The consensus against the US on Iraq grows as Nelson Mandela and Jaques Chirac, Presidents of South Africa and France respectively state that the US must seek UN approval prior to attack. Post includes original commentary in first comment.
Following up on my post from a few days ago with continued ramblings and personal observations on world politics.
Both France and South Africa (through Nelson Mandela with Chirac effectively saying “ditto to my homeboy Nellie”) have now come out pretty firmly against direct US unilateral action against Iraq. The way Mandela stated it is different than past warnings though. He said the US must go through the UN for approval before an attack and to do otherwise throws international politics into chaos. The implicit underpinning is that if the UN approves it everything’s okay, but if it doesn’t the US shouldn’t attack. This changes the argument among those forming the mid-power coalition against the US from “friends of Iraq vs. friends of US” to “those who wish to use the UN vs. unilateral action of a nation”. By framing it as a UN issue it gives a lot more cover to US allies to not support an Iraqi action outside UN resolutions. After all the UN, nominally, is an organization the US supports along with most major mid-tier powers.
I don’t particularly like the UN and not because of the conspiracy theories out there from the far right. Nations are never democratic so any coalition among them exists only as long as the individual self-interests of the nations are served. As soon as they’re not the system breaks down.(At least until we get to inter-systemary scale planetary governments but that’s a whole ‘nother hypothetical rambling). If the mid-powers use the UN as the anchor to check the US (rather than individually or another system) they put the US in a very tough spot.
The scenarios as I see them:
1) US goes to UN for approval on Iraqi action and gets it. This sets another precedent that the US would have to do this for future actions which is not good for the long term. I don’t think any sovereign nation should need approval to see after it’s interests, hence the word sovereign.
2) US goes to UN for approval and is blocked (either in a majority vote or by a security council veto). Now the US has to decide to ignore the UN (crippling the UN’s credibility) or respect the UN and not attack Iraq (setting an even stronger precedent that the US cannot prosecute war without UN approval).
3) US doesn’t go to the UN for approval. We did this in Kosovo to sidestep the above two scenarios. It isn’t easy and you can’t go to the well too often by doing this. I think Clinton did it once (Kosovo), Bush once (Panama), and Reagan a few times (Grenada, Libya). It does however avoid the possibility of #2 which is probably the worst scenario that could happen to the US.
4) The US produces “smoking-gun” evidence of weapons of mass-destruction in Iraq. Hmmm…sounds like that short-story I outlined a few months back. There hasn’t been any evidence like this forthcoming yet so either the cards are being held to their chest or they don’t have anything decisive. Firm evidence of weapons of mass destruction and intent to use them (after all many nations have weapons of mass destruction and aren’t gone to war against) would be the best for the US.
Barring that though I think Bush is in a jam. He needs to take Powell out of the box, perhaps even his father, and get both of them back out there to build a consensus coalition. He may even try to play it like he is the Senate, he doesn’t technically need their approval but will “consult” with them (a position I disagree with by the way). However if he can pull something like that off with the UN I think he has a way out of the mess. Of course there’s rumors Powell’s resigning at the end of the year so he may not have his coalition builder for long.