Wednesday, January 22, 2003

One of the things that annoys me the most about this entire pre-war situation is the perception of the U.N., or at least the spin job that is being used on the U.N. Case in point is a quotation in this article about Germany saying that they probably aren't going to back a war resolution. It makes sense; without a smoking gun, nobody is going to agree that it makes sense to invade. No one, that is, except those who are already determined to invade, and see the whole U.N. security council process as merely a tool of legitimation, not a real decision-making body. Still, the quotation bothered me:

Still, British Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane said Wednesday he was confident the United Nations would approve action against Iraq.

``The U.N. will accept its responsibilities in this matter and make sure that Saddam Hussein does not get away with what he has been getting away with for years,'' MacShane told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Perhaps I missed the memo.. when exactly did the Security Council and the U.N. itself become something that needed to be judged? Where this comes from is pretty obvious; it's a way of reinforcing that ridiculous line that Bush was pushing at the U.N. that it is the legitimacy of the U.N. that is in question, not the American invasion of Iraq. This is absurd, of course: the United States neither has the right, nor the authority, nor even the ability to objectively judge the U.N., and attempts to do so should be (and yet unfortunately have not been) roundly and thoroughly condemned by those outside the United States who do not agree that American exceptionalism is some sort of carte blanche. Instead we have a British minister acting as if the invasion of Iraq was something upon which the U.N. should or even could be judged. That begs the question; the whole point of gaining U.N. approval is not to grant legitimacy or deny legitimacy to the U.N. (which gains its legitimacy from the consent of its signatory states, consent that the United States cannot take away) but to decide whether or not the U.N. decides the invasion itself is legitimate under international law.

Thing is, that line might make more sense had the U.N. not acted. But it did act. It created the same resolution that the U.S. was crowing about earlier; a resolution now being conveniently discarded in the face of an inspections process that is taking too long to satisfy the impatience of the Bush administration. What exactly are the Germans, and French, and Russians, and Japanese, and Chinese, and Indians, and everybody else supposed to take away from this spectacle, except the idea that they, like the U.N., will only be tolerated so long as they don't actually say or do anything that the Bush administration (and, if its attitude outlives it, the U.S. government) finds objectionable, despite the obvious fact that the definition of what is or isn't objectionable seems to change whenever it's convenient?

Iraq is, in the end, relatively unimportant. It's important to the Iraqis, of course, and there are strategic and economic questions at play here. Still, the real question has always been what the invasion of Iraq means for the perception and reality of the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world. More and more, I suspect that the answer to that question isn't a happy one.

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