the space of a few minutes yesterday, two starkly contrasting faces of power were
on view: diplomatic power, clothed in the formulaic rites of the United Nations
Security Council, and raw, real power as brandished by President George Bush in
the Rose Garden of the White House.
For a moment, surveying the placid scene at the Security Council, or reading
the nuanced legalistic language of Resolution 1441, you could believe the vote
was the unqualified opinion of 15 like-minded nations, rather than what it really
was: a document, amended a little to be sure, but conceived and driven through
by the US to permit Washington to take military action against Saddam Hussein
should it unilaterally decide to do so.
The resolution speaks of "serious consequences". Mr Bush was far more blunt.
The Iraqi leader had to extend "prompt and unconditional" co-operation with the
weapons inspectors, or he would face not merely "serious" but "the severest" consequences.
The doubters on the Security Council may take solace in the absence of "automaticity"
of any military attack should President Saddam disobey. But Mr Bush put that assertion
in context. Nothing would impede America's freedom of action. Nor will the President
tolerate nit-picking when the council discusses future obstruction by Iraq. There
could be no "unproductive debates over whether specific instances of non-compliance
are serious. Any Iraqi non-compliance is serious".
Yesterday capped a fantastic week for Mr Bush, a Republican election sweep
followed by his most important diplomatic victory. The President without a mandate
has been transformed into one of unquestioned dominance.
Yesterday's UN vote, like analogous ones in Congress before it last month,
underline how much the world's diplomatic landscape has changed in the 12 years
since Saddam Hussein challenged the United Nations by invading Kuwait.
The cause then would seem far more clear cut than today; the reversal of an
invasion of a neighbor, flouting every international law, compared to a preventive
strike of dubious legality to forestall a threat which many people believe does
not exist. But in 1990, Russia and China abstained, and Yemen and Cuba voted against
force to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. This time, the Security Council voted
unanimously. In 1990 President Bush's father only narrowly prevailed in his war
powers vote in the Senate, but Congress this time gave its approval by three to
There are three reasons. A new post-11 September urgency in dealing with a
perceived terrorist threat; a greater readiness of the US to use its military
might after quick, low-casualty wars in the Gulf, Kosovo and Afghanistan, but,
first and foremost, the overwhelming power of America in a world whose best interests
it believes it represents. Those who oppose America, do so at their peril.
The scene at the White House brought to mind the maxim of Al Capone, a figure
who Mr Bush's foes abroad might liken him to: "You can go a long way with a smile.
You can go a lot further with a smile and a gun." Except that at in the Rose Garden
yesterday, while the gun was sticking out of the holster, there was no smile.
The US military build-up continues in the Gulf. "The full disarmament of weapons
of mass destruction by Iraq will occur," Mr Bush flatly stated. Who is to disbelieve
© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd