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Lunacy at the U.N.

I watched and listened to the U.N. Security Council meeting this morning/afternoon. What a thing.

Powell made a case, though not an inescapable one. He pretty much demonstrated that Iraq is not complying with U.N. resolutions, and 1441 in particular, yes. But he did not tie Saddam Hussein to any definite threat to the rest of the world. Doubtless Saddam has biological and chemical weapons, and wants nuclear weapons. But it isn't clear that he has either the capability or the will to do much of anything just yet, or if he ever actually will.

This isn't to say something shouldn't be done — just that Powell didn't make an overwhelming case.

The thing is, though, he shouldn't have had to, given the language of the U.N. resolutions. Iraq's failure to comply with the deliberately strongly worded Resolution 1441 is transparent, but the Security Council is indicating that not only will it not act, it will give Iraq every possible chance it can. Historically, this has been a tragically ineffective method for addressing a belligerent dictator. If the Security Council will not act now, when its will is so blatantly defied, when would it ever? Who knows.

But what occurs to me, listening to Security Council members drone on about how they must all act together and preserve the peace, is that there's a reason why they can afford to say they oppose any military action, even if military action were actually necessary. They know they don't have to say we should act because the United States has said it will act anyway, no matter what they say. So they're free to argue for an alternative they know will not be chosen. It's a risk-free policy: If a war goes badly, they can say, I told you so; and even if it doesn't, no one will ever know if it was really necessary. France, Germany, et al. can say whatever they want and rest assured that even if Iraq truly is a genuine threat, they risk nothing by saying it should be saved. Their words could only cost them if there were an actual possibility that they would be heeded.

The United States has only itself to blame for this. There's no reason we shouldn't have put the Security Council in a position where its members were responsible for their statements. While Iraq is almost certainly a threat, it's not actually clear that it's such an immediate one — political motivations seem to have driven the timing of Bush's Iraq initiative more than anything. So France and Germany are making Bush pay for his agenda, and while in some ways that's right — unilateralism isn't really a virtue — it was a miscalculation on Bush's part to put them in a situation where they can neglect any genuine responsibility for world affairs and attack him for their own political gain at the same time.

The whole thing is just incredibly dumb. The result is that the Security Council is being treated as a complete farce by all its members, all of whom are following their own agendas, and none of whom have made world affairs the actual priority in their statements. They haven't even bothered to give any reasons why they think Resoluton 1441 doesn't necessitate a response at this point, or when it would; they've just said, over and over, that they oppose war. And unless the United States has genuine evidence somewhere that Iraq is not just a vaguely risky rogue element, but is in fact a near and present danger to the world, I don't see why they won't continue to do so. Will they ever actually address the question of what to do in Iraq? Probably not. The various sides will continue to support or oppose action at any given time based primarily on their political motivations, and, accordingly, ignore each other.

One could barely conceive of a more stupid, or unfortunate, mode of affairs. If the U.N.'s most vital council is nothing more than a stage for a tedious, self-serving charade for each of its members, then what good is it?

The inspectors are due to make another report to the Security Council on February 14. The United States most likely has already decided to act. France and Germany have already indicated their opposition. One can only hope new evidence will be introduced in the interim, or that at least someone will find or make up an excuse to break the impasse, so that the U.N. can find a way out of the mockery it has made of itself.

February 5, 2003 2:57 PM

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