Rally Round the United Nations?
The question then naturally arises: If our moral authority springs only from being propped up by the United Nations, how can we justify actions against Iraq when the "world community" is not with us? From the point of view of a number of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's hecklers, the unwillingness of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to permit air strikes launched from its territory saps all moral force from the president's plan.
In his Pentagon address, Clinton referred to the United Nations, UNSCOM and the international community 18 times. Describing Saddam's flouting of the cease-fire agreement, the president stressed that "the United Nations demanded -- not the United States, the United Nations -- demanded" an end to his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. Well, then, if he broke a promise to the United Nations, that's a much stronger case for war, right?
In fairness, this box was not constructed by Clinton alone. President George Bush also used the United Nations to buttress his actions against Iraq. The support of allies was psychologically and financially bracing in the Gulf War, but Bush sacrificed a good deal of maneuvering room in exchange for broad international support. Because his actions were circumscribed by United Nations resolutions, the United States was not free to follow the logic of the Gulf War to its proper conclusion -- the removal of Saddam from power.
It would have been a relatively simple matter, when we had 500,000 troops on the ground, to excise the tumor in Baghdad. If we had, the threat of weapons of mass destruction, to say nothing of the immense suffering of the Iraqi people under the sanctions regime, would have been averted. Some (including this columnist) argued at the time that failure to remove Saddam would cost more American lives down the road. It appears that we are at that point in the road now.
Clinton, who, as governor of Arkansas, was firmly on the fence during the Gulf War ("I guess I would have voted with the majority if it was a close vote. But I agree with the arguments the minority made"), now finds that invoking the honor of the United Nations may stir hearts in Cambridge and Berkeley but leaves many Americans stone cold.
Even many hawks, who do not shrink from the necessity of using force in pursuit of America's interests, are less than enthusiastic about Clinton's war plans. They are dismayed by the disproportion between the stated threat and the planned action. Bombing Saddam's weapons of mass destruction from the sky may do some good, but it will not -- and the administration does not deny this -- rid him of these weapons entirely. Nor will air strikes alone prevent him from rolling up his sleeves and resuming where he left off as soon as the last tail of an American jet reaches the horizon. The land, sea and air campaign of the Gulf War, which involved much more sustained and heavy bombardment than is contemplated this time, did not succeed in thwarting Saddam's ambitions to become a military superpower.
So, the Clinton plan to bomb and run will accomplish ... what? Another delay in dealing with the essential problem, which is not Iraq but Iraq's extraordinarily cruel and dangerous leader. So long as someone so cordial to terrorists and so hostile to us persists in making hundreds and thousands of tons of nerve gas and anthrax, ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, no American president can consider that he has done his duty to America's citizens. By what logic should our airmen endure the dangers of military action again and again, without a resolution?
What President Clinton should say (though he lacks the moral authority to make it sing) is
that he will not send American troops into battle for the sake of a delaying action. Saddam
Hussein represents a profound threat to America's interests, and
we will end that threat. Let the United Nations take care of
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2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
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1/27/98: What If It's Just the Sex?
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
1/16/98: Child Care or Feminist Agenda?
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1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex
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12/26/97: Food fights (Games children play)
12/23/97: Does Clinton's race panel listen to facts?
12/19/97: Welcome to the Judgeocracy, where the law school elite overrules majority rule
12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?