Determination, Not Recrimination

On the eve of war with Iraq, the time for debate and second-guessing has passed and the time for supporting American troops-and their commander-in-chief-has arrived.

On the eve of war with Iraq, the time for debate and second-guessing has passed and the time for supporting American troops-and their commander-in-chief-has arrived.  Whatever one's original views of inspections, diplomacy, and the Iraqi threat, after our country's massive military and political investment in victory over Saddam Hussein-and in the face of the mounting costs and risks of uncertainty to cooperative U.S. allies in the region, to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's political future, and to America's "frozen" economy-it is essential to recognize that President Bush is making the right decision in going to war.  Now that hostilities appear imminent, all should hope for a quick victory with minimal consequences for U.S. forces, Iraqi civilians, and America's image in the world. 

No one should feel guilty about acting without yet another United Nations Security Council resolution.  It is important to remember that the vast majority of the wars that have taken place during the almost sixty-year life span of the United Nations have taken place without its formal authorization.  The Korean War and the 1991 Persian Gulf War are the exception rather than the rule. 

In fact, many of the interventions most frequently described as "justified" have not been endorsed by the Security Council.  Interestingly, France takes a fairly casual approach to the Security Council in its own regular low-level military involvement in Africa.  Also, Paris did not particularly object to NATO's 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia, which was not taken to the UN because of concern over a likely Russian veto.  The Yugoslavia air campaign similarly belies arguments that an "imminent threat" is necessary to justify an attack or that force should be strictly a last resort.  Belgrade was not a threat to NATO and, as historical evidence now demonstrates, the true atrocities occurred after the bombing began, not before.  And France was much less vigorous in asking for more time to work out a deal with Slobodan Milosevic-who had no weapons of mass destruction and had not sent military forces outside Yugoslavia's borders-than it was in seeking to prolong UN inspections in Iraq. 

Still, while eschewing guilt over the absent blessings of the "international community," the United States should also avoid self-destructive recriminations against key allies and partners.  Though some of America's long-time allies have not exactly covered themselves with glory in dealing with Iraq, all are entitled to their own opinions as both sovereign states and (in many but not all cases) as democracies.  It would be not only hypocritical, but also unrealistic to demand blind allegiance from U.S. allies-particularly in the face of widespread opposition to American policy within their own political systems.  Also, while the Bush Administration was right not to be deterred by the United Nations, taking into account that for decades the United States has been the most frequent user of the veto privilege, Americans should not be overly offended when others signal similar intentions.  In acting without the United Nations, organizing a coalition of the willing, and sending 300,000 troops into battle, Washington has already made its point about U.S. power and determination.  Rubbing our outrage in the faces of our uncooperative allies would be counterproductive and petty-and great empires cannot afford to look petty. 

Fortunately, there have been some preliminary signals that France and Russia do not want to take their disagreement with the United States too far.  France's Ambassador to the United Nations has said that Iraq's use of weapons of mass destruction would "change everything"; Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that he hoped that despite disagreements over Iraq, the United Nations would play an important role in reconstructing the country. 

While these statements sound self-serving, it is in the American interest to explore them in order to preserve important relationships with Paris and Moscow and to engage them and others in the aftermath of the war.  Occupying Iraq largely alone, the United States would serve as a lightning rod for criticism and retaliation; working with others, America is at less risk.  This is especially true in dealing with Arab public opinion and, no less important, in securing Arab and other financial support for rebuilding Iraq. 

Victory is not the end of what must be done in Iraq.  Nor is victory the end of the war on terrorism or the end of U.S. efforts to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Under the circumstances, maintaining effective working relationships with other major powers that can help to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of U.S. intervention in Iraq should be a priority.  Self-righteous indignation will only benefit Osama bin Laden and other U.S. enemies; it will not enhance American global leadership.

Dimitri K. Simes is the President of The Nixon Center and the Publisher of In the National Interest. Paul J. Saunders is the Director of The Nixon Center and a senior editor at In the National Interest.