Double Standards, U.N. Style

It's quiz time: Who said, "The spectacle of the United States, armed with its weapons of mass destruction, acting without Security Council authority to invade a country in the heartland of Arabia and, if necessary, use its weapons of mass destruction to win that battle, is something that will so deeply violate any notion of fairness in this world that I strongly suspect it could set loose forces that we would deeply live to regret?"

No, it was not Nelson Mandela. He was the one who said, "One power, with a president who has no foresight and who cannot think properly, wants to plunge the world into a holocaust," and called Tony Blair "Bush's Foreign Minister."

Okay, all you peaceniks. Go to your closet door, and pull your darts out of the old newspaper photographs of Richard Butler, the UNSCOM inspector, much abused by Saddam Hussein and his fan club for suggesting that the Iraqis were hiding weapons from the inspectors.

Speaking in his native Australia, Butler is consistent: He still maintains that Saddam Hussein is hiding weapons and trying to cheat his way out of current obligations. But he deplores the U.S. threat to attack unilaterally and attacks the hypocrisy of pretending to be concerned about disarmament while maintaining the world's largest nuclear arsenal -- and while ignoring the nuclear weapons of its allies like Israel, Pakistan and India.

It does not help that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council who sit in judgment on Iraq happen themselves to own the world's largest quantities of nuclear weapons, and have not shown the slightest inclination to disarm themselves. "Why are they permitting the persistence of such shocking double standards?" declared the oft-reviled Butler.

The United Nations is an institution much invoked -- and indeed much abused. Many Republicans in the U.S. Congress have besmirched it for decades and supported deranged and paranoid resolutions attacking the organization for its plots against American sovereignty, motherhood, childhood and even according to one group for a "land grab," because UNESCO designated some World Heritage sites in the country.

The ability to have your cake and spit at the baker was never more apparent than in the last few months. The Republican Right wanted to bomb Iraq when it would not let in the UN inspectors, and then regarded it as a sellout when the inspectors went in instead of invading armies. Once the UN inspectors did go in, it was clear that their efficiency and probity were being measured by their success in finding excuses for the U.S. to declare war on Iraq.

But in some ways, the UN has been loved and cherished as never before. The people who for decades refused to pay their dues to the organization now hector the Europeans and others for letting the organization down, by not voting the way the U.S. wants. Indeed, knowing that such backsliders are in a majority, they tend to berate the UN as an institution for its failure to keep naysayers in check.

So let's get back to those who pilloried Richard Butler. At the time of NATO's intervention in Kosovo, many of those who opposed the war gave as one reason that the U.S. refused to go to the Security Council and get a resolution for it. They did get the unanimous -- and with the exception of Greece -- enthusiastic support of NATO members for the operation. But Bill Clinton did not want to give the Russians an opportunity to veto any such operation. It should be remembered that every attempt by Moscow to condemn the NATO intervention in the UN was resoundingly defeated.

Even at the time, those who argued against Kosovo intervention because of the lack of a UN resolution were not entirely convincing: The U.S. had after all managed to get UN resolutions for the Gulf and for sanctions and many of those who opposed the Kosovo intervention had opposed those anyway. This perhaps goes to show that expedient and ad hoc arguments are not the exclusive property of either the left or the right.

However, on the Left, there are many who see the UN not as a collective of states that, in their mutual self-interest, offers anti-annexation insurance and so has averted World War III, but as some great ethical crusading organization. The times will be hard for such uncritical fans of the organization. It is entirely likely that the U.S. will get its Security Council Resolution for an invasion.

It will not be because of the forensic detail of what promises to be a skimpy performance by Colin Powell next week. Nor will it be because George Bush has won over members by the force of his intellect and his command of his material.

It will be because the UN is a realistic place, when it gets to hard issues -- which tend to be the ones the U.S. defines as such. Members know that serious might makes right. They may roll their eyes in private at the President. But Powell's presentation offers them an excuse to avert their worst nightmare: unilateral American intervention with them marked as hostile neutrals at best.

They may haggle about the details and insist on forms of words about Iraq's territorial integrity and sovereignty. But in the end, since many of them suspect Iraq is indeed cheating, it is very likely they will succumb to the American pressure for a quick war with speedy vindication in the form of post-war confessions and revelations by Iraqi scientists and generals. The lesson to UN-worshippers is, "Put not your faith in Princes, nor in principles professed by Security Council members."


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