U.S. efforts to remove Saddam Hussein are now thoroughly entangled in the United Nations process. Although Colin Powell’s campaign to dissuade the President from unilateral action was defensible on diplomatic grounds, the net effect of putting the issue before the Security Council thus far has been to impede U.S. policy. It’s possible that inspectors will find the proverbial “smoking gun” soon, or that Saddam will overplay his hand and provide a pretext for invasion. But if one of those things doesn’t happen, the U.S. will soon have to choose between defying the U.N. and diminishing its own security.
It’s surreal that U.N. approval has come to hinge on proving the existence of programs repeatedly uncovered in the past. Saddam’s December 7th declaration of compliance was his fourth on chemical weapons and sixth on germ weapons, and all the previous declarations were proven false. This is the same Saddam whose minions raped hundreds of Kuwaitis, gassed the Kurds, and still behead political prisoners in front of their children. The U.N.’s implicit presumption of innocence is outrageous. What are the consequences if the U.S. simply lets this farce play out?
1. In geopolitical terms, it will encourage the further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. What deposing Saddam is really about is halting the global spread of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Every rogue regime in the world is learning how it can use the U.N. to tie down America and acquire weapons that will nullify the U.S. military advantage. If Saddam escapes accountability, dictators from North Africa to the Korean Peninsula will perceive a green light to proliferate.
2. In operational terms, the paralysis of U.S. military forces pending action in the Persian Gulf could reduce readiness for years to come. Warfighters facing imminent military action don’t get much training or leave. Maintenance on weapons is deferred. Global force rotations are disrupted. All those deficits have to be made up later, reducing the availability of forces for other operations — like Korea and counter-terrorism.
3. In economic terms, any delay in military action casts a pall over domestic economic recovery. Uncertainty concerning how U.S. forces will fare, what countermoves Saddam might make, and how markets will react pushes many investors to the sidelines. It doesn’t take a political genius to see how this dynamic might undermine President Bush’s prospects for re-election.
The bottom line is that the Bush administration must act, and soon. It chose to put American prestige on the line by challenging Saddam. Now it must see that initiative through, with or without United Nations support. Failure to move will do more to harm America’s security than anything the Clinton Administration ever did.
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