Living in the Kenyan highlands during this war in Iraq I've felt like those Japanese soldiers who thought they were still supposed to be fighting when they were plucked out of Pacific island jungles in the 1970s. In the middle of Laikipia we live without TVs, telephones or newspapers. Visitors bring us news, but people up here are more interested in the prospects of rain than the latest from the Baghdad battlefront. We do have a radio, a special satellite one with an antenna, but halfway through Tony Blair's speech the other day, a vital cable got tangled around my chair leg and snapped when I yanked at it. Then we got stranded on the farm because the jerrycan of what somebody thought was petrol being poured into the Range Rover turned out to be river water. That buggered things up nicely for a bit. We had a blissful few weeks, buying red Boran cattle, dosing sheep, watching the baby zebra, oryx and hartebeest being born at the end of the dry season. And when we finally made it to the neighbours, I realised our boys had won. Missed the whole thing.
Now, I am aware that there has been some debate about who should run things in Iraq, with many arguing that it should be the United Nations. Can I just say that, having observed as a foreign correspondent the UN in Somalia and Rwanda, the idea of allowing this 'world body' to handle anything other than bags of genetically modified grain seems to me very rash indeed.
In Mogadishu, after the Americans intervened to end the famine, they handed the task of rebuilding the collapsed nation to the UN, which blithely declared that democratic elections would be held within 18 months. It's true that some pretty nasty Yanks were in command of the operation, and quantities of civilians were machine-gunned. But in terms of 'nation-building' on the ground the UN operated like a tower of Babel staffed by civilian officials on secondment from the world's most brutal, incompetent Third World dictatorships. These people attended seminars, spouting edicts about gender-balanced councils, habeas corpus and respect for human rights that simply didn't exist in their own countries. And their prescriptions were all such fiction when applied to the realities of Somalia. We used to call the UN base MogaDisney. And it was filthy corrupt. In a headquarters guarded by 10,000 troops – Turks and Zimbabweans mostly – somebody stole $3.5 million in cash out of the UN's administration office (the money was stored in a filing cabinet). The wonga came in $100 bills and the volume was such that the thieves had to load it all onto a pick-up and then drive out of the base through several blue-helmet checkpoints. Nobody was ever prosecuted. The UN abandoned Somalia in 1995 and the country remains in chaos.
And as for France and the UN, we should recall the events of 1994 in Rwanda. Let's face it, the UN Security Council didn't become irrelevant on the eve of the latest war. It proved how superfluous it was when it stood by and did nothing to prevent the genocide in Central Africa nearly a decade ago. While covering the war from the rebel Tutsi side in Rwanda I remember being attacked by helicopters piloted by whites. Who were they? Well, soon afterwards I covered the conflict from the other side, where I saw numbers of French troops at the Hutu frontlines. As we all know, the French-financed and trained Hutu extremists went on to massacre up to a million civilians. What did France do? They got UN backing to launch Operation Turquoise, which involved the unilateral invasion of French troops into southwest Rwanda, which covered the retreat of the Hutus from advancing Tutsi forces. The killers were then spirited into safety abroad. When we got to Goma, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, the scenes of French troops and Hutu leaders in backslapping conversations were sickening to see.
Of course the French went on to regroup and train the Hutu genocidaires in the jungles of Mobutu Sese Seko's kingdom. This in turn sparked the Congo war, which has killed up to 3.5 million people to date. The violence in Central Africa continues. And France poses as peacemaker in the UN when we come to the Iraq war, where civilian deaths appear to be still well below 2,000.
Petronella Wyatt is away.