Those words were spoken by President George Bush following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Ironically, we face the same question today as the world debates whether to authorize force against Iraq.
Bush can already make a compelling case for attacking Iraq under resolution 1441. Though some may feign ignorance now, the security council members knew what “serious consequences” meant when they voted unanimously for the resolution, just as members of both houses of congress knew what “all necessary and appropriate force” meant when they passed their own resolution.
Truth be told, Bush is prodding the U.N. for another resolution simply because the British need one to save Tony Blair’s political future.
But the overarching issue here is really the U.N.’s own legitimacy. We live in a different world now, with new challenges, namely terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction from outlaw states. And if the United Nations refuses to act in this most egregious case, after clear Iraqi defiance of 17 resolutions (the last of which being its “final chance”), then it will in fact become irrelevent regardless of whether or not the United States acts.
Indeed, its words have already become meaningless. The previous 16 resolutions demanded disarmament, not containment, and they have all been defied. The 17th resolution, 1441, is clear and unambiguous. And if it does not act, the U.N. will have become a debating society, a mere side act in the defining struggle of our generation.
The U.N. has a terrible record at preventing massacres and removing the despots who cause them, except in cases where its members have prodded it to act. It can no longer afford such willful intransigence. And a nation that has become the target of such actions will not (and should not) be paralyzed by the inaction of the rest of the world.