security Council resolution approving a new interim government.

In addition to agreeing to give Iraqi leaders control over their own security forces, the White House was forced to consent to a specific time limit for the multinational force it will command and to give the Iraqi government the right to ask American troops to leave before the expiration of the mandate on January 1, 2006. It also moved a little on the question of Iraqi control over US military actions, agreeing to consult and coordinate about fundamental issues, including “policy on sensitive offensive operations.” This is progress of a sort, a small victory for multilateralism and global politics by negotiation.

Despite the resolution, realities on the ground cannot be denied: The interim government is a creature of the United States, and US troops will still be viewed as an occupying force, with all the potential for violence that entails. Iraqis overwhelmingly want to run their own affairs, and they want US troops to leave. The UN, by bestowing its imprimatur, has provided an illusion of legitimacy, but events are likely to render that illusion temporary.