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May Be a Casualty of the Iraq War
by W. James Antle III
26 March 2003
At the very least, conservatives
appear to be moving toward a unified opposition to the U.N. Calls for
ending or curtailing U.S. involvement in the U.N. have come from Charles
Krauthammer, Mona Charen, William Kristol, Linda Chavez, and David Gelernter.
first shot was fired in the war with Iraq, one hapless bystander was wounded,
perhaps mortally. This war may yet be the beginning of the end for
the United Nations.
In his St. Patrick’s Day speech outlining his ultimatum for Saddam Hussein,
President George W. Bush listed the U.N. Security Council’s unwillingness
to enforce its own resolutions as part of the rationale for American military
action. Even before this speech, the president warned that failure to
support the use of force in the face of Iraqi defiance would make the U.N.
“irrelevant.” Now the Security Council’s position on the war and the
opposition of permanent members France, Russia and China has proved itself
incapable of preventing a coalition led by the United States and Great Britain
from waging war for regime change in Iraq.
Conservatives of all stripes have long been critical of the United Nations,
but support for getting “the U.S. out of the U.N.” has generally been limited
to smaller conservative groups and harder-line proponents of constitutionalism
and American sovereignty. Calls for ending American membership in the
U.N. have generally been dismissed as the conspiratorial locutions of the
“black helicopter set.” Legislation regularly filed by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.)
to withdraw the U.S. from the world body has generally gone nowhere and met
with little support even among conservatives Republicans.
Yet in the last week, there has been open speculation that the U.N.’s days
were numbered and arguments for ending or at least cutting back the U.S.’s
role from well-known commentators who are generally favorable toward internationalism.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Muravchik argued against “a presumption
that Security Council approval is the necessary prerequisite for the use of
American force abroad.” Richard Perle wrote in The Guardian that the
Iraq war will refute “the fantasy of the U.N. as the foundation of a new
world order,” by demonstrating “coalitions of the willing” to be “the true
alternative to the anarchy of the abject failure of the U.N.”
Calls for ending or curtailing U.S. involvement in the U.N. came from Charles
Krauthammer, Mona Charen, William Kristol, Linda Chavez and David Gerlernter.
These are not Birchers; they are mainstream pundits.
Indeed, during the last Gulf War the air was full of happy talk about the
U.N.’s productive role and the establishment of a New World Order. Some
of that kind of rhetoric still persists, but mainly this war has been justified
in terms of stark national security interests. In defiance of a pseudo-governmental
U.N., the U.S. professes to be acting in defense of these interests with
the help of allied countries who chose to go along.
At the very least, conservatives appear to be moving toward a unified opposition
to the U.N. This does not mean that all conservatives oppose the U.N.
for the same reasons. Some see the U.N. as a nascent world government
waiting to shred our Constitution and national sovereignty. Others see
it as an obstacle to an American-led international order. But in any
event, increasing numbers of mainstream conservatives are arriving at the
conclusion that the U.N., like the League of Nations, is not all that it
is cracked up to be.
Truth be told, the U.N. is both inherently incapable of dealing with many
crises and fundamentally at odds with the political vision of our Founding
Fathers. It counts numerous tyrannical regimes among its members in
good standing. In the General Assembly, the votes of dictatorships count
for as much as the votes of free nations. In the Security Council, veto
power is held not just by countries like Britain and the U.S One permanent
member, China, is a communist dictatorship while another, Russia, was one
until a little more than a decade ago and retains many vestiges of repression.
The U.N.’s fabled concern for human rights has been selective to say the
least. The body’s conferences tend to blame Western nations for the world’s
ills and propose the redistribution of wealth as the solution.
The two countries that are most frequently criticized in this debating society
are the U.S. and Israel, despite the fact that the former is a significant
source of funding. Some members actually see it is a potential counterweight
to American world power. It was basically useless during the biggest
struggle of its existence, the Cold War, and may prove to be equally so in
the war on terrorism.
Of course, the U.N. may survive this test of its relevance. An America
under economic strain may rely on its international relief agencies to play
a large role in postwar Iraq. A failure on the part of coalition forces
to find any significant stockpiles of prohibited weapons of mass destruction
will be seen by many as a validation of the inspectors. Some U.N. critics
may move on to other issues after the war is over, with no more interest in
criticizing Kofi Annan than they had in criticizing Jacques Chirac before
the war debate.
Nevertheless, it is apparent that many people are now rethinking both the
utility of international organizations like the U.N. and the vitality of the
nation-state. In recent years, people have confidently asserted that
the United Nations represents the future while the nation-state represents
the past. So far, the conduct of the Iraq war cast considerable doubt
upon these claims.
W. James Antle III is a Senior
Editor for EnterStageRight.com
and a primary columnist for IntellectualConservative.com. He is
a freelance writer from Boston, Massachussetts.
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