With the passage of time I think this story can finally be revealed. It was told to me off the record in December 2002, approximately three months before the war in Iraq began. President George W. Bush held his annual Hannukah party at the White House, inviting various Jewish dignitaries. Afterwards he summoned a few very trusted rabbis into a private office for a confidential briefing on the situation brewing in the Mideast. He told them he was preparing to invade Iraq with the aim of deposing Saddam Hussein and incapacitating his weapons of mass destruction. The decision had already been taken to proceed.
“Why then go through the rigmarole of trying to get a U.N. resolution to authorize the war?” one rabbi asked.
“If I proceed without a resolution, the U.N. may be seen as irrelevant. If necessary I will do it anyway, but I prefer to do it in a way which leaves the U.N. intact.”
At the time I was impressed by Bush’s worldview in a number of respects. One, it never occurred to him that going it alone would cost the United States. Two, he believed that if he treated the U.N. as irrelevant the world would see it as irrelevant. Three, he was delaying a war not for his political expediency, not for military advantage of the United States, but for the prestige of the United Nations and its continued effectiveness. The premises themselves are each open to challenge, but they provide a window into the character of a confident and responsible leader.
Now it occurs to me, watching Ahmadinejad and Clinton tussle in the General Assembly over Iran trying to marry into the nuclear family, that the United Nations is a dangerous anachronism. It should have been put out of its misery long ago, perhaps euthanized by U Thant.
It is hard to imagine a great good emerging from the U.N. today on any front. Any truly liberating gesture, like putting North Korea out of business or sending Hugo Chavez into retirement on the Caymans, is sure to be vetoed by some player putting national interest before international. Once a body has lost its historical panache, its Messianic momentum, it turns into a hulking repository of contradictory impulses primed for an explosion. Great bad could come out of such a toxic stew, say an international boycott of Israel.
Placing this forum at the disposal of Ahmadinejad and his ilk enables them to advance claims which seem justified on their face. Why should Iran be less trusted than Pakistan or Israel? There is no real answer to that in a group whose founding premise is the idea of equal legitimacy to all sovereign entities. It is like the child molester asking in group therapy why he should be treated differently than everyone else. That question can only be answered among ourselves if we first exclude him from the group. “Everybody knows that…” does not work when everybody is in the room.
Without falling into the facile equation of Ahmadinejad=Hitler, it is fair to use Hitler as an example of why the U.N. is rigged wrong for resisting monstrosity. If Hitler were alive there would be no basis on which to deny him a vote. The most anyone could do is boycott his speech as the United States did to Ahmadinejad. But the fox is perforce heard as a voice in the debate of how to protect the chickens.
No one will agree to disband the United Nations, except perhaps a President Ron Paul. We are stuck with the darned thing, with all its attendant annoyances: the magniloquent monologues as the tin-eared tinpots tintinnabulate, the alphabet soup pseudo-charities sending sexual harassers to the Third World, the soldiers who serve only to observe… and the unpaid parking tickets in Manhattan. But it would be nice if we took matters of substance and moved them into closer quarters. The United Nations should be reserved officially for matters of no moment, for ceremonies and processions and awards and to sell little trinkets in the gift shop. Take Ahmadinejad out of the General Assembly and place him in the care of an assembly of Generals.