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High-Stakes Poker at U.N.

March 07, 2003

Diplomacy is in its final phase, President Bush said Thursday, turning up the heat on both Saddam Hussein and the United Nations. The president remained uncompromising in his insistence that Iraq posed such a threat to the United States that it must be confronted promptly, and with force if needed. But his insistence on pushing for a U.N. Security Council vote on a new resolution next week offers a small measure of reassurance that he has not given up entirely on the critically important matter of international cooperation.

Bush has rightly balked at France's attempt to assert leadership in Europe by thwarting, at every step, American policy -- most recently by turning its back on 1441, the original resolution demanding Hussein's disarmament. Perhaps the president was grasping at straws in noting that there was tremendous opposition to that resolution too before the Security Council passed it without a dissenting vote last November. The optimist's view is that he still holds out hope of changing the council's mind.

The truth is, the United States and the United Nations need each other. The notion that Europe, led by France, can be a counterbalance to U.S. military power in the world is an illusion. Without the military threat that only the U.S. musters, there is no chance that Iraq would have readmitted the inspectors it threw out several years ago, let alone that Hussein would be inching toward disarmament as he is now.

But Bush and his advisors also bear much responsibility for the impasse that threatens to wreck the system of collective security that emerged out of World War II. Bush's disregard for international treaties and his heavy-handed diplomacy have infuriated America's allies, turning friends into foes.

Bush said he would push for a vote next week, to make the Security Council nations "show their cards." Now he must show his sincerity, by keeping disarmament as the goal rather than lumping in "regime change," a term that on Thursday again crept into his rhetoric.

At the press conference, Bush pointed to notable successes in the war on terror, including the capture of Al Qaeda chieftain Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. That victory was possible only because Pakistani security services cooperated closely with American officials.

That's how the world works now. The United States must continue to assert its leadership, but in the long term it will succeed only through a strategy of international cooperation -- whether the goal is capturing terrorists or confronting rogue nations. Bush must not allow the hawks in his administration to subvert his efforts to achieve a new resolution at the U.N. The transatlantic relationship is too important to allow disputes over Saddam Hussein to destroy it. If the United States disarms Iraq but loses the cooperation of vital allies, the victory will ultimately prove pyrrhic.

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