Politics & Policy

Last Dance

U.N. lessons.

Let’s hope that Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations is the final stage of an American foreign policy in which major U.S. national-security decisions are first vetted with the U.N. before implementation. This is a remnant of Bush 41′s “New World Order.”

I understand that the Bush-41 crowd — James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Lawrence Eagleburger — is personally invested in this approach. But let’s not forget what this strategy produced back in 1991. President George H. W. Bush felt constrained from eliminating Saddam Hussein by the very U.N. resolution that he sought and that his advisers crafted. While Baker, et al., point to the Gulf War as a diplomatic success for having built a broad coalition of countries against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, it was a tactical failure for having left Hussein in power. A broad coalition in support of U.S. objectives is smart diplomacy. But weakening U.S. objectives to build a broad coalition undermines U.S. national-security interests.

In any event, the U.S. can build a broad coalition without the U.N.’s imprimatur, and it has. In fact, despite the failure of the U.N. Security Council to thus far enforce its own November 8, 2002, resolution against Iraq, the U.S. can count over 40 countries among its allies when war breaks out.

The U.N. is a cumbersome bureaucracy. Its processes can quickly become counterproductive. Many of the member states don’t share U.S. objectives and values. Therefore, if, for example, Iraq poses an imminent threat to U.S. national-security interests, which the administration contends as it prepares for war, the U.N. should not have a voice in that decision. If it wants to express its support, or provide support, that’s fine. However, the U.S. should not formally seek U.N. approval, as in the current situation. To do so either requires the U.S. to surrender its national security interests to U.N. oversight and accept the consequences, or abandon U.N. oversight when the consequences are unacceptable.

Bush 41 decided to live with the consequences, i.e. a watered-down U.N. resolution resulting in Hussein’s survival. Thankfully Bush 43 is preparing to reject the consequences, and is deploying U.S. forces to eliminate Hussein even before a final U.N. decision. In doing so, Bush 43 will delegitimize the U.N. and its role in such decisions. This raises the question: Why the kabuki dance with the U.N. in the first place?


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