WASHINGTON, D.C. — UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's pleading with the United States to "be patient," and give inspectors a chance do their work in Iraq before going to war is the latest sign of the growing gulf between Washington and the rest of the world on this issue.
Having succeeded in the first phase of their war plan — using Iraq to win both houses of Congress by displacing other issues in the election — the Bush Administration's strategists are marching forward with phase two: making war inevitable.
The UN Security Council's unanimous 15-0 vote on a resolution authorizing new weapons inspections was widely seen here as a big victory for President Bush, but that was mostly because of bad reporting by the media.
In truth, the administration got a unanimous vote by compromising on a key issue: France and Russia, as well as other governments, wanted an agreement that no military action against Iraq would be authorized without a second debate and vote in the Security Council.
The resolution that passed is ambiguous, but it is clear that Washington assured the others that this resolution did not authorize military action if the inspections failed.
According to Newsweek, both Powell and Bush assured France "that Washington would allow a genuine Security Council debate in the event that chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix reports Iraqi defiance or deceit."
The Russians got the same impression: "In the accepted resolution it is clearly stated that, in the event of problems, the members of the security council will gather to look at the situation as it stands and decide on further action," said Russian deputy foreign minister Yuri Fedotov.
But the problem is not just that President Bush could ignore the UN Security Council and go to war without their approval. A more likely scenario is that the Security Council will cave to U.S. pressure in the weeks and months ahead. Americans who have framed their opposition to the war as against "unilateral action" by the United States could very well regret that stance.
The reality is that the Security Council is composed of 15 countries, with five having a permanent seat and a veto — and not the entire United Nations. And sadly, most of these 14 governments do not represent their people any more than the Bush Administration represents Americans.
In Britain, opposition to the war has run as high as 71 percent, and 38 percent of those polled agreed with the statement that Prime Minister Tony Blair is "George W. Bush's poodle." But Mr. Blair will continue to bark, sit up, and beg at Washington's command. And we cannot realistically count on any of the others to stand up to the world's only super-power when push comes to shove.
Dick Cheney has a vision of the future, a decades-long crusade in which "terrorism" replaces communism as the pretext for using force and violence to impose Washington's will on the rest of the world.
Having failed to show any link between Iraq and terrorism, the Bush Administration now prepares for a war that can be expected to kill tens of thousands of people — mostly civilians, including children and the elderly.
If the war leaves no stable government in its wake — as in Afghanistan – it can simply move on to the next confrontation, perhaps with North Korea.
If the war provokes terrorist attacks against Americans, as it probably will, this is an added bonus for the Bush Administration, as it will be used to justify further military spending and adventures.
These people have nothing to offer the American public — there is a limited political base for repealing taxes on the rich — and seem to have concluded that war and security issues offer their best hope to stay in power through the next election cycle.
Their main opposition at present comes from the millions of people who have demonstrated against the war — in such disparate cities as Florence, Rome, London, Washington, Toronto, Tokyo, San Francisco and San Juan.
Most of the world is against this war, and sees through the various pretexts offered by the Bush administration. But their leaders have failed them. For now, democracy — such as it exists — is truly in the streets.