Jonah, I think the Kennedy administration, as part of a much broader strategy that included a blockade and the threat of a pre-emptive attack, sought a Security Council resolution during the Cuban missile crisis. Among steps outlined by JFK in his speech to the nation on October 21, 1962, was:
Under the Charter of the United Nations, we are asking tonight that an emergency meeting of the Security Council be convoked without delay to take action against this latest Soviet threat to world peace. Our resolution will call for the prompt dismantling and withdrawal of all offensive weapons in Cuba, under the supervision of U.N. observers, before the quarantine can be lifted.
This has to be viewed through the lens of history. In 1962, the U.S. regarded the UN as a possible forum for advancing the diplomatic prong of a multi-part strategy that prominently and unmistakably included the promise of decisive military force if the Soviets did not back down quickly. (Significantly, Kennedy added — in a way one could imagine McCain, but not Obama, doing instinctively – that ”This Nation is prepared to present its case against the Soviet threat to peace, and our own proposals for a peaceful world, at any time and in any forum — in the OAS, in the United Nations, or in any other meeting that could be useful — without limiting our freedom of action“) (emphasis added).
By Iraq I (1990-91), the UN had moved from being a possible forum to the obvious forum for diplomacy. But, the driving resolve (as opposed to resolution) was that the United States was clearly prepared to act if the diplomacy did not end the crisis relatively quickly. Given how brazen Saddam’s aggression against Kuwait was, coupled with the Soviet Union’s then ongoing disintegration and the near-unanimity of Muslim countries in condemning Saddam (fearing they’d be next), a series of resolutions paralleled the military build-up until Iraq was given a deadline to get out.
In contrast, by Iraq II (2002-03), the UN was the exclusive forum for diplomacy but Iraq was less provocative, and American resolve and support less certain, so there followed months of delay before the Iraq invasion. (It will be interesting to see what history’s verdict is on the consequences of that delay: Did it contribute mightily to the ferocity of the insurgency/terror campaign? Did Saddam move WMD out of Iraq?). Iraq, of course, did not directly involve the U.S. confronting a Security Council member; but confronting a regime that was paying off Security Council members ended up having pretty much the same effect — the final proposed Security Council resolution was withdrawn when it became clear it would be vetoed, and the “coalition of the willing” decided to go it alone.
Now, in stark contrast, the calls for UN Security Council intervention are coupled with … nothing. There is evidently no resolve to take meaningful steps to counter the Russians, so resort to the UN is as feckless as it is rote. The Security Council has become the exclusive forum for diplomacy, but we are also now expected to indulge the delusion that making speeches in the UN and proposing sure-to-be-vetoed resolutions is a credible response to naked aggression. As he fancies himself the second-coming of Camelot, Obama would do well to remember several other parts of the speech in which JFK proposed Security Council intervention, including that the Soviets’
deliberately provocative and unjustified change in the status quo … cannot be accepted by this country, if our courage and our commitments are ever to be trusted again by either friend or foe…. The 1930′s taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged ultimately leads to war.