On the eve of what is being billed as a major address to the United
Nations, President Bush is being advised to emulate his father's approach on
Iraq twelve years ago by making the cobbling together of a broadly based
international coalition a precondition to taking on Saddam Hussein. It can
only be hoped that -- under today's, very different circumstances -- Mr.
Bush will base his diplomacy and actions on a very different model: his
recent, hugely successful disentangling of the United States from the 1972
Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.
Interestingly, there are several noteworthy similarities between the
two initiatives. In both cases, George W. Bush's guidance comes from the
law of the land. When Mr. Bush became President, he inherited statutory
direction adopted by overwhelming bipartisan majorities and signed by Bill
Clinton in 1999 that made it the policy of the United States government to
deploy effective missile defenses "as soon as is technologically possible."
Another policy was also on the books, having been approved by Congress the
year before and signed into law as well by President Clinton. It called for
toppling Saddam and provided $97 million dollars to equip the Iraqi opposition to
help us accomplish that goal.
As was his wont, Mr. Clinton paid lip-service to these initiatives
and took credit for enacting them, yet refused to take the steps necessary
for the implementation of either one. Fortunately, Mr. Bush not only took
an oath faithfully to uphold the law of the land; he is actually determined
to do so.
A second parallel involves the courage required to realize these
policies. It is useful to recall that in the run-up to his decision to
exercise America's right to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
-- a right conferred by the Treaty itself -- President Bush faced heated
domestic and international criticism. Then, as now, he was warned of the
dangers of acting "unilaterally," over the adamant objections of the
international community and especially the United States' closest allies.
The prospects that he would unleash grievous instability and perhaps even
Armageddon by proceeding with missile defenses prohibited by the ABM Treaty
are not too different from the threats Mr. Bush is told will emerge in the
Arab world, and beyond, if he proceeds without a UN mandate for removing
Saddam Hussein from power.
In a characteristically lucid and bracing address to the Center for
Security Policy last week, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer noted
that this nation's founding document, the Declaration of Independence, calls
for "due regard for the opinion of mankind." As with the intense
consultations that preceded the Bush announcement last December that the
United States would cease to adhere to the ABM Treaty, there is much to be
said for thoroughly explaining our policy of regime change in Iraq and the
factors that impel it to the leaders of other countries. That is not the
same thing, however, as subordinating vital national interests to their
Our experience in the months since the ABM Treaty expired last June
is surely relevant to the President's Iraq initiative, as well. Once it is
clear that the United States is going to act pursuant to its perceived
national requirements, and that it has both the capability and the
leadership to see the policy through, most of the world gets with the
program. Today, one scarcely hears about the ABM Treaty and the notion that
Mr. Bush's action was actually going to propel the world into cataclysmic
arms races, or worse, is seen by those candid enough to admit it for what it
always was: Utter nonsense.
To be sure, had the Russians behaved worse, they might have
increased the political costs to Mr. Bush of U.S. withdrawal from the ABM
Treaty. Some will argue that the lesson for "W." is that the Kremlin must
be bought off if he wants to bring down the former Soviet Union's client in
Baghdad without grave difficulty from Moscow. This would, however, be a
misreading of recent history. While President Bush gave his Russian
counterpart Vladimir Putin political cover by agreeing to a new treaty
formalizing mutual, unilateral commitments to cut strategic forces, as
bribes go, it did not amount to much. (Of course, if the President so much
as hints at a willingness to pay this time for Russia's acquiescence, Putin
will try to charge him dearly.) What actually brought the Russians along on
the ABM issue -- and what will prompt them to go along on Iraq -- is the
appreciation of American resolve, and a recognition that there is no up-side
to opposing us.
Now some will argue that there is a crucial difference between these
two politico-military-diplomatic initiatives. One involved rejection of a
clearly outdated, albeit talismanic treaty, the other will involve a
potentially highly destructive war. This conveniently ignores the
assertions from some of the ABM Treaty's particularly hysterical supporters
that destroying that "cornerstone of strategic stability" could lead not
only to spiraling arms races but actual conflict.
More importantly, the reality is that both President Bush's decision
to adhere to the law of the land by withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic
Missile Treaty and his commitment to liberate the Iraqi people and end
Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program by achieving regime change in
Iraq spring from a single source: His determination to defend the American
That happens as well to be his constitutional responsibility, and he
will fulfill that duty once again on Iraq if his due regard for the "opinion
of mankind" on the ABM issue -- consultations, but no veto -- as the model
for dealing with the UN about changing Saddam's regime.