Congress may not bolster U.N. case

Posted: Sunday, October 06, 2002

WASHINGTON -- President Bush is looking for a strong show of support from Congress on the Iraq war resolution to help strengthen his hand at the United Nations.

But some analysts and prominent lawmakers suggest it could have the opposite effect -- undermining the U.S. case before the world organization with what amounts to a snub.

''It takes the U.N. off the hook,'' said Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin, D-Mich., whose alternative would require Bush to first seek U.N. support.

Both the House and the Senate will debate the war resolution this week. While the debate is expected to be lengthy, and heated at times, Bush is expected to get his way in the end -- without serious modification.

''The train is now on its way,'' said Rep. Tom Lantos of California, senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.

The resolution would give Bush broad authority to use force against Iraq. It encourages him to work with the United Nations -- but does not require it. ''We'll be speaking with one voice here in this country, and that's going to be important for the United Nations to hear that voice,'' Bush asserted as he marshaled support among lawmakers for his policy.

In what has been a tumultuous tale of two cities in the past week, the administration has not had nearly the success in New York as it has in Washington.

The White House was still hoping for a new Security Council resolution to impose a tough weapons inspection regime on Baghdad. But the administration and main ally Britain faced resistance from the other three veto-wielding permanent members: Russia, China and France.

Expressing his frustration, Bush at one point last week pledged to establish a coalition outside the United Nations if necessary.

Republican leaders said they hoped next week's votes would send a strong message to U.N. headquarters in New York. ''We're going to support the president and hopefully encourage the United Nations to do the job they need to do,'' said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

But Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, suggested Bush and his congressional allies are wrong if they think a strong congressional vote will help at the United Nations.

Biden said the Iraq resolution is so broadly written that ''it undercuts what's going on in the United Nations.''

By giving Bush authority to move unilaterally against Iraq, Congress will made it harder for Secretary of State Colin Powell to make a strong case for joint action, Biden said. ''The biggest hurdle Powell has to overcome is proving that we're really serious about engaging the United Nations,'' Biden said.

Biden and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind, plan to offer an alternative that would put more emphasis on diplomacy and specify that force be used only for disarmament purposes. As with the Levin measure, it is not expected to prevail.

Ivo H. Daalder, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said a strong vote by Congress probably will not have much effect one way or the other on the United Nations ''because people there believe we are going to go to war in any case.''

''The debate in the U.N. is not about Iraq. It's about the United States,'' he said. ''It's about how to keep the United States on the U.N. path and constrain it from going off on its own.''

Eliot Cohen, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who directed the Air Force's study of air power in the Gulf War, said U.N. support would be nice -- but that ''fixation on international consensus leads to a feeble strategy.''

The United States only needs ''the active cooperation of a handful,'' he said, mentioning Kuwait, the Gulf States, ''and one would hope Turkey, Jordan and possibly Saudi Arabia.''

''Our British and Australian allies provide valuable military assistance. ... Beyond this, the chances are very good that once our intention to act becomes clear, other states will find ways of signing on with us for a variety of motives,'' Cohen said.

Even some strong supporters of the president's resolution are not quite sure of all the ramifications of voting to allow a pre-emptive U.S. strike.

''All of us see this through the glass darkly,'' said Senate Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., a pivotal Democratic backer. ''I wish I knew enough to know the absolute right thing to do. I think I am doing the right thing.''

Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.

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