Not long after the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and western Pennsylvania last Sept. 11, President George W. Bush went before the nation to make the case for military action against Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and for a global war on terrorism. Bush's Let's Roll was a call to arms that not only reflected his determination to make America's enemies pay for the 3,000 lives that were lost, but was designed to give Americans a sense of pride in their nation. The strategy worked.
The president's approval rating soared as American bombers destroyed Al-Qaida's training camps and hideouts in Afghanistan. Yes, it is troubling that the U.S. has been unable to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, but that should not detract from the overall success of the campaign.
But the war on terrorism -- Al-Qaida cells exist in at least 60 countries -- is far from over, which is why President Bush goes before the United Nations General Assembly Thursday. His goal is to persuade those countries that have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States in the war not to weaken their resolve and to make the case for military action against Iraq.
Bush must overcome deep-seated skepticism on the part of most nations, including America's friends, as to his reason for targeting Saddam Hussein. His contention that Iraq has become a nuclear threat not only to the region but to the United States has been belittled by many Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, and has been questioned by many European leaders.
Unlike Americans who have rallied round the flag since Sept. 11, 2001, leaders around the world are not going to be swayed by a call to arms without tangible proof of Saddam's acquisition of nuclear weapons or Iraq's capability of developing them.
The president cannot simply say, "We believe Saddam will be a threat to global peace and stability when he gets nuclear arms, so we must take him out now." The United Nations will not support what Bush has called "regime change" just because the world's lone superpower wants someone else to lead Iraq.
The speech to the U.N. General Assembly, coming a day after the Sept. 11 observances, carries enormous implications for the United States. If the president fails to sway the world community, his administration will have to decide whether to fly solo against Iraq. Such action is fraught with danger.