- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Last week, President George W. Bush dealt definitively with "the mandate thing." After Tuesday's amazing midterm election and Friday's unanimous vote in the U.N. Security Council to issue Iraq a final ultimatum on weapons inspections, Mr. Bush does not have to worry about mandates any longer. Just like the first President Bush, who was pestered with impertinent questions about his "vision thing," this president has had to prove himself as a consequence of his contested 2000 election victory. Any lingering doubts as to his legitimacy have now been put to rest.

A mandate, however, is one thing. Action is another. While Mr. Bush's domestic agenda will get a push as early as this week, when the lame-duck session of Congress convenes, it is not nearly as easy to determine what the future holds as far as Iraq is concerned. Will the Security Council vote lead where the Bush administration wants to go? At the very least, it will be a circuitous route.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bush made history by leading his party to victory in a midterm election, delivering into Republican hands both the House and the Senate. It was a victory that owed a great deal to Mr. Bush's out-in-front campaigning in 15 states in the last days of the campaign as well as to some very judicious Republican election planning.

On the home front, it means that we will probably get the long-overdue Department of Homeland Security voted into law. Hard-working Americans can look forward to getting the Bush tax cut made permanent, and judicial and other nominees can look forward to getting their confirmation votes in the Senate.

The world over, the midterm election has strengthened Mr. Bush's hand. Even Europeans, who had found solace in dismissing the American president as a dimwit and a gun-toting cowboy, a man who had stolen the 2000 election, have had to do some rethinking. After his electoral success on Nov. 5, no one dares to call him stupid any longer, and while Europeans may not like what Mr. Bush stands for, there is in Europe a dawning realization that he has to be taken seriously.

All of which surely contributed to the unanimous vote on Iraq last Friday in the U.N. Security Council. Fifteen to zero, now that is quite a feat. It means that on our side we have not just Russia, China and France, but a country like Syria as well.

This has also been hailed as Secretary of State Colin Powell's finest hour, for it was he who persuaded Mr. Bush to go the U.N. route, and it was his personal intervention with numerous leaders abroad that brought us to the final compromise language. It hugely increased Mr. Powell's standing not just abroad, but perhaps more importantly, in the Bush administration itself.

Still, the Security Council has extended the timeline for Iraq's disarmament to 60 days, provided Saddam Hussein decided to accept it this week, that is. (The exact impact of the vote in the Iraqi parliament to reject the U.N. resolution is unclear, but Saddam does have the final word.) After those 60 days, U.N. chief arms inspector Hans Blix will report on his findings to the Security Council, which then decides how to proceed. This is why the French government which fought for two Security Council votes, one on demands and one on compliance is celebrating today. Now, if the language of the U.N. resolution is ambiguous enough to satisfy both the Americans and the French, that should be enough to make us somewhat uneasy about it.

Iraqi compliance will be riddled with ambiguities. So far, Iraq has ignored 16 Security Council resolutions on destruction of its weapons of mass destruction since the Gulf War. Most likely, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein believes that he can string the new set of inspectors along. His judgment would be based on a decade of experience. When he threw the last set of inspectors out in 1998, there were basically no consequences.

What is different this time is, of course, that he is now faced with an American administration that says it is willing to use force, even absent Security Council approval. This weekend, the papers carried obviously leaked stories on U.S. military planning for an attack on Iraq, and a well-timed piece of saber rattling it was.

At Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day, Mr. Bush yesterday added his voice to that of other administration officials who have threatened that the United States and its allies will disarm Iraq if the United Nations fails again. "We will not permit a dictator who has used weapons of mass destruction to threaten America with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. This great nation will not live at the mercy of any foreign plot or power. The dictator of Iraq will fully disarm, or the United States will lead a coalition and disarm him."

Yes, Mr. Bush has gone the extra mile to get the international community with him, and his case may be the stronger for it. In the end, however, others have come along only because the United States showed it was willing "to go it alone."

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