Governments genuinely concerned about improving human rights and humanitarian conditions around the world have generally recognized the enormous contribution of international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in relieving human suffering in time of armed conflict and natural disaster. Such governments have welcomed the rising influence of humanitarian NGOs and have respected their independence, neutrality, and impartiality – attributes essential for effective humanitarian NGO action.
Recently, however, certain Bush administration policies have forced humanitarian NGOs working in coalition-occupied Iraq to confront a number of vexing ethical, political, theoretical, and practical dilemmas. The invasion of Iraq polarized international public opinion and placed many traditional U.S. allies in clear opposition to Bush administration policy. The coalition partners failed to convince the international community at large of the need to go to war or of the genuineness of their war aims. By taking military action against Iraq without clear approval from the United Nations (UN) Security Council, the Bush administration marginalized the UN and steered the course of U.S. foreign policy and military operations toward a heavily unilateralist agenda that alienated the international community at large, including many international NGOs. As part of the U.S. president's “you are either with us or against us” policy, the Bush administration tried to force international NGOs in Iraq to work almost as an arm of the U.S. government, forcing them either to refrain completely from any criticism of U.S. policy on Iraq, or risk being cut off from U.S. government funding and support.