Not surprisingly, Iraq seems to have rejected out of hand our demand that it give us its country. Praying for peace seems about the only alternative left to anyone who would like us to avoid war.
In his prime-time speech last night, President Bush’s justification for military action in Iraq was, as usual, a little garbled. Most straightforward and compelling was the argument that Iraq, having lost the Gulf War, agreed to co-operate in its disarmament. It is still true, however, that its lack of co-operation in this enterprise is more evident than its lack of substantive disarmament. Other allegations, while true, are not conventional casus belli, that Iraq has mistreated its people, for example. More worrisome, though still a novel justification for war, is the suggestion that Iraq might, for whatever reasons, supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. The President has clearly failed to sell this rationale to the world, in part, I think, because the case is less compelling with respect to Iraq than it is with regard to North Korea.
Although the President tried to explain why we are about to attack a country that has not, by conventional reckoning, attacked or provoked us, he did not address the more interesting question of why we stand nearly alone in this enterprise, in stark contrast to our situation before the Gulf War, in which we had broad international support. True, we were thwarted by a self-absorbed and self-important French government, but the French, who have been a diplomatic thorn in our side for many years, were responding to perceived American weakness and ineptitude. The administration, although it was dragged kicking and screaming into engaging in a diplomatic initiative to convince the Security Council to sanction the use of force against Iraq, acted as though its heart was not really in the effort. High-ranking officials were not flying around the world making its case. Whatever arm-twisting there may have been was, at best, ineffectual. Even President Bush’s touted rapport with President Vicente Fox of Mexico was insufficient to rally Mexico to our side in the Security Council.
The administration’s diplomatic skills aside, why should we have expected the outcome to be otherwise? President Bush made it quite clear to the world that a Security Council vote would have no effect on our decision to attack Iraq—we were going to do what we were going to do, whatever the U.N. thought about it. Why should Security Counil members put themselves on the hook for supporting what they considered a bad idea. And, even if they supported U.S. action, what incentive was there for broad military and financial support, given that the U.S. was willing to do the job for the world for free? We only weakly hinted that a failure of the U.N. to back its own demands would be damaging to the diplomatic mechanisms constructed since World War II. One suspects, of course, that the administration has no fondness for the U.N. anyway, and may be just as happy to have an excuse to exercise our military power without international constraints. Is there any doubt why the nations of the world told us thanks, but no thanks?