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War is not ‘conservative’ (Scripps Howard News Service) March 11, 2003

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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Call me old-fashioned, but I want my country not only to do the right thing, but to do it in the right way. No matter how hard I’ve tried – and since my fellow Republican males support the war by 82 percent, believe me I’ve tried – I can’t convince myself that invading Iraq without U.N. Security Council support is the right way to go.

I am not a pacifist, or even an antiwar liberal. I’m basically a conservative who is troubled to be at odds with a conservative president on such an important issue. But in the end, I have concluded that the president will not be acting conservatively or rightly to invade Iraq without Security Council approval.

By definition, conservatives believe in limited government, and they have never been big fans of international governance, including the United Nations. Nevertheless, growing up in a conservative family, I was also taught that we either follow the law or we change it. We may not simply ignore it if it does not suit us.

How then can a conservative president follow the law, by posing the question of war to the U.N. Security Council, and then take it back and do what he wants if he does not like the council’s answer? In organizational life, you do not ask the boss’s permission unless you really need it and are prepared to live with the response. To do otherwise is a mistake and, in most cases, also wrong. But the U.S. seems prepared to do just that.

Put another way, if Iraq’s wrongdoing comes from violating U.N. Security Council resolutions, how can one country – or even several – take it upon itself to enforce the resolution of a multilateral body? Are we proposing to make an international citizen’s arrest if the Security Council won’t bust Iraq? If you read the U.N. Charter, or the full body of international law, you won’t find authority for that, unless it is a case of self-defense.

In fact, the Bush Doctrine itself, from which an invasion of Iraq would spring, is hardly conservative. This national security document, unveiled last fall, develops a strategy of preemptive action against hostile states and terrorist groups before they threaten or use weapons of mass destruction. The Bush Doctrine stands in stark contrast to candidate Bush’s more conservative campaign position that America should carry itself humbly in the world. Of course it is often said that Sept. 11 changed everything, but surely it did not end respect for international law and institutions.

If the United States is determined to go forward without Security Council support, I can only see two ways to do that and still honor international law. One is to demonstrate that this is a case of self-defense, that Iraq presents a clear and imminent threat to the security of the United States. The U.S. has spoken to the international community in such terms, and so far the court of world opinion isn’t buying it. Few see the threat as imminent, and many feel that self-defense and preemption do not mix. In a new age of weapons of mass destruction, however, preemption as self-defense at least deserves further consideration.

Another approach, which would have been more effective several weeks ago, is to claim that military action against Iraq is already authorized under U.N. resolutions and cease-fire agreements from the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein stopped the war under the false pretense that he would disarm and abide by the terms of various international agreements. Now that he has clearly violated them, perhaps further military action is justified as a continuation of that conflict.

It is easy to criticize the United Nations – I have done it myself. The membership of the Security Council does not reflect current world realities, and the veto power should be reformed or suspended. But for the United States to submit its case to the council and then ignore its decision weakens the U.N., international law, and even the moral authority of the United States. Disarming Iraq is the right thing to do, but America should take the time to do it in the right way.

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