Saturday, March 08, 2003
To no great surprise on my part, the United Nations continues to prove itself absolutely useless, as Hans Blix deliveres a report that says, "Iraq is thinking of thinking of cooperating a bit more, we think, maybe, but we're not sure" and stuffing evidence of Iraqi weapons development while IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei parrots Iraqi "explanations" and dismisses evidence as though he were an Iraqi mouthpiece.

Meantime, Iraq is replacing the missiles that it destroyed to such fanfare, all the while demanding an end to sanctions, a denunciation of the U.S. and Britain as liars, and while we're at it, the destruction of Israel. (Hey, what's the harm in asking, right?)

France is aghast at the idea of military action -- think of the children!

Let us be clear-sighted. We are defining a method to resolve crisis. We are choosing how to define the world we want our children to live in.

...

To those who believe that war would be the quickest way of disarming Iraq, I can reply that it will drive wedges and create wounds that will be long in healing. And how many victims will it cause? How many families will grieve?
Touched as we all must be by the French concern for The Chidren™ (which only surfaces to criticize the U.S.), they really are more concerned about the lack of "unity" and a role for the United Nations:
Yes, we also want more democracy in the world, but we can only achieve this objective within the framework of a true global democracy based on respect, sharing, the awareness of a true community of values and a common destiny. And its core is the United Nations.

...

Mr. President, in a few days, we must solemnly fulfill our responsibility through a vote. We will be facing an essential choice: disarming Iraq through war or through peace. And this crucial choice implies others. It implies the international community's ability to resolve current or future crisis. It implies a vision of the world, a concept of the role of the United Nations.

...

We must rediscover the fundamental vocation of the United Nations, which is to allow each of its members to assume responsibilities in the face of the Iraqi crisis, but also to seize together the destiny of a world in crisis, and thus to recreate the conditions for our future unity.
William Saletan calls this a con game:
Are inspections more effective than force? Is the United Nations a better guarantor of U.S. security than American power is? Both questions are fraudulent. Inspections depend on force, and the United Nations depends on the United States. The French and Germans are telling us not to mess with the status quo, when the status quo is us.
Which is exactly correct. The United States in no way needs or depends on the UN: we need from them neither legitimacy nor security. By contrast, without at least implicit backing from the United States, the UN is nothing more than a productive generator of hot air, its resolutions useless paperwork, its "forces" symbolic talismans giving lethally false hope to those counting on them.

For most of its existence, the UN was used as a mechanism by which U.S. power and legitimacy were leeched by the French, Germans, Belgians, Dutch, and the rest of Western Europe. Weak and inconsequential in the shadow of global powers like the Soviets and the Chinese, they only had hope of asserting anything with the backing of the United States, and the UN was the most face-saving mechanism for doing this, because American backing was implied. When the Soviet Union fell apart, and the Russians withdrew from their spheres of influence, other states, previously backed by the Russians, also needed to give themselves a "voice with meaning," and they likewise did this through the UN, now backed with American power exclusively. (No one even blinked at the idea that Libya and Sudan should have equal stature and credibility with Lithuania and Spain.) Their Russian threat gone, the Western European countries likewise found American backing unneeded, but they continued to use the UN to use American power as their own. Everyone had been doing it for so long, they got a little too comfortable...

What Bush has done is reassert exclusive American control over American power -- military and diplomatic. From a military standpoint, this means that the UN will have neither the ability to commit or submit American troops to what it calls "justice" (e.g., the International Criminal Court), nor will it be able to prevent the U.S. from using its military in ways it sees fit, such as invading, conquering, and disarming Iraq. From a diplomatic standpoint, it means that no longer will Western European countries be allowed to go up against the United States with impunity, as France and Germany clearly hoped to do at the beginning. They can certainly disagree with us, stick to their opinions, and even criticize and undermine us publicly -- but there will be a price to pay. "Standing up to America" will no longer be a cost-free feel-good exercise in self-aggrandization. The Soviets don't threaten us anymore, either, and Europe no longer has the importance or leverage.

Which understandably alarms Western Europe: they just woke up and realized that they are minor players in this world, with virtually no say in how its major affairs play out. Other countries have been used to this for practically their entire histories, but Europe -- that is, Western Europe -- is accustomed to being the center of the world, or at least part of the inner ring. They are used to sitting at the table with the big boys, and being "consulted" for "joint resolutions." Their populations are used to the idea that "their voices are being heard" and their leadership is affecting the world in major ways.

Except that it's not any longer, because no one pays attention anymore. Europe's "strength" since World War II has been their close relationship with the United States, the real power behind their palaces and proclamations. France chose to abuse this early on, withdrawing from NATO and triangulating between the Americans and the Russians, but the Americans really couldn't help this. Today, though, it's the United States that is re-evaluating its relationship with Europe, and finding little to necessitate the close cooperation that was enjoyed during the Cold War. The Western-Europe-dominated EU thus finds itself with little leverage in foreign affairs: it has become peripheral in the Middle East crisis despite large payouts to the Palestinians, the North Koreans want nothing to do with it, and even prospective members disagree with it publicly in favor of the United States.

