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U.N. Never Held a Cure

March 23, 2003|Frederick W. Kagan | Frederick W. Kagan is a military historian and the co-author of "While America Sleeps."

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Bush administration's attempt to rally international support behind a war against Iraq has been a dismal failure. Not only did it fail to obtain a U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force, but the months-long effort to do so has driven a deep wedge between the U.S. and some of its principal allies, and it called forth a large and well-organized international antiwar movement.

Cries from editorial pages and international capitals declare that the administration did not make a good enough case for war. Yet the fundamental elements of that case -- that Iraq has, in violation of United Nations resolutions, maintained a massive banned-weapons program and has systematically delayed and obstructed efforts to disarm it -- have not been successfully challenged. Even the French say only that inspections would work if given a chance, not that they had actually worked yet.

The problem is not in the administration's case, or even in the specific tactics of its diplomacy. It is something much more basic: We should never have agreed to reactivating a failed U.N.-sponsored inspections process as a means of building support for military action. The effort to do so reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the international system.

Saddam Hussein has had no intention of disarming. He has made that abundantly clear. The problem is that for the last several months it has not been Hussein on trial, but President Bush. Although the charges against the Iraqi dictator were clear and supported by strong evidence, he has not been required by the court of world opinion to prove his innocence. Instead, Bush has been required to prove, again and again, that Hussein is guilty. Each revelation has been dismissed as failing to meet the "smoking gun" standard.

Those in the Bush administration who have counseled against acting without international support have mistaken the nature of international organizations. Although the U.N. and other groups play an important role in defining international norms, they cannot be relied upon to enforce those norms -- even when they have clearly been violated. The U.N. Security Council cannot function as an impartial jury for the simple reason that its members are not impartial. Yet the Bush administration has been asked to prosecute Iraq before just such a prejudiced jury. When states that have financial relationships with Iraq reject the president's evidence, they insist it is because America has failed to make its case. But it's hard to imagine a case they would accept.

As former National Security Council Persian Gulf Director Kenneth Pollack and others have shown, past U.N. sanctions restricting Iraq's oil exports have ended up giving Hussein a powerful diplomatic weapon. Since his Baath regime controls all oil exports under the U.N.'s oil-for-food program, Hussein has been able to offer exclusive deals to would-be partners in his efforts to undermine the sanctions program. France and Russia have both benefited directly from this deal-making in recent years -- a factor that can't be ignored when examining French and Russian policies toward Iraq.

European opposition to our war against Iraq is not based solely on the material benefits that some Europeans have received from Hussein's regime. It also stems from important geopolitical realities. France, Germany and Russia are not directly threatened by Iraq. Since the United States attacked that country in 1991 and now stands in Hussein's way on such issues as sanctions and weapons, America is the Iraqi dictator's primary enemy, and his energies are directed toward harming us. He has shown that he appreciates the help he has received from some of our European allies. He will surely do nothing to damage relationships with those countries as long as they continue to support him. They accordingly have no interest in Hussein's removal and see no threat in his continued reign. They all see an opportunity, however, in opposing the U.S. Russia wishes to be a world power, as it was when it was part of the Soviet Union. To challenge the American war against Iraq is to challenge America, to be a real player on the international scene again, to win a diplomatic victory where military, economic, social, and other sorts of victories are impossible dreams.

For France, the close adherence of Britain to America's policies has presented an opportunity for a larger role within Europe. By opposing the war on Iraq, by preventing NATO from participating in an alliance, by preventing a U.N. resolution supporting force, French leaders hope to isolate Britain within the European Union and offer Europeans an alternative to what they see as American "domination."

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