The story often is told of the
child who decides to run away from home. His father expresses
sadness at his departure, and gravely helps him pack. Dad walks
junior to the door, shakes his hand, and tells him he'll be missed.
Junior makes it as far as the
George Bush has just done that
to the United Nations.
Like a parent with a strong-willed
but dependent child, Bush is making it clear that the U.N. is
welcome to do what it can about Saddam Hussein, but left no doubt
that the U.S. will take responsibility for the rest.
The strategy is working.
Bush has been forthright. Speaking
September 14 at Camp David, Bush told the U.N. to "show some
backbone" about the tyrant in Baghdad who has spent the past
decade thumbing his nose at U.N. resolutions.
"The U.N. will either be
able to function as a peacekeeping body as we head into the 21st
century, or it will be irrelevant. And that's what we're about
to find out. Make no mistake about it. If we have to deal with
the problem, we'll deal with it... This is the chance for the
United Nations to show some backbone and resolve as we confront
the true challenges of the 21st century."1
In other words, lead, follow
or get out of the way.
It's a deft combination of compliment
and challenge. By caring more about Iraq's adherence to U.N. resolutions
than the U.N. ever has, Bush makes it clear he's not flaunting
the U.N., but neither is he leaving the safety the U.S. in U.N.
It's also a tart response to
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who on September 12 told Bush
in front of the U.N. General Assembly that the U.S. doesn't have
the right to preempt attacks upon its citizenry without express
There are ironies here.
Bush's multilateralist critics
have been known to imply that Bush is little more than an empty-headed
cowboy. If he is, his U.N. masterstroke shows he's an empty-headed
cowboy who is running rings around them.
Furthermore, many who demanded
Bush receive U.N. support erroneously saw their demand as an impediment
to war. Notable in this camp are 37 church leaders from North
America and Britain who released a statement saying in part: "We
have watched with increasing alarm as the United States government
has become increasingly unilateral in its approach to foreign
affairs, and has failed to heed the advice and counsel of friends
Statement backers, American
signers of which include official representatives of the United
Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian
Church USA, the United Church of Christ USA, the National Baptist
Convention USA and other U.S. Christian denominations, now can
relax. The world community increasingly is behind Bush. Incongruously,
as Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter requires U.N. member nations
to abide by Security Council resolutions authorizing use of force,
even in cases where they otherwise would be neutral, following
the advice of the peacemakers is strengthening the war effort.
If Bush's critics knew as much
about foreign policy as anyone dispensing advice ought, they would
have realized that Bush always has been capable of getting the
U.N. behind him.
U.N. support mostly is a stage
show. World leaders who ultimately intend to support the U.S.
look tough and independent when they demand U.N. approval of U.S.
actions - and then line up behind the world's only superpower.
This "independence" plays well in Germany and France,
for instance, serving the domestic political needs of leaders
there and elsewhere without significantly undermining the U.S.
This shows one reason why Bush
was right not to go to the U.N. immediately. By giving eventual
allies something to "demand," he allowed other leaders
to get behind him without losing face.
Another reason he was right
to wait: not going to the U.N. immediately was a neat advance
rebuttal of Kofi Annan and those who believe the U.S. does not
have the right to make its own decisions about its self-defense.
Annan, who won the Nobel Peace
Prize in 2001, claims only the U.N. can authorize military action
in cases other than straightforward self-defense.
Annan is wrong. The only limits
on what a state can do in self-defense are moral limits. No international
body can strip a nation's sovereign right to decide what is in
its own defense. Bush makes it clear that the U.S. remains a fully
independent, sovereign nation that works with other nations because
we respect them enough to choose to, not because we must.
The Bush foreign policy is one
of robust independence with respect for others. Not bad at all.
Amy Ridenour is President of
The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington,
D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Patricia Wilson, "Bush Calls on UN 'To Show
Some Backbone' on Iraq," Reuters, September 14, 2002.
2 "Annan Opposes U.S. Unilateral Action Against Iraq,"
Reuters, September 12, 2002, also "Text of U.N. Chief's Speech,"
Associated Press, September 12, 2002.
3 "U.S., U.K. and Canadian Church Leaders Urge a Halt
to 'Rush To War' With Iraq," press release of the Central
Committee Of The World Council Of Churches," issued August
30, 2002 from a WCC meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.