Entries from January 2004

Un Should Change – Or Us Should Quit

David Frum January 23rd, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The United Nations is the tooth fairy of American politics: Few adults believe in it, but it’s generally regarded as a harmless story to amuse the children. Since 9/11, however, the U.N. has ceased to be harmless, and the Democratic presidential candidates’ enthusiasm for it has ceased to be amusing. The United Nations has emerged at best as irrelevant to the terrorist threat that most concerns us, and at worst as an obstacle to our winning the war on terrorism. It must be reformed. And if it cannot be reformed, the United States should give serious consideration to withdrawal.

The U.N. has become an obstacle to our national security because it purports to set legal limits on the United States’ ability to defend itself. If these limits ever made sense at all, they do not make sense now.

Yet the U.N.’s assertion of them forces presidents and policymakers into a horrible dilemma. If we obey the U.N.’s rules, we compromise our national security. If we defy them, we expose ourselves to accusations of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

According to the U.N. Charter, nations are permitted to use military force only in two situations. Article 51 of the charter recognizes an “inherent” right to self-defense against attack. In all other cases where a nation feels threatened, it is supposed to go to the U.N. Security Council to seek authorization before it takes military action — even action that might forestall an attack.

The trouble is that the U.N. defines aggression in outdated ways. For the U.N., “aggression” means invasion across national borders. Send Nazi shock troops into Poland — that’s aggression. Give sanctuary to thousands of anti-American murderers, as the Taliban did in Afghanistan, that’s not aggression.

In other words, if the United States had sent troops into Afghanistan to shut the camps down, we might well have been branded the aggressor. But if the U.S. had asked the Security Council for a mandate to destroy Al Qaeda’s terrorist bases, could the French, Russians and Chinese have been expected to approve? Even after 9/11, there would still have been plenty of people ready to argue that however much they deplored what Al Qaeda had done, Afghanistan — a sovereign state and United Nations member — was not an Article 51 “aggressor.”

In other words, under U.N. rules, the U.S. is obliged to let terrorists strike first before retaliating — and might even be prohibited from striking second. In an age when shadowy radical movements around the globe are seeking weapons that could kill hundreds of thousands of people, these rules are clearly out of date. We need new rules recognizing that harboring terrorists is just as much an act of aggression as an invasion and that those who are targeted by terrorists have an inherent right to defend themselves, preemptively if necessary.

Of course, it won’t be easy to persuade the U.N. to adopt these changes. Many members — including some of our traditional allies — seem much more interested in constraining the United States than they are in defeating terrorism — at least terrorism that is aimed at us.

The U.N. member states know that the U.S. will in the end do whatever it has to do, regardless of what the U.N. says. But they also know that the United States pays a price for disregarding the U.N. The French in particular benefit from pushing the United States to break the U.N.’s rules: Under French President Jacques Chirac, they are trying to fashion the European Union as a counterweight to the United States, and the image of the U.S. as an outlaw power helps their cause.

In a little more than a decade, our world has been transformed, first by the fall of the Soviet Union and then the events of 9/11. Everything has changed — except for the U.N. It remains an invention of a vanished era, designed to solve vanished problems. It must evolve or it will slide from irrelevance to oblivion. If the U.N. is not part of the anti-terror fight, the United States should not be part of the U.N.

The Big Test For The Democratic Contenders

David Frum January 21st, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The results of the Iowa caucuses are being hailed as a victory for the tough-minded wing of the Democratic Party. But how tough really are the Iowa winners? Senators John Kerry and John Edwards, the top two finishers, may have shunned the wild rhetoric of Howard Dean. But they share their party’s general unwillingness to think hard or realistically about the war on terrorism.

In a December speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Senator Kerry promised to treat the United Nations as a “full partner” in the war on terrorism — despite that organization’s inability even to define terrorism, let alone fight it.

The lamentable truth about the United Nations is that with a panzer-led blitzkrieg fresh in the minds of its founders, it was set up to organize a collective response to aggression across national borders. But that is not the threat we face six decades later. Today the threat is terrorism, possibly carried out with weapons that could kill hundreds of thousands in a single attack. The United Nations is more likely to restrain us than help us in our war against terrorism.

Senator Edwards, for his part, has said some reassuring things about increasing domestic security. But as a free society, we can’t win this war by building ourselves a better Maginot Line. We have to be prepared to take the war to the enemy — and when it comes to offense, too many of today’s Democrats are hesitant and vague. They hide behind excuses about “international good will” — the approbation we earn by subsiding into innocuousness — or offer unrealistic promises to mobilize our often reluctant allies to do our fighting for us.

