I keep thinking about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" -but not in a stalker-in-a-gray-Buick outside Sarah Michelle Gellar's trailer sort of way. See, there was this episode of "Buffy" that illuminates the current conflict between America and the United Nations. Seriously. Just get over your snobbish hang-ups about the (extremely well-written) show and bear with me.
The premise of "Buffy" is that there is a single "slayer" born every generation who is endowed with special powers to kill demons and, obviously, vampires. There's also an ancient organization of ordinary humans called the Council of Watchers that claims responsibility for training and guiding the slayers. Buffy generally ignores the council.
Anyway, to make a long story short, in one episode Buffy desperately needs the Council of Watchers' help to fight an especially powerful enemy (an ancient pagan god or some such). The council attempts to use this opportunity to regain its influence over Buffy, forcing her to agree to all sorts of new Slayer regulations. And then, at the end of the program, it occurs to the Buffmeister that she doesn't have to put up with any of it. "I have the power," she explains to the stuffy, and typically British, Watchers.
Without Buffy, the council is nothing more than a debating society, an irrelevant club. At the end of the day, it's Buffy, and not the Watchers, who has to do all of the fighting. So, she says to the Watchers, if you help me now, I will let you in on the action. Don't help me and my job will be harder, but your job will be irrelevant.
Now, the last part should sound familiar to anyone who knows about President Bush's speech to the United Nations earlier this month. President Bush informed the U.N. that if it doesn't help America slay the threat posed by Baghdad, the United States will do it without the U.N. As a result, the United States' job will be harder, but the U.N. will become an irrelevant League of Nations.
In all the commentary about the pros and cons of Bush's speech (including my own), the emphasis has been on the brilliant political jujitsu that redefined the battle against Saddam Hussein as a battle for the integrity of the United Nations. Throughout the 1990s, the U.N. was a printing press of resolutions against Saddam. If the United States were forced to do what the United Nations didn't have the will to do in taking on Saddam, it would prove that the United Nations is unwilling to back up its rhetoric.
This analysis leaves out one simple fact: The U.N. really can't back up its rhetoric or defend its honor. It needs a Slayer for that. The U.N. simply has no real power of its own. Oh sure, it has some moral authority, but so do the Red Cross and the United Way, big whup. In terms of real force, the U.N. is a paper tiger, a secular Vatican for the worshippers of multilateralism.
The United Nations' only real power lies in its ability to perpetuate the perception of its power. And that fiction is vital to all sorts of countries.
Saudi Arabia, for example, will allow us to use our bases in its country for an attack on Saddam, if we use the United Nations This isn't just because Saudi Arabia doesn't want to be seen as doing the United States' bidding. The Saudis -and many other relatively weak nations -want the U.N. to be a perceived rival power to America because they have juice with the U.N. but not the U.S. If America declares the U.N. irrelevant by going it alone, then Saudi (or French or anybody else's) influence in the U.N. becomes as valuable as influence with the Boy Scouts.
Ultimately, that is why I predict the United Nations will not only go along with America when it sets out to slay Saddam and liberate Iraq, but it -and just about everyone else -will declare the result a triumph of U.N. leadership and resolve.
If the United Nations doesn't go along with America, the curtain will be drawn back, the mighty Oz will be exposed, and all of the nations who've put so much into the myth of Oz's power will lose their investments and become nothing but a council of obsolete watchers of America, the Vampire Slayer.