- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

As the recent midterm elections proved, forecasting America's future course is a dicey proposition. Even so, I think it's safe to bet the mortgage money on this prediction: The United States isn't going to war with Iraq any time soon. Moreover, our engagement with the U.N. over Iraq may well cripple our war on terrorism elsewhere around the world.

Our campaign to disarm Saddam began losing momentum the moment we took the Iraq issue to the Security Council. France opened with a two-resolution ploy. First, debate on a resolution to send inspectors to Iraq. Then, a second debate on a resolution to declare that the findings of the inspectors constituted grounds for armed intervention.

Worse, the inspection team was to be led by Hans Blix, a Swedish diplomat and a proven patsy for previous Iraqi deceptions.

Such a setup makes it certain that once inspectors get on the ground, the diplomatic fog will roll in. There will be haggling about access, debate over the definition of a violation, and agonizing whether or not inspection findings warrant use of force.

The United States descended into the U.N. den with a tough resolution that provided for automatic armed intervention in Iraq if Saddam didn't hew to every jot and tittle of a rigorous disarmament regime.

After months of sniveling, that great power emeritus, France, got essentially what it wanted. While it dropped its initial gambit of two separate resolutions, France got an agreement that Hans Blix's arms inspectors will report back to the Security Council if violations are found, and the council would then meet to assess the seriousness of the violations and for more debate.

The U.N. drama will likely play out this way:

• The United States will have its hands full ensuring that the gentle Swede Mr. Blix reports everything his people find.

• Then the United States will face the uphill task of convincing the Security Council that what Mr. Blix has found amounts to a violation of the U.N. resolution.

• And even if Iraqi violation is proven, France and Russia will argue that the violations are sufficient to warrant "serious consequences" (whatever those might be.)

This will generate weeks, if not months of debate, discord, and delay until the MiddleEast weather makes militarycampaigning vastly more difficult.

The dynamic of the U.N. debate will weaken President Bush's hand, both abroad and at home.

This may have already begun. Just a week after theSecurity Council passed its resolution, administration officials announced that Iraq had violated the resolution by firing on American and British planes patrolling the "no-fly" zone.

If one is to take the "zero tolerance" pledge seriously, then Gen. Tommy Franks and his troops should already be on the road toward Baghdad.

But it appears the Iraqi violation is insufficient to loose the dogs of war. Instead, we seem to be sliding into a Clintonesque exercise that will provide an infinitely elastic definition of what "zero tolerance" really means.

The credible threat of war is money in any nation's foreign relations bank account. Nations invest blood and treasure to build and maintain this credibility. And when nations draw lines from which they then retreat, they squander this asset.

Given the U.N.'s infinite capacity to generate hot air, the Iraq debate will drone on and on. As it does, President Bush will find it increasingly difficult to leave the United Nations and put together a U.S.-led coalition.

The longer we participate in the debate, the more we whittle away at "zero tolerance" and American resolve, the more ground we will lose. Nations that now are only reluctantly with us will find the U.N. debates a convenient bolthole through which to dodge the unpleasant prospect of war. And the president's domestic political opposition, smarting from midterm defeats at the polls, will be quick to portray a walkout by President Bush as a "unilateral" act of war while the saintly "international community" was tirelessly working for "peace."

Who said the United Nations is powerless? It just disarmed the United States.

Robert Andrews, a former Green Beret and Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a Washington novelist. He was a principal deputy assistant secretary of defense and a policy adviser to the defense secretary on special operations and low-intensity conflict from July 2001 to July 2002.

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