When President Bush said on 9/11 that we would not distinguish between the terrorists and the states that harbor them, he changed a longstanding American policy of treating terrorism as a criminal act best dealt with by the institutions of law enforcement. This is a point Mr. Bush has held steadfastly to from that awful September day through last night’s State of the Union address. And he is right: no longer can we afford to hunt down individual terrorists while leaving the states that sheltered them unmolested.

We should ask the would-be presidents this: Why did the Taliban regime invite Osama bin Laden to bring his terrorist organization to Afghanistan? At the time, the United States was Afghanistan’s single largest contributor of humanitarian aid; harboring terrorists could only put the Taliban regime itself in harm’s way. Or could it? In the end, the Taliban was emboldened by the fact that the Clinton administration never did challenge it, never forced it to pay a substantial price for harboring terrorists.

Would a new Democratic administration revert to the policy of the last one? Senators Kerry and Edwards should be asked whether they support the policy of taking the war against terrorism to the terrorists, whether they agree with President Bush that we cannot win unless we can deny them sanctuary and drive them into spider holes and distant caves.

Cutting the terrorists off from the states that shelter them — that facilitate their recruitment, training, planning and arming is essential. But doing so will embroil us in diplomatic disputes. Are the Democratic candidates ready for that?

The involvement of Saudi citizens in 9/11 and revelations about Saudi financing of extremist groups has made policy toward the kingdom a campaign issue. Both Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards acknowledge that the Saudi government has condoned — or perhaps worse — extremist activities against the United States. Both senators have said in speeches that they want to rethink the relationship with the Saudis. But that’s where they stop. They have given us no inkling of what a new relationship with the Saudis would look like.

Among the other leading contenders, Gen. Wesley Clark has actually proposed creating a joint Saudi-American military unit — in other words, treating the Saudis as the kind of allies that the other Democrats correctly note they are not. Howard Dean emphasizes energy conservation as the answer to the problem. But, useful as energy conservation would be to a prosperous America, it is no answer to our Saudi problem.

Saudi Arabia provides about 10 percent of the 80 million barrels of oil the world burns every day, and earns about $63 billion a year. If we were to cut our oil consumption by some heroic amount, say 10 percent, it would be a drop in the barrel. Assuming everything else remained equal, the Saudis would still take in $57 billion a year. That can pay for a lot more of the extremist ideology they have been buying.

Rather, we must prevail on the Saudis to stop financing the extremism that breeds holy warriors, young men willing to die in order to realize their vision of an Islamist universe. The United States is the main obstacle to this extremist vision, which is why we are engaged in a war on terrorism.

If the Democrats are serious about their stated analyses of the terrorist threat, then they need to tell America their plan to destroy the terrorists and change the policies — or, if necessary, the regimes — of the states that support them. In addition, they need to propose a policy toward Saudi Arabia equal to the magnitude of the Saudi problem. Such a policy would be based on this direct challenge: either the Saudis put an end to the direct flow of money from the kingdom to extremist organizations or else the United States will no longer have an interest in the continued tenure of the present regime.

Can the Democrats credibly convey this message to the Saudis? Will they fight terrorism rather than chase terrorists? These are tests that they have thus far refused to take.

Beware The Soft-line Ideololgues

David Frum January 11th, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Under the leadership of President Bush, two approaches to American foreign and security policy have emerged. One approach is founded on vigorous, decisive action, including a readiness to use military power, against the terrorist enemy. Its exponents are the hard-liners. You know the names: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Abrams and so on.

The other approach holds that diplomacy and international organizations like the U.N. are the key to defeating terrorism. Supporting this camp of soft-liners are the professionals at the State Department championed by Secretary Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage; some veterans of the first Bush administration, like former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft; and some current and former intelligence and military officials.

There is nothing unusual about divisions of this sort among the president’s advisers. And President Bush has made shrewd and discriminating use of the advice he has received. What is unusual is that while the hard-liners have won most policy battles since 9/11, the soft-liners have won nearly complete control of the way those battles are reported. Pick up almost any newspaper account of the war on terror–such as the worshipful profile of State Department adviser retired general Anthony Zinni in the Dec. 22 Washington Post–and you’ll learn that the hard-liners are “ideologues,” bent on democratizing the Middle East through war, heedless of the dangers in their way. The soft-liners are “moderates,” “pragmatists,” “realists,” whose hesitations, fears, and resentments are represented as subtle, nuanced foreign-policy wisdom.

Yet the truth is the opposite. It is the soft-liners who are driven by ideology, who ignore or deny inconvenient facts and advocate unworkable solutions. It is the hard-liners who are the realists, the pragmatists.

The soft-liners place their trust in institutions and tactics that have consistently failed in the past; it is the hard-liners who have learned from experience. In their devotion to the U.N., their belief in the efficacy of international law, and their nostalgia for the alliances of the Cold War (and Gulf War I), the soft-liners cling to exploded illusions about the way the world should work. They protect themselves from facts with pretenses, insisting for example that negotiated successes–such as the apparent willingness of Libya to come to terms with the U.S.–are achieved by coaxing and cajoling, not toughness and credibility.

