Whatever one may think of the wisdom of invading Iraq and
opening a third front in the war on terror, President Bush's address to the
United Nations was a tour de force.
The president gave it to the Tower of Babel with the bark on, as
"Cactus Jack" Garner used to say. With Kofi Annan seated behind him, Bush
bluntly told the U.N. what it already knew: A decade of its commands had
been treated by Saddam Hussein with utter contempt. Either the U.N. acts now
to enforce its resolutions, or the U.N. becomes as irrelevant as the League
of Nations in the 1930s when it failed to sanction Mussolini for his
invasion of Ethiopia.
As a final thrust, the president told the assembled: Whether you
authorize the United States to go in and destroy Saddam and his weapons, or
deny us the authority, we're going in and doing the job. Wednesday, the
president gave the U.N. as well as Saddam an ultimatum: Either you are with
us, or we are no longer with you.
By the time the president sat down, only one man could save
Saddam: Saddam himself. But given Bush's resolve to rid the world of him and
Bush's conviction that only U.S., not U.N., inspectors in Baghdad can
guarantee Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction, even Saddam may be
past the point where he can save himself.
When the president walked off the podium, the U.N. was left with
this alternative: Send Iraq an ultimatum to open up its arsenals to U.N.
inspections, and authorize force to back the ultimatum if Iraq balks, or
America will go it alone.
Leadership creates consensus, and the president's address
demonstrated that truth. The Security Council is now beavering away on an
ultimatum to Baghdad.
Congress, too, was jolted by the speech and the president's
follow-up demand that both Houses authorize him to invade Iraq before
adjournment in October. Even The New Republic is disgusted with the
Democrats' evasion of their duty to endorse, or to oppose, the pre-emptive
war the president intends to launch.
The pleas of Democratic leaders that we all put off voting until
after the elections are rationales for cowardice. The people have a right to
know where their elected leaders stand. And the president's mockery of the
congressional leaders who have to see how the U.N. votes first was amply
Why is the president winning? Why are the U.N. and Congress,
under the lash of his rhetoric, hustling to meet his demands?
Simple. Who dares wins. Those who believe deeply in a cause,
even if it is wrong, usually prevail over those who believe only in their
political survival. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of this policy of
pre-emptive war on a nation whose complicity in 9-11 has never been
established, the president believes in it. He is willing to go to war, to
shed American blood, to put his presidency and his place in history on the
line. In poker parlance, he has shoved his whole stack in.
But the price he will have to pay for this war is rising. The
Russians are signing on in return for full payment of Saddam's debts to
Moscow, a piece of the oil action in post-Saddam Iraq and a free hand in
dealing with Chechen rebels in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. Our old friend,
Georgian President Sheverdnadze, is finding out how fickle Americans can be
when the stakes are high.
In return for their acquiescence in our smashing Iraq, the
Chinese have gotten our acquiescence in their crushing the Islamic
independence movement in eastern China. At Beijing's behest, the State
Department has declared the rebels to be terrorists. In war, truth may be
the first casualty, but moral clarity is a close second.
Even the Saudis, sensing war is unavoidable and the United
States will emerge as the victorious hegemonic power in the Gulf, are
"crawfishing," as the president would say. They are signaling that, should
the U.N. approve a resolution calling for inspections and should Iraq
resist, they, too, will ride with the posse. America may be allowed to use
the Saudi bases after all.
With the exception of Germany, where Chancellor Schroeder is
trying to ride anti-war and anti-American sentiment to a second term in
Sunday's election, Europe, too, seems to be using the U.N. sanctions
resolution as a bridge to get back to the Americans' side.
The only man standing who can now disassemble the coalition that
is forming against him is Saddam, by bowing to U.N. demands and letting
inspectors back in. The president and his War Cabinet are betting that he
won't and probably praying the same way.