When it comes to foreign policy, I'm not one of these people who believes two wrongs can never make a right or that the ends can never justify the means. But I do believe that many liberals are truly sincere when they spout such cliches. And that's why I am so baffled by the growing insistence among Democrats that the United States shouldn't attack Iraq without the approval of the United Nations.
Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, for example, is reportedly planning to introduce an alternative resolution in the Senate that would forbid the use of force without U.N. approval. This push is the logical extension of the liberal arguments in favor of U.S. intervention in Kosovo, Somalia and Haiti, where the efforts were justified precisely because U.S. interests were not at stake.
The thinking now is that since U.S. interests might be at stake, we need to run any unilateral action through the filter of the "international community" or the United Nations in order to make sure that we don't use the armed forces for anything that is in our interests. Apparently, people think the U.N. does things for only good and noble reasons, but U.S. foreign policy is always venal and corrupt. Therefore, if we use the United Nations to topple Iraq, we will be on the side of the angels.
Now, again, if you want to make a geostrategic argument about the need for allies that's fine. But let's not kid ourselves that having allies in and of itself makes us any more -or less -moral. A murder is no less heinous if committed by a mob, and a murderer is no less guilty if apprehended by one man or 100. If toppling Saddam Hussein is the right thing to do, it becomes no more right or wrong if the United States does it alone or with help. And, making a war with Iraq more consistent with the self-interest of Germany or Russia doesn't necessarily make the war any more righteous.
In fact, the United States is horse-trading with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council right now in order to get their support for an invasion of Iraq. Britain is already onboard. So that leaves France, Russia and China.
The Oct. 7 issue of the New Republic features a fascinating account, written by Asla Aydintasbas, of what these various nations want in return for their votes. China's vote -or abstention, same difference -is considered the cheapest since it has so few commercial interests in Iraq. All they want is for the United States to either support, or turn a blind eye to, a Chinese crackdown on Muslim minorities in Western China. The United States also tossed into the pot an agreement to soften its stance toward the Tibet issue; we're leaning on the Dalai Lama to lighten up in his negotiations with the Chinese government.
Then there's France, which has publicly carved out the most self-righteous position when it comes to American "imperialism" and a potential war with Iraq. Privately, the French are very much open to negotiations. France has huge oil and other commercial interests in Iraq (despite the sanctions). America is working hard to promise the French that if France goes along with its historic ally -I mean America, if you weren't sure -they won't be frozen out of the new Iraqi economic order. Now, the French may not end up supporting a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but if they do support us, money, not principle, will have won the argument.
And then there's Russia. Russia's interests in Iraq aren't as big as France's but they're still considerable. First, Iraq owes the Russians $8 billion, and Russia wants its dough. A starting point of any conversation about Russian support is a promise that Russia will be paid back. Other chips in the deal include America's support for Russia's WTO bid and a quieter U.S. State Department when it comes to Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya and Georgia.
In short, if the United Nations agrees to support an American military effort it won't be because the U.N. put principle above self-interest; it will be because various nations were willing to horse trade with blood and oil. Which raises the question, why is it morally superior to work with the U.N. when working with the U.N. means not only more bloodshed elsewhere in the world, but a deterioration of America's moral authority? I remain baffled.