Three recent examples prove the point:

¥ Mr. Powell’s New Year’s call for “dialogue” with Iran. Suppose you were a landlord with a tenant who repeatedly broke his promises to pay his overdue rent. After being stiffed again and again, you show up at his door with an eviction notice. He swears he will pay in full next Tuesday. Would it be “realistic” to believe him?

Soft-liners tend to think that so long as we are talking with other countries, we are accomplishing something–even if everything they say to us is an obvious lie. In 2003, dissidents smuggled out proof that Iran had systematically deceived the International Atomic Energy Agency about its nuclear program. The Iranians replied with more lies–until those too were exposed by later inspection missions.

Over the last year, the rulers of Iran have confirmed that they are indeed sheltering members of Osama bin Laden’s family and the senior leadership of al Qaeda. They continue to sponsor Hezbollah terror. In the summer of 2003, the mullahs unleashed brutal repression against activists calling for democracy.

Since the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997, Western diplomats have again and again hailed the imminence of “reform” in Iran–and called for negotiations and Western concessions to hasten those reforms along. Again and again, the Iranian regime has revealed its true character. Mr. Powell’s Dec. 30 announcement of a “new attitude” in Iran that opens the way to a dialogue is only the latest episode of this embarrassing story.

Aren’t the real “ideologues” the people who refuse to let hard facts and adverse experience alter their thinking or change their behavior?

¥ Tyranny and democracy. Hard-liners are constantly accused of seeking to impose democracy by force out of blind ideological zeal. Against this, the soft-liners congratulate themselves on their prudent emphasis on continuity and stability. But by now it should be clear that there is no form of government less stable than autocracy. On Christmas Day, two suicide car-bombers crashed into the motorcade of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The blast killed 16 people. Suppose Pakistan’s president had been one of those killed? Where would we be then? The U.S.-Pakistani alliance depends on the actuarial chances of one brave man–how is it prudent to rely on those?

Hard-liners are not bent on imposing democracy on anybody. But it is realistic to notice the connection between Middle Eastern tyranny and Middle Eastern terrorism; and it is realistic too to understand that it is sometimes true that societies that yearn for freedom are denied it by force–as Iraq was by Saddam’s force. The U.S. may not be able to lead countries through the door to democracy; but where that door is locked shut by a totalitarian deadbolt, American power may be the only way to open it up.

¥ The demise of the “road map.” In March 2003, the Bush administration presented Israel and the Palestinian Authority with a “road map” to peace. The idea was that Israel and the Palestinian leadership would each take immediate steps to reduce tensions, with an eye to an agreement in principle on a Palestinian state by December 2003 and a final settlement in 2005.

Not one milestone on the road map has yet been traversed. The very first item listed on the text is this: “Palestinian leadership issues unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and calling for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere. All official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.” Well, that has not happened. Nor have the Arab states cut off funds to anti-Israel terror groups. Nor have there been free elections in areas of Palestinian jurisdiction. Nor haveÊ.Ê.Ê. well, you get the idea.

Three successive U.S. administrations have sought to broker a peace. All three have made the same assumption: that the Palestinian leadership had abandoned its hope of destroying Israel and was ready to make peace. The job now was simply to negotiate the terms. It is now clear that this assumption was false. The Palestinian leadership’s minimum demands, as articulated most recently in last month’s Geneva Accord, include control of the Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and an undefined but ominous “right of return” for the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the refugees of 1948. No Israeli government could accept these terms.

When William James and Charles Pierce coined the term “pragmatism” 150 years ago, they meant something more than mere “practicality.” James and Pierce were making a point about the nature of “truth.” Truth, they argued, isn’t some transcendent thing that exists beyond human experience. Truth is found right here on earth. If belief in an idea leads to positive results, then the idea is true; if belief in an idea leads to negative results, then it is false.

The belief that Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian leadership will ever sign an agreement that permits Israel to live in peace and security has been tested over the years. The test has ended in the catastrophe of Arafat’s terror war. Yet America’s professional diplomats, especially those we hire to be knowledgeable about the Middle East, continue to cling to this belief despite its proven and total and repeated failure. If this is “pragmatism,” what do the ideologues believe?

U.S. foreign policy will always be debated from different points of view. That is as it should be. But is it too much to ask for a little truth in labeling? We’d recommend that the next time a journalist sits down to report a foreign policy story from Washington, he try it this way: “Washington remains divided between two major factions: the pragmatic, neoconservatives and their opposite numbers, the soft-line ideologues.” Of course, this story line too is an oversimplification. But at least it is not an outright rejection of reality.