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Going to The U.N.


The president’s decision to turn to the United Nations for assistance in the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq makes a great deal of sense. It certainly isn’t the ideal approach, but given the divisions within our country, and our general unwillingness to enlarge our military, the president’s decision is reasonable. For one thing, it might actually work out. To the extent that we can make use of United Nations troops, while continuing to exercise control, the move will have been a success. But of course, the French and Germans, and the United Nations as a whole, will do their best to wrest control from the United States. The real point is that politically, this was the least bad option. As I pointed out a year ago in “Supersize It,” our too small military put the president in a political trap. The choice was either to break the budget, eliminate domestic spending and lose the claim to a compassionate conservatism, or repeal the tax cut. All of these are politically unacceptable. So the alternative was to hand off at least some control of Iraq to the U.N. That actually has the political upside of taking an issue away from the Democrats, who had hoped to run on the claim that the Bush administration was dangerously unilateralist. Is this the best foreign policy? No. The best foreign policy requires not the United Nations, but a united nation. Unfortunately, our nation is not united. The occupation of Iraq is not the occupation of Japan or Germany. This is even more because of the fact that we are different than we were back then than the fact that Iraq is not Japan or Germany. A house divided against itself cannot stand. A nation where the political opposition stands against our foreign policy, and even secretly (and not so secretly) hopes for its failure, cannot reform a region as recalcitrant as the Middle East. A nation where–even after an event like 9/11–a draft can be offered as a political tactic against the hawks, is a nation unready to manage social transformation on the other side of the world. Our culture war is real. Now it has taken its toll. In many ways we are strong. Yet disunited we are weak. Our turning to the U.N. is not necessarily a disaster. But it is a sign that our internal divisions have finally exacted a cost.


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