Seized of the matter

UN babel

UN Security Council passes resolution on Iraq

After weeks and weeks of wrangling, negotiation, and debate — and, one suspects, a lot of behind-the-scenes making nice by Colin Powell — the United Nations today passed by a margin of 15-0 a U.S.-sponsored resolution on Iraq. Since the NY Times was thoughtful enough to provide the complete text of the resolution, I thought it might be interesting to actually read the resolution.

Don't try this at home! My word processor calculated that the resolution is comprised of 11,284 characters forming 1729 words, arranged in 8 paragraphs plus 26 numbered bullet points. By my count, there are 12 GERUNDS and 30 main VERBS; these are written in all uppercase letters, making their enumeration easy.

The resolution also just one (1) sentence! There is only one sentence-ending period from beginning to end. I'm not making this up! Feel free to make your own analysis of the resolution text.

In senior high school English class, we were taught to diagram sentences as a way to clarify meaning. Regrettably I was unable to apply this technique, inasmuch as the largest piece of paper I could find was only 24in x 36in (61cm x 91cm).

I then decided to strip away everything except the subject and verbs:

The Security Council REAFFIRMS..., UNDERSCORES..., WELCOMES..., SUPPORTS..., DETERMINES..., AFFIRMS..., CALLS UPON..., INVITES..., RESOLVES..., REQUESTS..., TAKES NOTE..., REQUESTS..., REQUESTS..., DETERMINES..., AUTHORIZES..., URGES..., DECIDES..., EXPRESSES..., EMPHASIZES..., EXPRESSES..., UNEQUIVOCALLY CONDEMNS..., EMPHASIZES..., CALLS UPON..., APPEALS..., URGES..., CALLS UPON..., EMPHASIZES..., REMINDS..., REQUESTS..., [and finally] DECIDES to remain seized of the matter.

"DECIDES to remain seized of the matter" — What the hell does that mean? It is now clear why the resolution passed without opposition: Who could be against deciding to remain seized of the matter?

I suppose this is a good thing. After all, the last time the Security Council all agreed on something was the resolution telling Saddam that he had to shape up or else. As I read it, there are some important kernels of agreement amongst the chaff:

  • defines a strengthened the role for the UN in Iraq, including humanitarian relief, economic reconstruction, and establishing a representative government
  • explicitly authorizes a multinational security force and asks for assistance with it, including military forces
  • calls upon member states to train and equip Iraqi police and security forces
  • urges "substantial pledges" at the Donor's Conference next week

Having made a mostly unilateral mess of Iraq, the Bush administration has had to go to the UN with its hand out, begging for help. After leaving the administration to twist in the wind for the past several weeks, it seems that our allies are now satisifed that W has finally cried Uncle.

Chalk one up for Colin Powell and the forces of reason. Now, if W will just tell Cheney, Rummy, and Wolfie to shut up for a while.