Mr. President, don't go back to the U.N.

Posted: Mar 21, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON--Don't go back, Mr. President. You walked away from the United Nations at great cost and with great courage. Don't go back.

No one knows when this war will end. But when it does, you'll have to decide the terms. Yet in the last few days both you and Tony Blair have said you will seek a new U.N. resolution, postwar, providing for the governance of Iraq.

Why in God's name would we want to re-empower the French in deciding the postwar settlement? Why would we want to grant them influence over the terms, the powers, the duration of an occupation bought at the price of American and British blood? France, Germany and Russia did everything they could to sabotage your policy before the war. Will they want to see it succeed after the war?

The Frankfurt Allgemeine reports that on Feb. 21, Germany's U.N. ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, wrote his Foreign Ministry that the United States, blocked on a U.N. war resolution and fighting alone, would later ``remorsefully return to the council'' to seek help in rebuilding Iraq.

That is their game. Why should we play into it? And why return the issue to Kofi Annan, who had the audacity to declare the war illegitimate because it is supported by only 17 U.N. resolutions and not 18?

Mr. President, we lost at the U.N. Badly. But that signal defeat had one significant side benefit. For the first time, Americans got to see what the U.N. truly is. The experience has been bracing. The result has been an enormous and salutary shift in American public opinion.

You've seen the polls: 75 percent of Americans disapprove of how the U.N. handled the situation with Iraq. In December, polls showed a majority of Americans opposed to a war without U.N. backing. Today, after the U.N. debacle, 71 percent support the war regardless.

What happened? Americans finally had a look inside the sausage factory. Their image of the ``U.N.'' as a legitimating institution had always been deeply sentimental, based on the U.N. of their youth--UNICEF, refugee help, earthquake assistance. A global Mother Teresa. That's what they thought of the U.N., and that's why they held it in esteem and cared about what it said. Now they know that the ``U.N.'' is not UNICEF collection boxes, but a committee of cynical, resentful, ex-imperial powers like France and Russia serving their own national interests--and delighting in frustrating America's--without the slightest reference to the moral issues at stake. The American public understands that this is not a body in which to entrust American values or American security.

On Sept. 12, 2002, you gave the U.N. a fair test: Act like a real instrument for collective security--or die like the League of Nations. The U.N. failed spectacularly. The American people saw it. And the American people are now with you in leaving the U.N. behind.

Why resurrect it after the war? When not destructive, as on Iraq, it is useless, as on North Korea. China has blocked the Security Council from even meeting to deal with North Korea's brazen nuclear breakout. On this one, the Security Council wants the United States to unilaterally engage North Korea--this amid daily excoriations of the U.S. for ``unilateralism."

The hypocrisy is stunning. But the deeper issue is that the principal purpose of the Security Council is not to restrain tyrants, but to restrain the United States.

The Security Council is nothing more than the victory coalition of 1945. That was six decades ago. Let a new structure be born out of the Iraq coalition. Maybe it will acquire a name, maybe it won't. But it is this coalition of freedom--led by the United States and Britain and about 30 other nations, including such moderate Arab states as Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar--that should set and institutionalize the terms for postwar Iraq. Not the Security Council.

If we're going to negotiate terms, it should be with allies who helped us, who share our vision and our purposes. Not with France, Germany, Russia and China, who see us--you--as the threat and whose singular purpose will be to subvert any victory.

There were wars and truces and treaties before the U.N. was created--as there will be after its demise. No need to formally leave the U.N., Mr. President. Just ignore it. Without us, it will wither away.

Fighting a war and rebuilding Iraq are tasks enough, I know. But serendipity--and France--has given you the opportunity to build new international structures without the albatross of this hopeless anachronism.

No act of commission is required. Just omission. Don't return, Mr. President. Don't give Ambassador Pleuger the satisfaction of seeing you crawl back.