This is unnerving to Western European politicians, who are either lining up with the U.S. (as Spain and Italy have done), or else trying desperately to preserve the "international order" that let them have a say which they are about to lose. It's also frightening the populations of Europe, who are suddenly finding their educated, sophisticated selves with no more influence on global events than the population of Bolivia. Putting it simply, they are scared, as John Brady Kiesling told NPR yesterday. Actually, Kiesling is only half-right: the Europeans have always been scared, but before they were scared of the Soviets, and counted on Americans for protection, even though they disliked and often despised the uncouth Yanks. Now the Soviets are poor and withdrawn, and all of Western Europe's fears are focused on America. Which is why the "anti-war" marches in Europe are mainly anti-American (or anti-Bush, who tossed Europe aside so unceremoniously), and why survey after survey finds Western Europeans with the preposterous view that Dubya is a greater threat to world peace than Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il.

And so, those that want to hang on to the illusion of power keep throwing out obstacles like inspectors and the ever-flexible "international law," or absurdly trying to rewrite history, as de Villepin attempts with this:

The adoption of Resolution 1441, the assumption of converging positions by the vast majority of the world's nations, diplomatic action by the Organization of African Unity, the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the non-aligned movement, all of these common efforts are bearing fruit.

The American and British military presence in the region lends support to our collective resolve. We all recognize the effectiveness of this pressure on the part of the international community, and we must use it to go through with our objective of disarmament through inspections.
Saletan will have none of it:
Lends support? Saddam Hussein doesn't care what the United Nations or the League of Arab States says. He has ignored their words for years. The only reason he's crushing his own missiles today is to stave off invasion by the troops poised on his borders.

In a press conference after the debate, de Villepin asked, "When the inspectors are telling us that active cooperation is seen on the ground, how can we at the same time say … that we should prepare [for] war? There is a strong contradiction, and we don't accept this contradiction." But coupling the current inspection regime with preparations for war isn't a contradiction. It's a tautology. Our war preparations are the reason Saddam is cooperating with the inspectors.

In short, the alternative to which de Villepin unfavorably compares our prospective use of force is our current use of force.
Putting it another way: suppose the UN decided early on that it didn't care about the Iraq situation one way or the other, and the Bushies deployed their troops around Iraq with no comment from Kofi & Co. Would Iraq have ignored this? Hardly: they'd see the real possibility of losing power, and would be trying to pull exactly the same wool over American eyes, protesting, allowing inspectors in, "unexpectedly" finding some missiles and then destroying them on camera, etc. By contrast, what if this was a UN action where the U.S. refused to participate? Does anyone believe that Iraq would even acknowledge its existence, much less try to cooperate? The U.S. can function quite well without the UN; the UN cannot function at all without the U.S.

The problem is for the Western Europeans, who can't function diplomatically without the UN, on the level which they have come to expect over the past few centuries. Unless the U.S. continues to participate in the baseless UN-created fiction that all countries are "equal" and entitled to a vote, the Europeans, like everyone else, have two choices: play second fiddle to the U.S., or be ignored altogether. (Their third choice is to use their large economies to build militaries of their own, but it's a nonstarter politically.)

The final claim is that the U.S. is somehow obligated to receive UNSC approval for an invasion of Iraq. This is pure nonsense; even if the Security Council had some kind of binding, enforceable authority over the U.S., the most you could say is that we couldn't go in contravention of a resolution that prohibited such an invasion. (Which would never come to pass, as the United States would simply veto it.) At any rate, Walter Russell Mead points out that plenty of invading has been done without UNSC approval by all its members:

The United States may be a diplomatic cowboy, but we aren't riding the only horse on the range. Every permanent member of the U.N. Security Council has undertaken at least one war without the council's permission or endorsement. China attacked India in 1962 without a Security Council resolution, and again without a resolution attacked Vietnam in 1979. The Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Hungary without going to the Security Council. Britain and France invaded Egypt in 1956 without informing, much less consulting with, the Security Council. More recently, both Britain and France have sent troops to Kosovo and various African destinations without council advice or consent.

The plain if slightly sad fact is that from the day the U.N. Security Council first met in 1946, no great power has ever stayed out of a war because the council voted against it, and no great military power ever got into a war because the Security Council ordered it to.

So, whether or not Bush gets a second council resolution on Iraq, the outlook for the Security Council is more of the same.
Which is to say, continued irrelevance. Works for me, even if it does give Chirac an ulcer.

(Some links by way of Instapundit, Best of the Web, and Little Green Footballs.)

Update: If you're not yet tired of reading, Steven Den Beste has more.

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