The Washington Times

Over the course of 48 hours last week, the opposition to the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq collapsed like a house of cards. August was a heady month for administration opponents. They thought they were gaining ground. In fact, they were mainly attacking the administration for planning to do things it had no intention of doing. Once that revelation came, mainly with Mr. Bush’s speech at the United Nations, there was little to do but splutter.

The chief line of the critics’ attack was against a “unilateral” U.S. action. If the United States acted unilaterally, it would be a disaster. In contemplating going it alone, the administration was thumbing its nose at the international community, perhaps even going so far as to install power of the kind the United States possesses in abundance as the only currency of international legitimacy. In addition, critics worried that the administration’s threat to proceed without additional congressional authorization betrayed the same unilateralist tendency on the domestic political scene by cutting public and congressional opinion out of the picture as well. Finally, critics of the administration said it had not yet made the case against Iraq that it needed to in order to win support.

The problem with the accusation of unilateralism is that the Bush administration, manifestly, has never had the slightest intention of making Iraq into a unilateral project. Of course, the United States was going to lead. But equally, of course, the United States was going to look for allies. What, we would tell Tony Blair to go find his own regime to change? We would tell the Europeans that we weren’t interested in talking to them, so bug out? No, on the contrary, all along, the administration has been courting world opinion in order to shape it and win support. It is no great setback when France fails to say yes the first time it’s asked, yet somehow, that seemed to be the benchmark critics were applying.

Meanwhile, critics of the administration were appealing to the U.N. Security Council as the forum for deciding the question of Iraq. Unfortunately, they were doing so on the basis of two false premises. First of all, they saw the United Nations as a body that stands separate from and principally exists to serve as a check on the United States. Second, they saw the United Nations as an entity approaching the question of what to do about Iraq essentially de novo. In this telling, the administration would be [but certainly should not be] unwilling to go to the United Nations and would seek instead to circumvent U.N. authority.

This managed rather spectacularly to miss the point that the Security Council, of which the United States is a permanent member, has a long record, dating to the cease-fire terms of 1991, demanding that Saddam Hussein dismantle his weapons of mass destruction or else. The Security Council is an administration asset, not a liability. That’s why the Bush speech at the General Assembly worked so well. It was political jujitsu. The United States seized on all the gathering [oppositionist] momentum in support of U.N. action by calling on the United Nations to act.

Now, about that congressional authorization. If you want to take a meandering detour into the question of the long-running dispute between Congress and the executive branch over the president’s war-making powers, you should by all means get interested in the White House counsel’s opinion on whether a new vote is necessary. If you’re unprepared to look into that history, you really ought to steer clear of the subject, because the fact that an administration concludes [as they always seem to] that it can act without congressional authorization – on the basis of existing statutes, resolutions, etc. and the president’s constitutional powers – tells you absolutely nothing about whether the administration will seek a vote.

Why on earth wouldn’t Mr. Bush seek a vote? He enjoys overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate. Congress is likewise a political asset, not a liability. The fact that some people will be made uncomfortable by a vote is not the point. The Democrats’ back-up fantasy here is that they can delay a vote until after the election. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle would be a fool to go on point for delay when he lacks the political support to sustain it.

Finally, “the administration hasn’t made the case.” Apart from the furtherance of delay, I guess the hope here was that the administration somehow would bungle the case, or didn’t really have one. The argument backfired spectacularly, turning into a call for the administration to make the case. And so it has.

How stupid do people think the Bush administration is? Quite stupid indeed, I guess. Boy, is that stupid.