Outgrowing the U.N.

Posted: Oct 28, 2002 12:00 AM
Follow this one. Immediately after President Bush was inaugurated, he wooed Vicente Fox. President Fox was (is) the glamorous figure south of the border, something of a hero for having defeated the reigning party in Mexico, which had ruled happily and corruptly ever since winning the long revolutionary struggle to install democracy 70 years ago.

Bush was motivated by sound regional instincts, seeking a close association with our southern neighbor, and it didn't hurt that he had got a near plurality of the Texan Hispanic vote in the election. Anyway, Bush and Fox became, in the language of British schoolboys, BBCs -- Best Boy Chums.

But then came 9/11, and the vector of presidential energy turned to Iraq. Over the months we have had news of Sr. Vicente's disillusion. He had put together a packet of reforms of a kind he'd have identified as clinching U.S.-Mexican friendship. They had to do, of course, with the matter of Mexicans traveling to the United States, seeking in many cases to become American citizens. Short of that, to work here, be educated here, and to be cared for here in matters of health.

What has happened is that in order to express Mexican coolness over the distraction of the U.S. president, Mexico is threatening to vote with the wrong people in the forthcoming U.N. resolution on Iraq. Specifically, the Mexican ambassador is talking about the virtues of the alternative French proposal. It is to insist on progressive resolutions. The first would authorize a resumption of inspections in Iraq for forbidden things, like poisons and nuclear weapons. Only if that inspection were unsuccessful or inconclusive would a second resolution authorizing military action be considered. That contingent and emasculating approval of planned U.S. policies in Iraq is what France and Russia are demanding, and of course they both have the veto power.

Aware of this, the United States is greatly stressing, under diplomatic cover, the need to get a rousing vote from those countries in the Security Council who are there rotationally, without a veto. We are pretty confident we'll have support from Bulgaria, Colombia, Guinea and Norway, and we are hopeful about Cameroon and Singapore. Ireland and Mauritius are dicey, and of course we'd be losing Syria, which is no surprise. If we were planning to invade South Dakota, we couldn't count on help from North Dakota.

But Mexico! It would truly hurt, the State Department feels, if Mexico voted on the same side as (veto-armed) France and Russia.

What is laid bare in the above is the extent to which alien interests affect voting distributions. Whether the United States should move militarily against Iraq has zero to do with U.S. immigration policies involving Mexico, but nothing is clearer than that Mexican petulance is operative here.

In 1975, the U.N. General Assembly voted to declare that Zionism was racism. That declaration (rescinded in 1991) was one hell of a shock, with implications that included sending Daniel Patrick Moynihan to the U.S. Senate, to celebrate his eloquent and outraged rebuke, as American ambassador, of the racism vote. Mexico voted the anti-Israel line, and a few weeks later the Mexican tourist business all but closed down: the American Jewish community decided to take action of its own, and a legion of planned meetings and visits to Mexico by Jewish organizations were canceled. (Mexico got the word, and crawled back, denouncing the declaration it had voted for.)

All of which highlights the continuing peril of banking on U.N. approval. The rhetoric of 1990, used by the senior Bush administration, was historically reckless. Pleading for approval by the United Nations of the proposed military action to oust Iraq from Kuwait, there were suggestions that unless the U.N. vote favored the action, we would not undertake it. The U.N. did, and Congress did, though narrowly.

We have got to live with the historical implications of our pre-eminence in world affairs. Policies initiated by the president and approved by Congress cannot be subordinated to parliamentary allocations of power arrived at in 1945 (why a French veto power, not a Japanese or German?). If it is the consolidated judgment of democratically elected U.S. leadership that Saddam Hussein must be tamed, it is irrelevant what the Security Council of the United Nations does.

We would benefit more in the long term if the French (or Russians) did veto the desired resolution, so that by proceeding against Iraq, we would simultaneously destroy the aggressive power of Saddam and the passive power of the U.N.