American Enterprise Online, March 10, 2003               
The Financial Times Deutschland, March 14, 2003
By Alan W. Dowd

As he so often does, President George W. Bush cut to the heart of the matter during his news conference Thursday night. Figuratively pointing to the members of the UN Security Council, he explained, “It's time for them to show their cards and let the world know where they stand.”

To extend the president’s poker-game metaphor, let’s stipulate that France, Russia and Germany aren’t bluffing and fully intend to block the latest resolution on Iraq’s disarmament. Let’s stipulate that the United States and Britain aren’t bluffing either and fully intend to enforce the existing 16 resolutions on Iraq’s disarmament, with or without the approval of Moscow, Berlin and Paris. (Given the heavy words swirling around Washington and heavy weapons gathering around Iraq, it is obvious that Bush at least is not bluffing.) And so the first casualty of the second Gulf War won’t be Saddam’s dictatorship, but rather the United Nations.

The organization is not going to disappear overnight or cease to exist in name, of course. But there is every indication that if someone in Paris, London, Moscow or Washington doesn’t blink, the organization will soon cease to exist in practice.

For Bush, the challenge facing the UN is simple and profound: “Will its words mean anything?” Bush made a similar case last September, and the UN responded to Washington’s wakeup call, albeit after eight weeks of haggling and cajoling. What the Council came up with was Resolution 1441, which took the grave step of asking Iraq to comply with existing resolutions. All 15 members agreed that Iraq was in noncompliance with a slew of previous resolutions, had failed to provide accurate and full disclosure of its nuclear, chemical and biological programs, had repeatedly obstructed unconditional and unrestricted access to weapons sites, was in material breach of UN disarmament demands and, in Secretary of State Colin Powell's words, had “one last chance to come clean and disarm.”

Using his weak hand to play a rather effective game of divide and conquer, Saddam Hussein squandered that chance—and the UN squandered perhaps its last chance at relevance in the 21st century. Indeed, 1441 is a metaphor for the UN: From the American and British perspective, 1441—like the UN—was the means to an end. Both were a way the Council could live up to its primary responsibility, which, according to the UN Charter, is “the maintenance of international peace and security.” But according to the French, the Germans and the rest of the UN class, 1441—like the UN—was an end in and of itself.  

Hence, we now arrive at the very same crossroads we bypassed last fall, when the Council decided to paper over these divergent views of the world. This is not a moment of truth for the UN. That moment has already past. Because so many of its members allowed their distaste for the United States to infect and compromise their ability to think strategically, the UN’s most important body is on its deathbed.

Consider the dilemma it now faces, a dilemma of its own making: By vetoing a resolution that demands nothing more of Iraq or the Council than the observance and enforcement of existing resolutions, the veto-wielders will expose the UN and its fractured community as a farce. For twelve years, the Council has been eager to talk about the threat posed by Iraq but unwilling to do anything of substance to eliminate the threat. For twelve years, Iraq has ignored the UN’s words and tested the limits of the organization’s power. Only when the United States pushed and prodded and pulled during the decade past did the UN act, and even then its action was limited to a collective nod or shrug. Perhaps it’s fitting that after failing to keep the peace for most of its existence, the Council is failing this final test as it limps off into oblivion.

In addition, by vetoing a resolution that two permanent Security Council members are determined to enforce, the Council would point a loaded gun at itself. The US-UK-led coalition of some two dozen nations will not be deterred by France’s “non” anymore than Saddam Hussein has been deterred by twelve years of feckless resolutions. War is inevitable not because bloodthirsty men rule America or Britain, but because appeasers rule the UN Security Council—and it has always been that way. The emerging Moscow-Berlin-Paris bloc will lay the blame at Washington’s feet, but in every way this mortal wound is self-inflicted.

However, the UN is in a Catch-22. Even if the appeasers back away from their bluster and approve or abstain, the last seven months have confirmed what the Bush administration and many Americans have always suspected: At its best, the UN is a tool of US power. At its worst, it is a tool of those who seek to limit US power and delay US action. And at this juncture in history, America hasn’t the luxury or patience to allow the Lilliputians to tie it down. Last summer, Washington was excoriated for contemplating military action against Iraq without further UN approval. Yet when Bush went to the UN for approval, he was excoriated for daring to ask the Council to act on that approval.

Simply put, it seems unlikely that this administration will try to use the UN as a tool of US power in the future, at least not on issues of such grave importance. Beyond Baghdad lie Iran and North Korea, and other patrons and partners of terror. With a quarter-million Americans taking up long-term residence on Iran’s western border (in Iraq) and thousands more stationed on Iran’s eastern border (in Afghanistan), Bush will not be turning to Paris or Berlin for advice on how to wage the cold war that promises to dominate America’s relationship with an Iran ruled by terrorists. And given their record and rhetoric on Iraq, the members of the Security Council seem more concerned about containing the United States than containing a nuclear-armed Kim Jong-Il.

But there is a silver lining here. When the World Trade Towers fell from the sky, the scales fell from America’s eyes, and America finally saw the world the way it was. It is not hopeless or beyond repair. However, nor is it the seamless network of economic partnerships, good neighbors and enlightened actors we pretended it to be in the 1990s. As before, it is a world where force defines behavior, where freedom and civilization must be defended with weapons, not words. As we have witnessed in the diplomatic spectacle surrounding Iraq, this reality bothers the UN class. However, those who dare expose this reality bother the UN class even more—and this is precisely what America has done over the past seven months.

Perhaps most important of all, this marathon poker game has erased the misguided notion that the UN is the sole source of legitimacy for US military action. An offspring of World War II, this notion undermined the Constitution, shaped and ultimately deformed the first Gulf War, and led us inevitably to where we are now. Awakened by September 11, the American people are remembering that it is their elected representatives in Congress and the White House who validate and sanction US military action—not the unelected bureaucrats who roam the UN. As Bush soberly reminded the world, “When it comes to our security, we don't need anybody's permission.”