WASHINGTON--War precipitates clarity as well as confusion, and the war against Iraq already has clarified this: The United Nations is not a good idea badly implemented, it is a bad idea.
For France, and for the U.N. through which France magnifies its own significance, the objective of disarming Iraq, if ever seriously held, has been superseded by the objective of frustrating America. And for America, the imperative of disarming Iraq will soon be supplanted by the imperative of insulating U.S. sovereignty from U.N. hubris.
Certain political phrases become, through mindless repetition, cant that bewitches the intelligence. One such phrase is ``the international community,'' which is oxymoronic because ``community'' denotes unity based on shared political interests and cultural values. And beware of political entities absurdly named. Just as the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire, the U.N. is a disunited collection of regimes, many of which do not represent the nations they govern.
The U.N. is premodern because it is unaccountable and irresponsible: It claims power not legitimized by the recurring consent of periodically consulted constituencies of the governed. Inebriated by self-approval, the U.N. is grounded in neither democratic consent nor territorial responsibilities, nor independent fiscal means, nor the material means of enforcing its judgments.
The U.N. should contemplate the prudence required of the U.S. Supreme Court. The court's power flows from the public's deference, which depends on the court accepting a limited role amid powerful political forces. The court has occasionally imperiled its authority by overreaching, as when it tried to settle the slavery controversy with the Dred Scott decision, and when it tried to stem powerful political tides by finding constitutional infirmities in major New Deal measures. France, by attempting to lasso the American locomotive with the cobwebs of U.N. procedures, has emboldened Iraq and made war inevitable, much as the Dred Scott decision lit the fuse of war.
France wants to use the U.N. to acquire derivative dignity in a ``multipolar'' world with blocs of nations comparable to America in economic vigor, military power and political will. France evidently believes such blocs can be summoned into existence because their existence would be convenient. Remember the joke about the economist trapped at the bottom of a well. ``No problem,'' he thinks. ``I'll assume a ladder.''