Last fall, after confronting the United Nations with its own dereliction of duty in compelling Iraq to disarm, the United States chose to give the U.N., as well as Iraq, a last chance. Iraq would have one more chance to be stubborn, and the U.N. would have one more chance to be bold. The policy has been rewarded with failure. Russia, China, and above all France are as opposed to action as they were five months ago. France, supported by Germany and Belgium, has spread confusion to NATO, refusing to allow the alliance to prepare Turkey for a possible Iraqi retaliation. Iraq is as slyly defiant as before.
Action could make these quarrels and hesitations fade like ghosts in the sun. Once the American-led coalition has toppled the tyrant, the U.N. will do no more than wring its hands, and France will do no less than demand a share of the spoils. The Pentagon has made good use of the delay, amassing the overwhelming force that traditional American military doctrine requires.
Going the U.N. route has been psychologically poisonous, however. It has allowed the antiwar Left, from the Workers World Party to the New York Times, to mobilize itself. At home, this has produced monster rallies of old peaceniks and addled kids. Abroad, the antiwar frontlash is a real political threat for Tony Blair, John Howard, José Maria Aznar, and other leaders who have stuck their necks out to support the United States. Meanwhile, America’s search for world approval gives credibility to the assumption that we need it to act in our own interests.
The U.N.’s predecessor, the League of Nations, atrophied when it proved irrelevant to the rise of new totalitarian powers in the 1930s. Italy’s unchallenged conquest of Abyssinia in 1935 was a turning point. Has the United Nations reached the same point of terminal worthlessness? Not for some purposes. The world needs a forum for steam-venting; so long as it exists, the United States will not, as a matter of international manners, pull out. We must make sure, however, that we hold our own security paramount, and that we are prepared to guarantee it, unilaterally if necessary, by preference with the help of like-minded states. To that end, the U.S. should explore creating an alternative U.N. consisting only of liberal democratic states that would be a better diplomatic forum than the collection of tyrannies, basketcases, and enemies of the U.S. that currently occupies One U.N. Plaza.
The U.N. gives multilateralism a bad name. NATO, for instance, has been for decades a multilateral institution with a moral core. The recent French-German-Belgian obstructionism is a blot on a shining record. We can avoid further episodes by making plain that France, which is not a full member, should not assume a veto. In any case, the culture of unanimity that has heretofore prevailed in NATO was never a formal requirement. If a few states seek to leave another vulnerable to attack, they should be overruled.
As for Iraq, the cause of all these commotions: The Bush administration may choose, as it chose in the fall when it went the U.N. route, to give the timid and the willful a few more weeks to decide. If nothing else, seeking a second resolution might provide diplomatic cover for Tony Blair and other allies. But, in the end, what will best serve those allies is a swift, successful war. The U.S. should offer no further benchmarks — no conditions, no hurdles for Iraq. We require what we, and the United Nations, have required since 1991: forswearing weapons of mass destruction. Hide and seek is not compliance. So long as they hide, we will seek.