Whom do you trust? Bush or the U.N.?

Politics and policy.
Oct. 9 2002 6:36 PM

Give Him the Gun

Whom do you trust? Bush or the United Nations?

The Senate debate on Iraq boils down to this: Whom do you trust less—President Bush or the United Nations?

Advertisement

Nobody's putting it that way, of course. Democrats don't want to show disrespect to the president, and Republicans don't want to show disrespect to our allies. But if you scrape away the pomp and platitudes, that's the question that drives the debate.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Here's the key paragraph of the war resolution senators have been discussing: "The President is authorized to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolutions [previously passed against Iraq], defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region."

Opponents of the resolution, such as Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., say it's premature to authorize the use of force before diplomatic alternatives have been exhausted. They propose either to defer Senate action until the United Nations acts or to authorize force only "pursuant to a resolution of the United Nations Security Council … adopted after the enactment of this joint resolution." If the Security Council does nothing, they argue, Bush can come back to Congress with his war resolution, and they'll pass it.

Proponents of the resolution, such as Sens. John Warner, R-Va., Wayne Allard, R-Colo., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind., reply that the United Nations won't get tough on Iraq unless the United States applies firm pressure. In their view, this requires unity between Bush and Congress. Several of these senators met with Secretary of State Colin Powell during a break in the debate Tuesday. When they returned, they told colleagues that according to Powell, U.S. diplomats at the United Nations wanted a strong resolution from Congress to use as leverage in negotiations with other members of the Security Council.

Proponents object to giving the United Nations a "veto" over U.S. military operations. In principle, this is an assertion of sovereignty. In practice, it's code for the weak-kneed corruption of Russia, China, and France—veto-bearing members of the Security Council who constantly bend over backward to avoid enforcing the council's resolutions against Iraq. As Allard noted Tuesday, all three countries have commercial deals with Iraq that are being blocked by U.N. sanctions.

Over the past four days, I've seen many liberal senators speak high-mindedly of the legitimacy that only the "international community" can confer on an enforcement action in Iraq. I have yet to see one senator explain why France, China, or Russia, given their past and present heel-dragging, can be counted on to take or support such action. So why do these senators prefer to wait for multilateral intervention? Not because they trust the Security Council but because they don't trust the president.

Imagine that you live in a neighborhood infested with juvenile delinquents. The cops are too lazy and cowardly to take on the delinquents. One day, your uncle, who lives down the block, comes to you and asks for your gun. He says he just wants to point it at one of the kids, maybe fire a shot or two over the kid's head. Maybe then the cops will realize that if they don't round up the kids, the neighborhood will dissolve into vigilante mayhem. You offer the gun to your uncle but ask him not to remove the safety. He says that isn't good enough. He wants the safety off.

How much do you trust your uncle? Are you more afraid that the cops won't protect you from the delinquents or that your uncle will start shooting kids? Do you hand over the gun?

Opponents of the war resolution are afraid to give Bush the gun. They call his use-of-force resolution a "blank check." They try to frame this objection in general terms, noting the constitutional role of the Senate in constraining the president. On Wednesday, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., compared Bush's resolution to the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution that led to the Vietnam War. But Leahy added, "I'm not suggesting the administration is trying to mislead the Congress about Iraq."

TODAY IN SLATE

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

How the First Benghazi Committee Hearing Humbled the Hillary Clinton State Department

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 18 2014 10:42 AM Scalia’s Liberal Streak The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 11:25 AM Gays on TV: From National Freakout to Modern Family Fun
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM Where Pregnant Women Aren't Allowed to Work After 36 Weeks  
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Music
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM Where the Girls At? Jhené Aiko, Marsha Ambrosius, Ledisi, and the other brilliant women of R&B who aren’t getting their due in 2014.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?