Sunday, September 29, 2002


President Bush spoke at a fund-raiser Friday in Phoenix for Arizona gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon. Bush was campaigning in Colorado and Arizona for Republican candidates before returning to his ranch in Texas for the weekend.

Bush’s speech
puts the ball in
the U.N.’s court

By Ralph A. Cossa

When dealing with Saddam Hussein, President George W. Bush's Sept. 12 speech to the United Nations General Assembly finally put the ball back where it belongs: squarely in the U.N.'s court. How the U.N. acts largely will determine how Saddam -- and ultimately the Bush administration -- responds. This is especially true now that Saddam has announced that he will let U.N. inspectors back in; a move no doubt aimed at dividing the growing international consensus behind a more intrusive inspection resolution, this time with enforcement mechanisms.

The United States faces a formidable diplomatic challenge, one made more difficult by its own earlier actions. This time last year, the world rallied behind the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The White House's initial response solidified that support. It was deliberate, carefully thought out and coordinated with a growing international coalition that saw many of the world's nations contribute to the war on terrorism's initial prosecution. But much of that support has been squandered as more vocal hawks in the administration have shown an eagerness to spread the war in Iraq's direction.

"Regime change" became synonymous with military action, which in turn became synonymous with a U.S. march on Baghdad -- one that many members of the news media were declaring to be imminent, despite the lack of approved war plans or support forces on the ground. It took Bush too long to remember that he had been elected not just to manage, but also to lead.

Now that he seems to have figured it out, the question is: How will the world, and the U.N. Security Council, respond? For those -- China foremost among them -- who have long argued that a multilateral approach was the proper way to proceed, Bush has thrown down the gauntlet.

"All the world now faces a test and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment," Bush said, noting that Iraq is now violating no less than 16 standing Security Council resolutions. In Kosovo, then-President Clinton and America's NATO allies let the U.N. off the hook by presuming that it would not respond and proceeding accordingly.

Washington's earlier approach took attention away from the problem -- Iraq's continued flaunting of U.N. resolutions and Saddam's growing weapons of mass destruction capability -- and placed it on the nature of the cure rather than on the disease. The crucial battle, at least for the next few weeks, will be a political rather than a military one, and now it is the U.N.'s rather than Washington's credibility that appears at stake.

This provides China with a golden opportunity to become part of the solution, rather than be seen as part of the problem. Will Beijing back a new, intrusive inspection regime and also be prepared to enforce it when Saddam tests it, as history says he will? Or will Beijing confirm the suspicion of those who charge that China's enthusiasm for multilateralism is all talk, no action? The same questions apply to the other UNSC members, and especially to the Russians and the French, whose willingness to turn a blind eye to past Iraqi indiscretions has emboldened Saddam to continue to defy the U.N.

I am against unilateral U.S. military action in Iraq, but I am also against the unchecked expansion of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and its continued flaunting of U.N. resolutions, which serve to reinforce the argument of those who see unilateral military action as the only solution to what is clearly a legitimate security problem.

The big question before us today is not "will the U.S. attack?" but will the Security Council finally act forcefully to restore its own credibility ... and with it the credibility of those in Washington and elsewhere who have long argued that Washington must remain on a cooperative, multilateral, internationalist path? Or will the members of the Security Council prove the unilateralists right?

Ralph A. Cossa is president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a Honolulu-based non-profit research institute affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and senior editor of Comparative Connections, a quarterly electronic journal.

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