Washington We predicted that President Bush would err if he took Secretary of State Colin Powell's advice to seek U.N. support for the use of force against Iraq. Now the firestorm has broken. The European Union, France and other allies are strongly opposing any unilateral military action by the United States against Iraq.
Further, a group of nonaligned nations led by South Africa is even harsher in its criticism of the United States' use-of-force resolution just passed by Congress and signed by the president. And Middle Eastern nations, from Iraq's archenemy, Iran, to Kuwait, the country Iraq invaded in 1990, are the most strident in their opposition.
In the midst of all this is U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan pleading for consensus. Consensus? The only thing close to consensus is overwhelming opposition to the U.S. policy, even though the secretary-general acknowledges that Iraq has failed to live up to previous U.N. resolutions.
As usual, Great Britain stands with the United States, but the two nations hardly constitute a consensus (although they do have veto power in the U.N. Security Council).
One benefit to come from all of this verbal strife is the display of the United Nation's antagonism to the United States, as well as the inherent weakness of a body comprised of such disparate interests, cultures, economies and political systems.
The original concept of creating a world body to oversee world affairs was impractical from the start. The first real attempt came with the Congress of Vienna after the fall of Napoleon's European empire. That effort merely re-established monarchies and delayed inevitable revolutions. Then came Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations at the conclusion of World War I. That experiment actually hastened the advent of World War II, because countries took cowardly cover behind it even though it was weak and toothless, which only encouraged Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo to go on megalomaniac binges of conquest and destruction.
At the close of World War II, the United Nations was created with much fanfare, but it has never worked. Did the United Nations win the Cold War, or did the United States and its NATO partners? Did the United Nations provide troops and equipment to oust Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, or did the United States and its allies? Did the United Nations bring peace to the Balkans, or did the United States and NATO?
The United Nations cannot even police itself. Its accounting practices make Arthur Andersen look wholesome. And because the United Nations is so wasteful with money, the United States has often held up payment of dues a reasonable action considering that the United States is by far the largest contributor.
But all this has usually been ignored because the United States, like most other nations, has continued to conduct its foreign policy without U.N. interference or blessings. Only when U.N. assent was assured in advance has the United States sought U.N. approvals. Memorable occasions were the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950 and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In Korea, the facade of U.N. involvement was perpetuated by calling the forces fighting there U.N. forces, when in fact they were predominantly U.S. troops led by U.S. officers.
So it is one thing to keep the United Nations going as a forum for nations to air their differences and even for them to come together by unanimous consent to solve international health problems. It is a very different thing to subordinate national foreign policy to United Nations dictates, as we now appear to be doing.
Prediction: The United Nations will not sign on to the United States' use-of-force policy, and the Bush administration will not go it alone.