"How is it possible for an order to collapse when all who have a share in it regard it as the proper order? To put it more precisely: How is it possible for it to be destroyed by those who have a share in it, in the absence of any extraneous influence -- to be destroyed when no one wishes to attack it, to be annihilated when no one repudiates it?"
In his biography Caesar [buy book], historian Christian Meier asks that question in regards to the collapse of the Roman Republic after the assassination of Julius Caesar and the rise of his heir Augustus. Augustus ultimately filled the vacuum left by Caesar, which his assassins could not fill.
It is very possible that future historians will look at the United Nations' fall into global irrelevance and ask the same question. How could U.N. leaders have so undermined themselves?
Visualize Germany, France and the United Nations as quibbling senators anxious to sabotage a powerful compatriot in order to protect their petty power base -- only to undermine it ultimately -- and you see the analogy.
Of course, the analogy doesn't fit perfectly. America is no Caesar; Bush won't subjugate lands where U.S. forces are victorious. But the outcome of the U.N. Security Council's inaction, led by France, may well be a sharp decline in the United Nations' global status.
I don't think French President Jacques Chirac intended for his opposition to U.S. plans to go this far. Not long ago, diplomatic circles whispered that, in the end, France would support America. French sources didn't predict today's split.
Chirac got carried away. Each swipe France took at the United States inflated his popularity. On Tuesday, an Agence France Press story hailed Chirac as "reborn as a Gaullist man of destiny" who made "France the pillar of an alternative -- non-Anglo-Saxon -- international coalition."
Encore, la gloire. The ride was too heady for Chirac to jump off.
"My position is that, regardless of the circumstances, France will vote no," Chirac told French television this week, as he dropped what is known as the diplomatic atom bomb -- a pledge to veto a U.N. resolution authorizing force against Hussein.
Defenders will say that France shouldn't have to fight in a war to which it objects. They're absolutely right.
Of course, the Bush administration isn't angry at France for not wanting to fight in the war.
The Bush administration is angry that France is trying to prevent the United States from fighting a war that America must fight.
Europeans also have reason to be wary of an imbalance that allows one superpower to determine when the world goes to war.
France and Germany made the mistake, however, of objecting when the cause is just and the president of the United States is out on a limb, not to increase America's power, but to restore a sense of order and consequence in a world where rogues threaten the powerless and powerful alike.
That same limb also holds 225,000 precious American troops, as well as soldiers from the Great Britain and Australia. Delaying the inevitable, as Chirac would like to do, only makes war more dangerous for these brave men and women.
Chirac told French television that he is convinced that Franco-American relations won't suffer. It's true that France has been a much valued ally in American history. Still, Chirac is dreaming if he thinks Americans will forget that France and its friends on the U.N. Security Council made war more inevitable by signaling early on that Hussein could fail to disarm, and they would stand up for him.