President Bush, after threatening for months to take out Saddam Hussein, has threatened the legitimacy of the United Nations if it doesn't take quick action against Iraq's weapons programs.
Mr. Bush's speech to the General Assembly on Thursday was a gauntlet-throw to the UN to act against the "grave and gathering danger" posed by Iraq or else lose even more authority than it's already lost through President Hussein's "decade of defiance" against Security Council resolutions.
The Bush speech thus made two points: Hussein's defiance undercuts UN authority, while a unilateral war by the US would undercut UN legitimacy.
History is on Bush's side. He mentioned the collapse of the League of Nations, which lost legitimacy for not confronting Italy's Benito Mussolini.
Despite the Bush threat to go it alone, the president made a strong case that Hussein's record of invasions, chemical gassing, everyday atrocities against Iraqis, and appetite for nuclear weapons deserves much more than words from the UN.
What's suspect in Bush's demand is his timing. He said that Hussein, if he can obtain fissile material, could produce a nuclear bomb within a year. But the president wants UN action within weeks, just as he wants Congress to declare war within weeks. Both actions would come just before a November contest for control of Congress, helping Bush and the GOP.
For now, he must let the UN test Hussein by demanding immediate, unconditional inspections. Then the UN can see if he's right that it has lost legitimacy.