Along the Tracks

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

So not about us

Along those lines, could it be any more clear that the Bush administration is trying to strengthen the United Nations through this precedent?

Bush 41 set the groundwork for this process by going through the U.N. in the first Gulf War. In that effort, the U.S. sought a precedent of international responsibility and action in the face of transborder aggression. Unfortunately, no advancement of the concept was made during the Clinton years, when crises in Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, Sudan, Afghanistan, Kosovo - and Iraq, multiple times - presented ample opportunity to structure international responses to threats.

With Iraq, Bush 43 is, in this way at least, continuing the job started by his father. He is attempting to achieve the next step in international responsibility for world crises: The precedent of U.N. sanction for elective wars against recalcitrant regimes.

After 9/11, a war with Iraq was inevitable (minus an internal revolution against Saddam) - the regime was just too much of a threat to the United States to allow its continuation. Colin Powell did not merely convince George W. Bush to “follow the U.N. route” with Iraq; no, the gamble was much bolder. Powell convinced Bush to use Iraq (which was going to happen this spring, no matter what) as the catalyst to this new paradigm in international relations. Remember, Powell was there during the first Bush administration, and was a key player in the concepts - the “new world order” - which were being explored. He saw this action as an opportunity to move the ball farther down the field.

Which brings us to this post’s headline: This is so not about the United States. If the “peace activists” understood the precedent a Security Council resolution authorizing force against Iraq would set, they would be at a complete loss for arguments in opposition. Let’s lay it on the line: The United States is demonstrating a willingness to offer a portion of its sovereignty - the ability to use unilateral force against a threatening nation - in an effort to require international approval for all future “elective” (i.e., not self-defensive) wars.

Consider the result of a Security Council vote in favor of the second Iraq resolution when a crisis which does not directly threaten the United States unfolds. Suppose, for instance, Russia’s problem with Chechens based in the Republic of Georgia becomes unbearable. The precedent of the U.S. process regarding Iraq could provide a framework for international scrutiny of any Russian military action. The failure to follow such a process would be met with nearly universal opprobrium. That might not stop Russia from acting without U.N. sanction, but it might put limits on any larger Russian designs, and would at the least force Russia to defend the action to the world - a “globalized” world where opinion does matter. A similar case could be made with China vis-à-vis Vietnam or France and, well, just about any of its former colonies.

Let me make something clear: I am not saying the precedent set by a resolution sanctioning force against Iraq would stop all elective wars without U.N. approval. Rather, it would be one more chain - the chain of world opinion - any aggressor would have to break. Indeed, in the eyes of the world community, any unauthorized attack not in self-defense would be seen as aggression.

The administration’s policy of pre-emption, once considered, is in fact little more than “extended self-defense.” And while the White House has taken pains to point out its policy of forcefully disarming Iraq is not pre-emption, the strategy of following U.N. procedure could be very useful, should a true case of pre-emption become necessary - for instance, with North Korea.

Nevertheless, passage or failure of a resolution authorizing force against Iraq has almost no bearing on American policy regarding military intervention, and none whatsoever regarding Iraq. The U.S. does not engage in military adventures outside present international law. The goal is to set up a system in which the elective use of force by other states is channeled through the United Nations as an international norm.

Whether such a goal is worthy, or realistic, is a discussion for another day.

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