Counting from April 18, 1991, the 15th day after the passage of U.N. Resolution 687, more than 4,330 days have passed since Iraq put itself in material breach of international obligations. It did so by ignoring that resolution's 15-day deadline for listing the locations, amounts and types of all its chemical and biological weapons and "nuclear weapons-usable" materials, and for disclosing the location of Scud and other ballistic missiles with ranges exceeding 90 miles. So the current "rush" to war has consumed almost half again as many as all the 3,075 days of U.S. engagement in World Wars I and II and the Korean War.
As the world waits to see whether the United Nations will cudgel Iraq with a "second" resolution, which actually would be the 18th, President Bush weighs when, not whether, he will order an attack on Iraq that Congress authorized by much larger majorities than his father achieved on Jan. 12, 1991, authorizing the Gulf War. And the president's domestic and foreign critics, showing an amazing tolerance for cognitive dissonance, fault him simultaneously for acting as though the United States can be the world's constable -- and for allowing Iraq to divert him from the task of solving the North Korean crisis.
Into this welter of foolishness has waded Conrad Black, a British citizen and member of the House of Lords who is a proprietor of many newspapers, including the Telegraph of London and the Sun-Times of Chicago. In a recent London speech to the Centre for Policy Studies, he noted that the United States, far from being the "trigger-happy, hip-shooting country" of European caricature, scarcely responded to the killing of dozens of U.S. servicemen at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and on the USS Cole in Yemen. "And when two of its embassies in Africa were virtually destroyed, President Clinton's response consisted of rearranging some rocks in Afghanistan and blowing the roof off a Sudanese aspirin factory in the middle of the night."
Yet it is presumably to counter America's insatiable appetite for using its military that the idea has arisen that America should submit to plans to "collegialize" its power. The idea is that any use, even after successive acts of war against America, requires the permission of France, Russia and China, which have not sought U.N. blessings for their respective military interventions to discipline Ivory Coast, to grind the Chechens into submission and to suffocate Tibet.
NATO's 16 European members have chosen to spend on their defense a combined sum one-third less than the United States spends, and they have used their spending so fecklessly that it buys only about 10 percent of U.S. military capability. In an episode of what Black calls "the Ruritanian posturing of the French," President Jacques Chirac claimed that the European Rapid Reaction Force would "project European power throughout the world." Black notes that the force, a mere reallocation of forces from NATO, is "almost totally dependent on American airlift capacity, and is essentially a parade ground force to travel about Europe, marching down the main avenues of the capitals on their national days."
So Black is bemused by the moral calculus that produces the conclusion that the United States is morally obligated to use its military might only at the behest of, or with the permission of, nations that do not wish it well. These are nations that "do not share America's values, and that affect neutrality between a wronged America, a Gulf War coalition betrayed, and affronted international law on the one side, and the evil of Saddam Hussein on the other."
America has had "the most successful foreign policy of any major country" not just because of its strength but because "it has never had any objective except not to be threatened and when threatened, to remove the threat." And it "does not believe in durable coexistence with a mortal threat."
Black says that three of the greatest strategic errors of modern times -- Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and the Soviet refusal of postwar U.S. aid in exchange for liberality in Eastern Europe -- involved underestimating the dangers of provoking America. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, one of the authors of the fourth great error, the Sept. 11 attacks, may have belatedly understood that danger when, before dawn Saturday, he stood in his underwear, facing the drawn guns of the men who told him America would like to ask him some questions.