Iraq attack could alter world rules
Bush takes his case for 'regime change' to the UN General Assembly.
When President Bush addresses the UN General Assembly Thursday, pressing his case against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he will be asking the world to alter the founding principles of the post-World War II international order.Skip to next paragraph
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Advocating preemptive military action against Baghdad before it uses its alleged chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, Mr. Bush is challenging United Nations rules on sovereignty and the acceptable use of force that have underpinned global relations for three generations.
To the Bush administration, this is a matter of adapting to a new danger. But this argument will likely alarm the vast majority of UN members listening to the US leader. They know that their best chance of restraining Bush is to meet him partway, by threatening to use force on their own terms against Iraq if Mr. Hussein does not cooperate with UN weapons inspectors as suggested this week by French President Jacques Chirac.
Bush faces a difficult task in bridging the gap that currently separates him from almost every other world leader over how to deal with the Iraqi government.
Washington has openly set "regime change" as its goal, claiming that Mr. Hussein is amassing weapons of mass destruction for use against America and its allies and that he must be deposed before he gets a chance to use them.
"Time is not on America's side," presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer warned recently.
The closest that any US ally has come to supporting Bush's position is British Prime Minister Tony Blair's warning Tuesday that "action will follow" if Iraq ignores demands to allow arms inspectors back into the country.
Most European governments are expected to back the sort of proposal that French President Jacques Chirac made earlier this week, for a two-stage UN procedure. Under a first resolution Iraq would be given three weeks to allow inspectors in without conditions, and if it refused, a second Security Council resolution would be passed on whether or not to use military force.
It is not clear, however, that such a plan will satisfy Washington, where officials are afraid that Hussein might accept inspectors but then prevaricate and withhold cooperation, rendering their work of dubious value.
Bush has been working hard to win international support for a military strike against Iraq. He has telephoned or met with many world leaders in recent days, starting with the rulers of Washington's partners on the UN Security Council, Russia, China, Britain, and France. And his speech Thursday to the UN is expected to be a keystone of his campaign to explain US fears and intentions.
But the administration seems increasingly ready to act alone against Baghdad if it cannot convince the rest of the world that Iraq poses a clear and present danger to its neighbors and to others.
Militarily, the US could certainly do so. But unilateral action could cause a diplomatic earthquake that would topple several pillars holding up the edifice of international stability.