The United Nations now knows what it must do to keep the United States from launching a preemptive military attack on Iraq in order to oust dictator Saddam Hussein. And the world organization also knows that it doesn't have much time to act.
In a speech to the U.N. Security Council Thursday, a day after this country commemorated the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and western Pennsylvania, President George W. Bush made it clear that, if need be, he will wage a unilateral war against Iraq to ensure that Saddam no longer poses a threat to the world at large and the United States in particular.
However, in a conciliatory gesture designed to show that warmongering isn't the cornerstone of his administration's foreign policy, Bush called for a U.N. resolution that would give Baghdad a deadline to unconditionally allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq or face military action.
Secretary of State Colin Powell -- he has refused to jump on the attack-Iraq-now bandwagon being driven by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- is meeting with representatives of various nations to draw up the resolution. If the resolution is adopted, it would signal to Saddam that his continued intransigence could be hazardous to his health.
Bush hit just the right note in his speech. He laid out his justification for labeling Saddam the greatest threat to world peace and security and said that Iraq's military might and its push to develop weapons of "mass murder" must be viewed with alarm. The president also made it clear to the Security Council that inaction was tantamount to giving Saddam the green light to attack not only his neighbors, but the United States.
Decade of defiance
"Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance," Bush said. "All the world now faces a test ... and the United Nations, a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced ... or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding ... or will it be irrelevant?"
Those questions form the basis of the Bush administration's policy on Iraq. For months, the president has warned that Saddam has been shopping for equipment and material that would enable his country to build nuclear weapons. On Thursday, he provided some of the proof of the military strongman's nuclear weapons program.
What Bush must now do is present the evidence and any other information pertaining to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to the American people. While the president continues to receive high marks for the way he is handling the war on global terrorism, skepticism abounds with regard to his contention that the United States is justified in launching a unilateral attack on Iraq.
If America is forced to go it alone, the president has a responsibility to not only justify the action, but to be candid about the dangers inherent in such a campaign. He must also clearly articulate his doctrine of "regime change," explaining, for example, why Saddam deserves to be toppled by the United States, but the leader of China, which already has nuclear weapons, is given a bye. Or, why the leaders of Iran and North Korea, both of which form Bush's "axis of evil," aren't being targeted.
Finally, the American people have a right to know what the Pentagon estimates will be the loss of lives in such a war and how stability will be guaranteed after Saddam is toppled.
The Bush administration should view the president's appearance before the U.N. Security Council as the first step in consensus building. It would be a grave mistake for Bush to take the advise of those within his administration who are spoiling for a fight now.