- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 11 (UPI) — President George W. Bush Tuesday was wrestling to bring the United Nations in behind his plan to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by force as new polls showed that the American people are also beginning to be impatient with the international body.

U.N. backing could relieve Bush of being the first president in American history to launch an unprovoked attack on a foreign nation. As the week opened, Bush was increasingly isolated: isolated in the role of commander-in-chief; isolated by America's traditional allies and facing rising, not diminishing, opposition to the United States going it virtually alone.

Unlike the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, where the president's courage and skill won him high marks, this is a crisis in part of his own making, the outgrowth of a determination to make disarming Saddam effectively the highest priority of his government and a foreign policy based on going it alone.

The U.N. Security Council had been expected to vote Wednesday on a resolution proposed by the United States, Great Britain and Spain that would set a deadline of March 17 for Saddam to disarm or face war. Despite days of furious telephoning by Bush and the tireless haranguing of Secretary of State Colin Powell since last week, by Monday evening the United States acknowledged it did not have the votes to pass it and two members, Russia and France, said they will veto the measure anyway.

But British public opinion was so punishing to Prime Minister Tony Blair that Monday, the United States agreed to help Britain seek a less immediate U.N. resolution that might be more attractive to many on the Security Council. (One poll on Monday had only 15 percent of the British public behind action without a U.N. resolution and a member of the Labor Cabinet, Clare Short, threatened to step down if Britain went to war without a U.N. mandate.)

If finalized, the new resolution would give Saddam some 10 days after a deadline to take a certain group of steps toward full disarmament and, if progress could be established, a longer period. But U.S. officials said no breathing space would extend past the end of March.

A new Security Council vote would most likely be scheduled for Friday.

Failing to get U.N. backing for war against Iraq would present the president with difficult choices; choices that will determine the future of his presidency, the future of the United Nations, the lives and fortunes of millions in the Middle East, as well as the lives of hundreds if not thousands of young American troops.

Americans had by February been increasingly against going it alone. A CBS News Poll taken Feb. 24-25 found that 64 percent of those polled said Bush should wait for the United Nations; immediate military action was chosen by 44 percent and 47 percent wanted to wait.

It wasn't until last weekend that there were indications Bush's impatience with the United Nations was reflected by public attitudes. A New York Times/CBS poll found that 55 percent of Americans would approve of taking action against Saddam without U.N. support, though 52 percent would give the inspections process more time. The poll was taken of 1,010 adults between March 7-9.

Bush called last Thursday for the vote this week, preferring the confrontation to delay and making it clear that absent the vote, the United States and a "coalition of willing" will do the job anyway.

The Bush administration argues that a United Nations unwilling to back his plan is a United Nations irrelevant to maintaining peace in the world. "The president has made a couple of points very clear," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters Monday.

"If the United Nations fails to act, that means the United Nations will not be the international body that disarms Saddam Hussein … As the world witnessed in Rwanda and as the world witnessed in Kosovo, the United Nations Security Council will have failed to act once again."

Many in the Bush administration welcome the idea of abandoning the United Nations for a sort of Pax Americana, relying on U.S. arms and power to create peace in the world. But for Bush, this will be a daunting leap of faith. For 50 years his father and other presidents and a succession of Congresses have supported the idea that a United Nations can maintain world order.

The United States has used the United Nations for cover, driving back North Korea under its banner and supporting a dozen cases where the blue helmets diffused lesser fights.

For many members of the United Nations, Bush's intransigence dooms the body from another angle: it cannot prevent a powerful state from making an illegal war. Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters Monday that action outside the United Nations would violate the U.N. Charter, blurring the distinction between the United States and Iraq.

The price for Bush will become much steeper if Saddam makes a dramatic last-minute disarmament gesture, which one well-placed foreign policy expert told United Press International on Monday was quite likely.

"He is a survivor. He's not crazy and he will try something," this expert, who asked not be identified, argued. Some people ask whether Bush would go to war, if Saddam flees at the last minute.

If Bush goes ahead without the United Nations, it will be "Bush's war," and he will be politically responsible for its outcome. Winning a small initial victory will not guarantee him re-election, but having high casualties and drawn-out combat may assure him defeat in 2004.

One factor that may also delay the president's decision is Turkey's role. Late last month, the Turkish parliament voted not to allow the 40,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division to pass through Turkey to attack Iraq from the north. Immediately, U.S. military planners said, it didn't matter, they could simply move the 20,000 members of the 101st Airborne up from Kuwait. But the augmented 4th has heavy tanks and artillery and was included in the original plan to maintain order in northern Iraq as well as attack Baghdad.

At the weekend, Turkish voters cleared the way for the selection of a new Turkish Prime Minister who is expected to again offer the U.S. troop proposal and senior Turkish official told UPI that it is likely to pass.

Northern Iraq represents perhaps Bush's most underestimated concern. The area is home to some 3 million Kurds, an ethnic group 20 million strong also living in Syria, Turkey Iran and Iraq. The Turkish army was planning to move thousands of troops into northern Iraq — not to fight Saddam but to keep refugees, particularly Kurdish refugees, from entering southern Turkey.

The Turks do not want the Kurds to be allowed to build an independent state after the fall of Saddam and are even anxious about a federation with a Kurdish state. That is not the only difficulty post-war Iraq presents. In addition to Turkey, Iran and Syria have deep concerns with the future of Iraq.

Even a quick victory may be costly. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are now nearly starving under the sanctions, and the lack of medical supplies dooms thousands more to death. In addition, the war could dislodge 2.5 million refugees, according to Bush administration estimates.

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