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Mr. Spock goes to Baghdad
Posted: Tuesday, November 19, 2002

By Matt Osborne,

Wasn't it just yesterday that Bush was ready to yank America out of the U.N.? Today, the same people who deplored isolationism condemn the Security Council's resolution on Iraq, and Saddam has agreed to the resolution though his parliament rejected it - after an "election" in which he received no dissenting votes.

What gives?

Let's take these events in reverse order, because we'll never understand them as a chain of events.

Saddam is a monster. No one argues with that. But monster-leaders don't actually commit atrocities; their talent lies in making other people commit them. The shared guilt leaves their followers with no psychological self-justification except leader-worship.

That's how Lt. Calley held the loyalty of his men at My Lai. It's how Pol Pot stayed in charge of the Khmer Rouge even after their fall from power; how Muhammad Farah Aideed could hold Mogadishu hostage and be loved for it. It's also how Arafat and Sharon maintain their popularity.

It's also why Saddam let his parliament debate the U.N. resolution. Of course they rejected it - they're the Iraqis with the most to lose if his regime falls. Of course he agreed to it - he knows his short-term future depends on a veneer of cooperation with inspectors.

But when he lies, obfuscates, and evades them (which is almost certain), he will use that parliamentary rejection - and the unanimous referendum - as his excuse for dragging Iraq down with him. This is the bunker stage, the inevitable outcome of government by atrocity.

Make no mistake: Saddam doesn't give a damn about Iraqi lives. Ironically, for all the "collateral damage" this war will surely involve, the U.S. Air Force will demonstrate more concern for innocent civilians than Saddam will - he's done his best to strip them of "innocence" by making them culpable for his decisions, and that is the essence of atrocity.

Which brings us back to the United Nations. Is this Security Council resolution truly the end of the United Nations? That view is popular among the American left, but I'm in complete disagreement, and so are the Syrians.

If you want to find masters of Middle Eastern Realpolitik, look at the Assad regime. In 1990 they stunned the world by joining the Gulf War coalition, and in 2002 they've stunned the world by agreeing to this resolution. In each case, it's because of Israel.

As Hafez al-Assad explained to James Baker in 1990, "what kind of precedent does it set for the Golan Heights, which I and the U.N. Security Council maintain that Israel must return, when Saddam can simply walk into Kuwait and take it without consequences?"

Today, Bashir al-Assad looks to the numerous council resolutions on Israel and the West Bank knowing they will never be enforced unless the U.N. grows a set of teeth, and that the Islamic world will never join the "in-club" of global power unless the West finds cooperative partners there.

But the left deplores the unanimous vote for the very same reason. "Why," they ask, "does the Security Council have to start with Iraq? Why isn't Israel getting the same treatment?" By perfectionist standards of righteousness, the Security Council has cravenly legitimized Bush's warmongering.

That rhetoric doesn't hold up. China, Russia, and France are not in the habit of kowtowing to American power; they expect little material gain by voting for the resolution. Instead, their benefit is the channeling of America's unilateralist, imperialist president into the U.N. where he may do some good.

After all, those other resolutions - the ones about returning the West Bank to the Palestinians, removing those settlements and withdrawing troops from Jenin - are presently useful only as Ariel Sharon's toilet paper.

Without some precedent in hand - the abrogation of one state's national sovereignty to secure the common well-being of nations - the U.N. will never achieve the democratic dream of upholding human rights anywhere, nor will it ever end the system of leadership by atrocity.

States are creatures of self-interest, and they won't empower the U.N. to override their sovereignty just because it's "the right thing to do." But the Security Council has put the U.N. squarely on the agenda of every future American President, and made the organization central to American defense policy in this age of state-less threats.

This now-necessary organization can't put out the sparks of global conflict with a budget smaller than the Tokyo fire department's, so past-dues will probably disappear. We might even see the Bushites rethinking some of those international treaties they unsigned.

In the long run, the same administration that lost America's seat on the Human Rights Committee may wind up doing more for both the U.N. and human rights than any crowd of protesters - but as Spock's Vulcan proverb says, "Only Nixon could go to China."

[Matt Osborne has served eight years in the U.S. military and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. He speaks Arabic and Southern as well as English. Matt enjoys running in triathlons, and has a large family living in the shadow of Helen Keller's Alabama home, located in the southern United States.]

Matt Osborne encourages your comments:

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