As U.S. troops prepare in earnest for an invasion of Iraq, the Washington Post reports that our allies in Europe are signaling a greater willingness to contribute to the war effort. Both Britain and France France! have instructed their military forces to prepare for mobilization. The Union Jack and the Tri-Color marching side by side with Old Glory to remove Saddam... at last!
Not quite. Apparently France and England also made clear that the flags of red, white, and blue will unite only under the turquoise banner of the United Nations. Nothing Saddam does, it seems, can shake Europe's attachment to U.N. "legitimacy." "Let us resolutely repudiate the temptation to act unilaterally," French President Jacques Chirac insists. "Let us avoid attitudes that would tarnish the legitimacy of the action we take."
This phobia of "unilateralism" pre-dates 9/11. Even before the "Bush Doctrine" provoked the ire of Senate Democrats and French bureaucrats, we can remember instances early in this administration when leftists at home and abroad decried "unilateralist tendencies." Critics cried foul at Bush plans for missile defense, his decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, his rejection of the Kyoto protocol, and his snubbing of a world-wide conference on racism. Significantly, they criticized the unilateralism of American policy as often as the policy's merits. Now multilateralists go farther and assert that legitimate U.S. military action can come only with U.N. backing.
Perhaps the United States should not be surprised that foreign powers would have us obtain their approval before taking military action. But citizens should be surprised that so many Democrats in Congress would reflexively subscribe to the same litmus test.
So far the Bush Administration has properly maintained that the United States will, if necessary, act unilaterally to protect its security interests, even as it has worked to build U.N. support for possible military action and regime change in Iraq. Significantly, those attempts suggest that one can believe in the prudence of multilateralism while understanding its strategic limits. Securing United Nations' support, in the conviction that the resulting stability is in the U.S. best interests, may be most effective means to final victory. But what if it were not? How should we understand President Bush's claim that U.N. support is a matter of prudence and not of principle?
To evaluate the "Bush Doctrine" let us consider the doctrine of George Washington. In his Farewell Address, Washington proclaimed the right of the Unites States to "choose peace or war, as our interest guided by justice shall counsel." Washington spoke not of interest alone Saddam has his interests, too but also of justice. This is not the same as "legitimacy." To see the difference consider the Declaration of Independence. It says that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." The U.N. Security Council those ostensibly in a position to declare the legitimacy or illegitimacy of U.S. foreign policy do not, of course, derive their power from the consent of citizens of the United States. In fact, some of those members do not even derive their power from the consent of their own citizens!
The totalitarian regime that now holds power in China can properly be said to represent the interests of Communist Party elite, but surely not those of the Chinese people. With what power does Beijing govern the interests of America, or weigh the justice of our actions, when it does not even have the consent of its own people? How then can one argue that a Chinese veto which would ensure official U.N. disapproval would in fact doom a proposed action to illegitimacy?
The U.N. doesn't understand that many of its august delegates have no claim whatsoever to speak on behalf of the people they purportedly represent. On the U.N.'s Web page the organization makes the following claim: "The vote of the General Assembly is an accurate barometer of world opinion. Its decisions, though not legally binding on Member States, represents the moral authority of the community of nations." Really? Do Saddam Hussein's appointees in the General Assembly convey the opinion of the Iraqi people? What of other nations without representative governments?
Security Council backing of military action may be desirable, and pursuing it seems inevitable. But if the U.S. deems that military action is in our "interest guided by justice," U.N. opposition should not stop the President from staying that course.