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Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2003 / 18 Adat I, 5763

George Will

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Shrinking the U.N. | Whatever happened to the Hanseatic League? A medieval trade association of some northern European cities, it flourished, then conditions and interests changed, and although it never formally dissolved, it disappeared.

Has France considered the consequences of making the United Nations and NATO redundant evidence of the mortality of organizations? NATO's primary function is no longer collective security; it is to give collective weight to European nations in their dealings with America. The U.N.'s crucial function is to enmesh America in inhibiting procedures. Hence the diminution of NATO and the U.N. will further emancipate America while miniaturizing two stages on which France struts.

Today the U.N., toyed with by France, is making more likely a war that might not be impending if the U.N. had not been so involved in dealing with Iraq 12 years ago. In August 1990 the first President Bush vowed that Iraq's aggression against Kuwait "will not stand." He said that before involving the U.N. in reversing the aggression. Had he organized the reversal of that aggression outside U.N. auspices -- as President Clinton organized the 1999 campaign against Serbia -- Iraq's regime might have been changed. One reason Desert Storm did not reach Baghdad was that it was constrained by a U.N. mandate to merely liberate Kuwait.

But that may not have been the only reason. For all of today's talk about America's imperial itch, this nation's uneasiness about its imperium was apparent when Iraqi officers, detailed to sign the armistice terms, arrived at Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's tent. Rather than search only them to ensure that they were not armed or suicide bombers, Schwarzkopf magnanimously suggested that both sides be searched, starting with himself.

Fast forward to Hans Blix addressing the Security Council last week, continuing the 12-year tutorial of Iraq concerning U.N. unseriousness. Blix -- no Pollyanna, he -- acknowledged that Iraq has, in his priceless locution, "missed the opportunity" to account for thousands of tons of chemical and biological agents that "many governmental intelligence organizations" believe exist. But this little missed opportunity was less important to Blix than his being able to report:

o That "we have obtained a good knowledge of the industrial and scientific landscape of Iraq."

o That Iraq had enacted "legislation" forbidding itself to have weapons of mass destruction.

o That Saddam Hussein has formed not just one but two comissions, one to search high and low for "any still existing proscribed items," and the other -- with "very extensive powers of search in industry, administration and even private houses" -- to look "for more documents relevant to the elimination of proscribed items and programs."

o That Iraq has provided inspectors with papers that contained "no new evidence" but "could be indicative of a more active attitude" by Iraq.

o And that Iraq remains committed to "encourage" those the inspectors want to interview outside the country to comply.

These inanities illustrate why Iraq can feel confident that its comprehensive noncompliance with Resolution 1441 will have no consequences. That resolution, the text of which announced zero tolerance of Iraqi deviations from it, now stands as proof that the U.N. policy is inexhaustible tolerance. The next application of that policy may have been foreshadowed last Sunday when the French ambassador to Washington, appearing on ABC's "This Week," would not say that if Iraq refuses to destroy the missiles that are proscribed, the refusal will constitute a material breach of 1441.

Resolution 1441, which the Security Council would not have the brass to pass again if challenged to, announced Iraq's final chance to disarm, and concentrated the U.N.'s mind on pushing finality far over the horizon. In 1976 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ending his sentence as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. -- it had just declared that Zionism is racism -- called the U.N. "a theater of the absurd." Unfair? Having considered Blix's words, remember this:

Moynihan spoke nine years after the U.N. proved its incapacity for important security responsibilities. In 1967 Egypt, preparing for an attack on Israel, ordered U.N. peacekeeping forces on Egyptian territory to depart, which they obediently did.

The U.N.'s most recent dereliction of life-or-death duty resulted in Europe's worst massacre since 1945: the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, where they had gathered because the U.N. assured them it was a "safe area." The massacre occurred while U.N. forces loitered a few miles away.

The U.N.'s serene reception of Blix's most recent report subtracted further from the U.N.'s dwindling stature. Another such reception of another such report should put the U.N. in the company of the Hanseatic League.

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