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The Insecurity Council

Talking bigger than they play.

by Barnabas
March 12, 2003

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The Insecurity Council_Barnabas-Talking bigger than they play.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned on Saturday that the United States would be in violation of the UN charter if it attacked Iraq without a mandate from the Security Council.
—BBC, March 8, 2003


Those of us who grew from childhood to late middle age in a cold war with Russia are negatively impressed by political moralizing from the Russians, “democratic” as they may be — especially since the moralizing isn’t even accurate.

Primary blame for the Iraqi crisis rests almost entirely on Saddam Hussein’s shoulders. He has prolonged the Gulf War to the present moment by holding the cease-fire agreement in contempt. For a decade it has been in his power to end the crisis by meeting the conditions of the agreement. He has not done so.

Secondary blame, however, lies with the Security Council itself, which has allowed him to get away with it—even now, when matters are coming to a head. Resolution 1441 is in force, it is a mandate, and it is one of the most straightforward products of bureaucracy that I have read—clear, unequivocal, simple, and direct. Or at least it would be if it meant anything. But the Russian foreign minister, along with his French, German, and Chinese counterparts, now claims that it doesn’t mean anything. It’s only bluster. They remind me of the lazy parent who doesn’t believe in spanking but threatens it anyway. If a four-year-old can see through it — and he can — you may be sure that a rogue dictator can.

Three of the permanent members of the Security Council are, as I write, declaring they will prevent the enforcement of Resolution 1441 (in a clarifying resolution this week) by veto if necessary, in the pretense they are standing on moral high ground. They are not. They’re just moral incompetents like that parent; their word doesn’t mean anything. Their version of peace seems to be, “Let’s you and him fight.”

If you are thinking, “I’m surprised that Barnabas is endorsing war,” you are replacing the cause with the consequence. I am not endorsing war; it is still a stinky enterprise. I’m endorsing the principle that world leaders should mean what they say. If they don’t want to exercise force then they must not threaten force and then back away from their allies when it’s time to fight.

There is another kind of lazy parent also—the one who disciplines only by the threat and execution of corporal punishment. Many years ago Jacques Barzun laughed at the “in” expression of that era, “power politics.” He asked what politics was about, if not power. Political history is mainly about the gaining, the exercise, and the threat of power.

In this light, the gathering of massive British and American forces on the border of Iraq is such a very traditional thing to do, and could be construed as the actions of the second kind of lazy parent.

Are there any good parents on the international scene?

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