There has been a subtle change in the unsolicited advice George W.
Bush is receiving from prominent figures concerned that he is determined to
lead the Nation to war against Iraq. The current fashion is to agree that
Saddam Hussein's misrule and his megalomaniacal pursuit of weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) should be ended. But only, Mr. Bush is now being told, if
he can secure the permission of the so-called "international community," or
at least our key allies.
This argument was framed most recently by yet another of Bush 43's
father's officials, former Secretary of State James Baker, on the op.ed.
page of last Sunday's New York Times. Reduced to its essence, in that essay
Mr. Baker recognizes that Saddam must go and that U.S. military action will
be required to accomplish that goal. He insists, however, that the
President first has to try to get a new UN Security Council resolution
requiring Iraq to accept new inspections "anywhere, anytime" before he
undertakes the liberation of the long-suffering Iraqi people.
This amounts to what Margaret Thatcher once famously derided (about
the time she was warning Bush pére and his advisors against "going wobbly"
over Iraq in 1990) as the impossibility of "leadership by consensus." She
recognized that, on matters of surpassing importance, the United States has
to lead by providing direction and initiative, around which a broader or
narrower consensus will ultimately form -- not try to get everyone else to
agree in advance to do what it believes must be done.
We know in advance that the Baker diplomatic gambit would be a
fool's errand, adding obstacles not clearing them away. Ever since the end
of the Gulf War, the UN Security Council has been ever-less-willing to
support intrusive inspections in Iraq. This was hardly surprising since at
least three of the permanent, veto-wielding Council members (France, Russia
and China) were anxious to curry favor with Saddam Hussein -- especially if
they could frustrate American policy in the process. Under present
circumstances, an effort to secure from the UN what would amount to a casus
belli with Iraq is more likely to produce further evidence of international
opposition to U.S. action there, and intensify the multilateralists'
contention that we lack the authority to undertake such action.
In truth, this is but the latest manifestation of a struggle that
has been going on since the end of the Cold War. Foreign governments,
particularly the unfriendly ones (which has in recent years included a
number of our allies), have striven to establish via treaties,
"international norms" and other devices, means of constraining the American
"hyperpower." This sentiment enjoys considerable currency as well among the
Vietnam generation of the U.S. security policy elite.
During the Bush 41 administration, when Mr. Baker, Brent Scowcroft
and Lawrence Eagleburger were last in office, Washington frequently acceded
to such pressure. Usually, it claimed that doing so was necessary to:
fashion multinational coalitions (so as to prosecute Operation Desert
Storm), maintain "stability" (for example, to preserve the "territorial
integrity" of Yugoslavia) and advance fatuous arms control objectives
(notably, "ridding the world of chemical weapons.") The American foreign
policy establishment embraced the idea that diminishing U.S. sovereignty in
these and other ways was an unavoidable, if not actually a desirable,
component of forging a "New World Order."
During its eight years in office, the Clinton team greatly
exacerbated this trend. It became practically axiomatic in the 1990s that
the United States could not, and certainly should not, consider doing
anything internationally without a UN mandate. A series of "global"
agreements -- governing everything from climate change to nuclear tests to
war crimes -- were consummated with active U.S. involvement and with
manifest disregard for American sovereignty and constitutional processes.
Over time, the Nation inexorably became hamstrung like Gulliver, both by
myriad institutionalized constraints and obligations and by the logic that
the United States was just another country, one whose vote and influence in
multinational councils should count no more than any others'.
Since taking office, President Bush has confronted this syndrome
time and again. To his great credit -- and to the outraged howls of
self-described "internationalists," he has repeatedly acted to reassert our
national sovereignty and to restore our ability to act unilaterally. He has
renounced the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, rejected the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty and "unsigned" the International Criminal Court treaty. He
has also withdrawn the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile
Treaty, clearing the way at last for the accelerated deployment of missile
defense systems -- including at sea, a highly promising option about which
Mr. Bush was briefed last week in Crawford.
The party line from the foreign policy establishment types at home
and abroad is that such behavior constitutes damnable "unilateralism." The
putative fear is that America will revert to isolationism. The real
concern, however, is very different -- namely, that the United States will
appreciate that it is able to act alone where it must, and that it may just
have the will to do so.
The truth of the matter is that the world is a safer place, not only
for American interests but for those of freedom-loving people elsewhere,
when the United States has the military, economic and political power to
engage unilaterally where necessary and is led by an individual who is
willing competently to exercise such power. And, contrary to the critics'
assertions, when President Bush does that on behalf of the people of Iraq
and our vital interest in putting Saddam Hussein and his WMD programs out of
business, he will enjoy the support of the majority of Americans and the
gratitude of untold millions elsewhere around the globe.