Irrelevance or impotence

Posted: Feb 28, 2003 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For more than five months, President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have tried vainly to drag the United Nations, kicking and screaming, back from the brink of irrelevance. Along the way, the assumption has been that others in the United Nations actually cared. Now, thanks to French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, we know better. They aren't concerned about the United Nations becoming irrelevant. What they want most is for the United States to appear impotent. Undaunted by their growing estrangement from the American people (whom they lecture) and the recently liberated citizens of "new" Europe (whom they berate), Chirac and Schroeder last week dined at a Berlin restaurant aptly named "Final Appeal," where they broke bread and munched on pickled pork knuckles. Their objective was clear: Scheme up new ways to denigrate the unparalleled economic and military prowess of the United States. It apparently matters not a whit that in so doing they abandon the people of Iraq to tyranny and imperil the United Nations that they claim to support. Chirac has opted to embrace that familiar French diplomatic contrivance: appeasement. "We want Iraq to disarm," the French potentate proclaimed in the finest tradition of Marshall Petain, "but we believe this disarmament must happen peacefully." Even by the fanciful-cum-farcical standards of his country's foreign policy, Chirac seems to be living on another planet. When was the last time an aggressive despot like Saddam Hussein "peacefully" disarmed? Time for a reality check, Jacques: Iraq does not play by Swiss diplomatic rules. Never one to miss the opportunity to prove that accountability is always the enemy of empty promises, Chirac suggested that Iraq should be given a minimum of four or five more months to come clean. He then clarified his position, lest it be taken too seriously. "There is no deadline," he added. "Only the inspectors themselves can say when such a deadline is set and how." This inane idea has been embraced by the German chancellor who has the hubris to propound his very own defeatist theory for European pacifism. "Deep in the consciousness, the collective consciousness, of the European people," Schroeder pontificated, "it has sunk in what war really means." Instead of making pompous existential pronouncements worthy of Bertolt Brecht, Schroeder could have held his own nation accountable for providing Saddam with the means to build an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. It is not the United States that invaded Kuwait, gassed Iranians and Kurds or took civilians hostages for use as "human shields." Meanwhile, across the English Channel, Prime Minister Tony Blair offers a study in Churchillian political courage. While contending with a parliamentary revolt by Saddam appeasers within his own Labor Party, he does his best to shore up European support for the inevitable crackdown on Saddam. Responding to French demands for prolonged weapons inspections, Blair observed of the United Nations, "They are not a detective agency." This may come as a surprise to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix. A week after Saddam signed a new decree "outlawing" weapons of mass destruction, the Iraqis "discovered" documents proving that all weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed back in 1991! The Swedish lawyer professed to be elated: "Here are some elements that are positive." As he readies for the next update to the Security Council on March 7, it sounds like Blix is already breaking out the champagne (French, of course) to celebrate the demise of what little credibility the United Nations still has. Saddam must be relishing a spectacle that he could not have instigated without the help of France and Germany. The United States and Great Britain appear marginalized. NATO is internally divided. Millions of Westerners are joining Neville Chamberlain appeasement clubs. And in a quest for higher ratings, network anchors continue their efforts to make Saddam appear credible. Last week, Dan Rather of CBS deadpanned the dictator about whether he really wanted to debate President George W. Bush on live TV. "I'm not joking," Saddam explained. "This is because of my respect for the American public opinion." And they call this "news"? Despite all of this, to answer Yeats' famous question, the center continues to hold. The American-British-Spanish resolution will move forward in the Security Council because there is no moral alternative. With the exception of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and his domestic political partner ex-Gov. Howard Dean, D-Vt., Saddam has few defenders in the United States. Whether the world -- and some of our own citizens -- accept it or not, the United States has become the necessary superpower that is about to undertake a necessary war. Because of two resolute leaders, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, irrelevance and impotence are not the only alternatives.