February 25, 2003

ANDREW SULLIVAN WRITES:

It is therefore a gamble Bush cannot completely lose (whatever diplomatic and popular damage it does would be more than undone by a successful war). But it’s a resolution the Security Council (and France and Germany) can easily lose. If the resolution is defeated, but war ensues, Bush will take a small hit at home, a huge hit abroad (still, how much worse could it get?) – but, precisely because of these things, an even bigger domestic gain if the war is successful. Bush will be seen as someone who did all he could to win over the U.N., but in the end, did what he believed was right. He will emerge principled and triumphant. Ditto Blair, especially if a liberated Iraq reveals untold horrors, human rights abuses and French arms contracts. Machiavelli’s dictum applies powerfully now: all that matters is that Bush win the war. If he does, this conflict will be deemed to have been just and justified. That’s why calling the French bluff is especially important – particularly if it isn’t a bluff.

This seems right to me. What’s interesting is that though Bush’s critics accuse the United States of “imperial overstretch,” it’s really the post-1945 international system that has obviously bitten off more than it can chew. It purports to be in the business of policing international relations according to some standard of civility, and of reining in rogue states before they become a threat to their neighbors, but in fact the current international system lacks the will and the wherewithal to do either.

As Jim Bennett noted last week, Bush and Blair are, in fact, engaged in a neck-or-nothing effort to save the international system. And those — like the feckless French and Germans — who oppose them are in fact the would-be midwives of something far less civilized:

In reality, a failure of the Bush-Blair coalition would sooner or later (probably sooner) give rise to a world in which a number of regional tyrannies who gradually, under the cover of their weapons of mass destruction, would annex first the states that are sovereign by convention, such as Kuwait, and eventually many that have been sovereign by circumstance.

The existence of such states would force other nations in the region to calculate that their own sovereignty depended on their acquisition of nuclear weapons. Given that most nuclear tyrannies would be happy to sell weapons to out-of-area states with ready cash, such proliferation could proceed more rapidly than many imagine. Alliances would be discounted; if America were to shy away from attacking a nation for fear of non-nuclear terrorism, it could hardly be expected to stand up to nuclear blackmail. This logic ends up favoring the nuclear over the non-nuclear, the ruthless over the constrained, and the closed over the open societies.

Some of them realize this, and think such a world would be fine. Others are just foolish and irresponsible.