Mr. President, walk away from the U.N.

Posted: Mar 12, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON--Walk away, Mr. President. Walk away from the U.N. Security Council. It will not authorize the coming war. You can stand on your head and it won't change the outcome. You can convert to Islam in a Parisian mosque and it won't prevent a French veto.

The French are bent not just on opposing your policy, but on destroying it--and the coalition you built around it. When they send their foreign minister to tour the three African countries on the Security Council in order to turn them against the United States, you know that this is a country with resolve--more than our side is showing today. And that is a losing proposition for us.

The reason you were able to build support at home and rally the world to at least pretend to care about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is that you showed implacable resolve to disarm Iraq one way or the other. Your wobbles at the U.N. today--postponing the vote, renegotiating the terms--are undermining the entire enterprise.

I understand that the wobble is not yours, but a secondary, sympathetic wobble to Tony Blair's. Blair is courageous but opposed by a large part of his party and in need of some kind of diplomatic cover.

But, Mr. President, he's not going to get it. Even if you marshal the nine votes on the Security Council by watering down the resolution, delaying the invasion, establishing criteria Hans Blix is sure to muddy and Mohamed ElBaradei is sure to say that Saddam has met, France and Russia will still exercise the veto.

This, of course, should not matter. The U.N. did not sanction the Kosovo war, which was unarguably a just war. Of the scores of armed conflicts since 1945, exactly two have received Security Council sanction: the Korean War (purely an accident, the Soviets having walked out over another issue) and the Gulf War. The Gulf War ended in a cease-fire, whose terms everybody agrees Saddam has violated. You could very well have gone to war under the original Security Council resolutions of 1991 and been justified.

I understand why you did not. There is a large segment of American opinion that swoons at the words ``United Nations'' and ``international community.'' That the international community is a fiction and the U.N. a farce hardly matters. People believe in them. It was for them that you went to the U.N. on Sept. 12, 2002.

Resolution 1441 passed unanimously. It bought you two things: domestic support and a window of legitimacy, a time to build up our forces in the region under the umbrella of enforcing the will of the ``international community.''

Mr. President, the window has closed. Diplomatically, we are today back where we were before Sept. 12, with America and its ``coalition of the willing." That's enough. And in any case that is all you are going to get.

Why are we dallying and deferring at the U.N.? In your news conference last week, you said you were going to have people put their cards on the table. I thought it a lousy idea to call a vote we were sure to lose. But having made your decision, you are making it worse by waffling. The world knows you as a cards-on-the-table man. Now you're asking for an extension of time and a reshuffle of the deck.

If, for Blair's sake, you must have a second resolution, why include an ultimatum that Blix will obfuscate and the French will veto? If you must have a second resolution, it should consist of a single sentence: ``The Security Council finds Iraq in violation of Resolution 1441, which demanded `full and immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions.'''

The resolution should be a statement not of policy but of fact. The fact is undeniable. You invite the French to cast what will be seen around the world as the most cynical veto in the history of the council, which is saying a lot. They may cast it. They are French. But then they--not you--will have to do the explaining for perpetrating such an obvious lie.

That's all you need. No need for elaborate compromises, stretching the timetable, or a tortuous checklist for Saddam to dance around. One sentence. One line. Cards on the table.

No more dithering. Every day you wait is an advertisement of hesitation and apprehension. If the one-line resolution passes, violation triggers 1441, which triggers the original resolutions ending the Gulf War. If it fails, you've exposed the U.N. for what it is: the League of Nations, empty, cynical and mendacious. Mr. President, call the vote and walk away.