- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

"Neither the United States of America nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security to constitute maximum peril."

When President Bush chose to quote those words of President John F. Kennedy's originally spoken in October of 1962 at the height of the Cuban missile crisis he chose well. His critics, among them Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, have charged that Mr. Bush will defy the U.S. Constitution if he acts pre-emptively against Iraq. Yet, the principle of "anticipatory self-defense" applies just as much today in relation to Iraq's stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction as it did when Kennedy faced the prospect of Soviet missiles pointed at the United States, stationed just 90 miles from U.S. shores. Democrats, however, have not previously been heard to complain about Kennedy's actions.

Whether Mr. Bush's well-crafted speech will allay the fears of his critics, as it was designed to do, remains to be seen. Outrageously, the three major networks, whose correspondents themselves have clamored for the president to state his case, dismissed it as a "political event" and declined to carry it live. As the Senate debate unfolds on a war-powers resolution to grant the president the right to take military action against Iraq, the impact of Mr. Bush's words will be seen.

Yet, despite the reference to Kennedy's Cuban missile speech, what stood out in Monday's address was Mr. Bush's willingness to work through the United Nations.

Making the specific link between the congressional and U.N. resolutions, the president said: "Later this week, the United States Congress will vote on this matter. I have asked Congress to authorize the use of America's military, if it proves necessary to enforce U.N. Security Council demands." Now, that is not the voice of a gun slinging unilateralist, as Mr. Bush is often disparagingly called.

The president even left open the possibility of "regime change" in Iraq without the ouster of Saddam Hussein, an odd metaphysical concept recently floated by Secretary of State Colin Powell, which would entail changing behavior, not persons: "Congress will also be sending a message to the dictator in Iraq that his only choice is full compliance and the time for that choice is limited."

So, the nagging question is how far or whether at all the United States should allow its hands to be tied by U.N. Security Council resolutions. Consultation is one thing. Handing over the veto pen to the United Nations is another. There is a fine line, a balance, that needs to be struck here. And the "international community," as embodied by the United Nations, is a slippery thing to get your arms around.

Some U.S. senators, like Carl Levin of Michigan and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, remain fixated on the need for a U.N. Security Council resolution. "Saddam is looking down the barrel of a gun," Mr. Levin likes to say. "He should be looking at the international community at the other end, not the United States." Well, what's likely to worry the guy most, you have to wonder? The sight of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the international community or George Bush, the man whose father he tried to assassinate?

Ultimately, it is not "the international community" that guarantees human life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but nation-states, actual political entities that exists in the world as we know it, states whose leaders make decisions and whose armies fight wars. If everybody is responsible for keeping the peace, then really nobody is.

And ultimately, it may come down to this: There is nothing in international law that deprives the United States of the right to defend itself as a nation. According to Article 51 of the U.N. charter: "Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations." The fact is that we were attacked on the soil of the American homeland just a little over one year ago and may have to act to pre-empt another even more serious attack fueled by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

When Kennedy imposed the blockade on Cuba in 1962, he did so according to the centuries-old principle of "anticipatory self-defense." Mr. Bush should take pains to make clear that he may have to do so again.

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