One of the Bush administration's first moves was to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that barred the development of a missile defense shield. Critics decried the move as dangerously unilateral.
The Bush administration justified the move by pointing out that the ABM agreement was a vestige of the Cold War era. Current foreign policy had to be augmented to reflect what they now regarded as the greatest threat to world security - rogue states capable of obtaining long-range weapons of mass destruction.
Post Sept. 11, no one is calling that decision shortsighted or foolish.
When the Bush administration subsequently made a priority out of disarming Iraq - a rogue state that had actively been pursuing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in open defiance of UN Sanctions - the shrill cries of unilateralism started up again.
Key members of the UN Security Council - France, China, Russia and Germany - all recoiled from the notion of military intervention in Iraq. Only England openly supported a military option. Detractors claimed that the military should be deployed only as a last resort and that there was no smoking gun that would necessitate immediate military intervention. Critics also wondered whether war would undermine the slow nation building process and inflame the Arabs, perhaps plunging the Middle East into chaos. (In regard to the latter, nothing seems to arouse the Arabs more than when we make ourselves appear to be neutered by world opinion.)
Lurking beneath these protestations is a darker instinct. For much of modern history, France, China and Russia all played a dominant role on the world stage. This is no longer the case. Each is subordinate to the United States. No longer does the United States provide Western Europe with a grand ideological alternative to getting devoured by the Soviet Union. In the single superpower world, the whole world gazes at us and sees our not-so-subtle influence overflowing their way of life. At the same time, they see their own influence receding ever further like a wave into the ocean. And this causes some jealousy.
This seems particularly true of France, whose fall from world power following World War II was so precipitous, that one now wonders what they are even doing on the UN Security Council. But alas, they are there, as evidenced by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin's recent protestation, "We believe that today nothing justifies military action."
This need to assert some masculine dominance in the face of the United States' overarching power, explains how the United States is losing a PR battle to a tyrant who gassed his own people, attacked his neighbors and has desperately sought the nuclear, biological and chemical capacity to attack western interests. France empathizes with Saddam because it maintains a sense of dominion over him. It challenges the United States because the United States reminds France that its greatness belongs to another era.
Meanwhile, some profound facts get lost in the debate: Inspections alone have never proved a successful tact in disarming Iraq. When Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Kamel Hussein, defected in 1995, he disclosed to U.S. officials how Saddam was hiding a vast arsenal of chemical and biological agents. This was a breakthrough for UN weapons inspectors, who were subsequently expelled from Iraq. Further sanctions have failed to prevent Iraq from producing chemical and biological agents or from attempting to amass nuclear technology.
Iraqi physicists have reported that Iraq has most of the critical components to create a nuclear weapon. According to German intelligence reports, Iraq should be nuclear by 2005, thereby presenting this doomsday scenario - Saddam has the nuclear, biological and chemical capacity and money to attack and defy the West. At the same time, the West cannot utilize the military option for fear that Saddam will nuke his neighbors. In effect, Iraq becomes an uninhibited engine of terrorism.
For this reason, blocking Iraq from developing - not achieving - weapons of mass destruction must be considered a top priority of the war on terrorism. We cannot shy away from the goal because our supposed allies envy us. Nor can we allow their rhetoric to twist the inspection process into a search for a smoking gun. A gun only smokes after it's been fired. To wait that long, would be to invite nuclear disaster.