Resolution Solution: Iraq, the UN and American Interests

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the ongoing discussions in the United Nations Security Council of the appropriate formula for introducing weapons inspectors back into Iraq is the degree to which Washington's behavior-rather than Baghdad's-is a

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the ongoing discussions in the United Nations Security Council of the appropriate formula for introducing weapons inspectors back into Iraq is the degree to which Washington's behavior-rather than Baghdad's-is at issue.  In some respects it is American global leadership, not Saddam Hussein's wrongdoing, which is under scrutiny.

Iraq's apparent acceptance of inspectors under terms negotiated in 1998 by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan presents the United States with three options: permit inspections to proceed on unsatisfactory terms, give up on the United Nations and strike unilaterally at a point when Iraq is perceived by many to have made a major concession, or insist on new action by the Security Council to create a framework for meaningful inspections and prompt elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and manufacturing capabilities.  The last option, which the Bush Administration appears to be pursuing, seems most likely to meet American requirements while maintaining broad international cooperation in the war on terrorism.  And if the United States is prepared to accommodate other permanent Security Council members on relatively minor matters, it is probably achievable.

Britain has been strongly supportive of American concerns and France, Russia, and China have generally come to agree with the Bush Administration that Saddam Hussein is a liar, a tyrant, and a danger to his neighbors and the world.  In contrast to the situation just one month ago, leaders in Paris, Moscow, and Beijing are no longer complaining that the administration has not "made the case" for attacking Iraq.

However, French President Jacques Chirac-with support from the Kremlin and Chinese leaders-has advocated a "two-step" approach to Iraq by proposing an initial Security Council resolution establishing the conditions under which inspectors will operate and, in the event of a "serious failure by Iraq to comply with its obligations", a separate second resolution to authorize the use of force.  Why two steps?  French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin makes clear that Paris wants a second resolution on the use of force strictly to restrain Washington: "We don't want to give anyone free rein to launch military action", he wrote in the newspaper Le Monde.  "This initiative is the only way to ensure control at each step of the crisis."

Russian and Chinese officials doubtless feel the same way.  While America's unprecedented power-hard, soft, and otherwise-has put to rest their twentieth century dreams of "multipolarity"--at least for the foreseeable future--neither government (nor the French government, for that matter) is comfortable with the notion of unconstrained American power.  Under the circumstances, from their perspective, the United Nations is the last line of defense: if Washington can use force anywhere in the world without UN approval, no one can withstand American wrath.

Regardless of these concerns, American predominance is a highly desirable position from which to advance and defend American interests and an entirely appropriate objective of United States policy, as outlined in the Bush Administration's new National Security Strategy of the United States of America.  And no one should be ashamed of having, or using, the remarkable military power that the United States today possesses.  But American predominance is not guaranteed indefinitely-and it is not guaranteed at a price that most Americans are willing to pay even in the medium term.  It is therefore of great importance to give serious consideration to how best to preserve the unique position enjoyed by the United States for as long as possible at an acceptable cost.

Some conservatives have argued that the most effective strategy is essentially to do nothing; they set the standards for intervention abroad so high as to prevent action in all but the most extreme cases.  Others, including many neo-conservatives, believe firmly that Americans are willing-even eager-to pay the costs of empire in the name of promoting our values and that other peoples crave our leadership.  The former approach risks allowing grave dangers to grow unopposed while the latter risks provoking a worldwide backlash against the United States.  Neither can preserve our country's international leadership in the long run.

The key to maintaining America's international position lies in making it palatable to others without sacrificing our own fundamental interests.  This does not mean allowing American foreign policy to be made in Paris, let alone Moscow or Beijing.  But it does mean occasionally giving in on unimportant issues, like process, in exchange for acceptance of the substance of American preferences.

In the case of Iraq, this is fairly easy to do.  It is already more than clear to French, Russian and Chinese officials that the Bush Administration is prepared to act against Iraq unilaterally on the basis of existing United Nations resolutions if no satisfactory agreement is reached within the Security Council.  And, while the cost to the United States of unilateral action could be high (potential backlash), its cost to France, Russia and China (no influence over America's use of force in Iraq, and the Iraq case as a precedent elsewhere) and the United Nations (near total irrelevance) would be higher.  Paris, Moscow, and Beijing are therefore highly motivated to find a solution within the UN framework.