Holy Enthusiasm

January 11, 1991|By Jonathan Power

LONDON — London. GEORGE BUSH moved fast against Iraq on August 2 for one overriding reason -- because he feared Saddam Hussein was rolling his tanks not just into Kuwait but on and into Saudi Arabia. President Bush instinctively understood America's responsibility as the Western superpower and capitalist-in-chief.

The breaking of international law in itself was not the administration's immediate concern. That was clear from the ambiguous live-and-let-live conversation between Mr. Hussein and the American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, which allowed him to think, only days before the invasion, that America would not interfere if he commenced hostilities against Kuwait. (Nor were the articles of international law part of Mr. Bush's mental processes when he sent troops to overturn the government of Panama or when the Reagan administration invaded Grenada and financed a war against the government of Nicaragua in defiance of the International Court of Justice.)

But the non-American world, even in Western Europe, has not been seized with the Saddam problem the same way. Its major interest in the affair is principle. In the evolution of civilized statecraft, it says, the time has come to take a stand against aggression once and for all.

Mr. Bush has got himself into an intellectual and political tangle. For his own Realpolitik purposes stopping the likely invasion of Saudi Arabia was sufficient -- and was quickly accomplished. But he has allowed himself to be caught up in the wave of principle, fury and anger with Saddam Hussein that has swept through the world.

These emotions, wondrous to behold and intoxicating to consume, have been unleashed by the loosening of the Cold War straitjacket. Most of the world is now intellectually free to look at an act of aggression at face value, without shading or reinterpreting it to suit their ideological camp. The membership of the United Nations has belatedly decided that the U.N. Charter, written in a heroic hour of idealism after the defeat of Hitler, is indeed the only code that deserves respect.

This new idealism has gone to George Bush's head. Nowhere is it written that America should be the leader of any effort to impose the will of the Charter. Quite the reverse: the collective security fundamental to the U.N. Charter was to be achieved by collective effort.

The rest of the world has a lot to answer for. Wrathful about Iraq, egging Washington on to take a hard stand, the allies have positioned themselves so that the U.S. is made to look as if it is marching everyone else into war. The U.S. bears most of the military load and, if war comes, will do most of the fighting and shed most of the blood. Moscow has earned all the virtue that has come from signing any political check Washington has put in front of it, but has refused to commit a single soldier.

The hard fact is this -- the world community should not have voted through the Security Council its approval for what is overwhelmingly an American military operation with an army predominantly of the Judeo-Christian culture. It should have had the guts to demand a truly representative international force, or it should have settled for the economic embargo, with the sacrifice shared more or less equally.

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