In environmental economics,
there is a concept called "the tragedy of the commons."
It refers to the fact that when land is held in common, that is,
is used freely by the public without the supervision of a private
owner, it suffers. Its resources are depleted and its maintenance
is neglected, because no single authority is responsible for its
In the war on terrorism, we
must avoid a similar fate.
In these days of war speculation
in which it is often said United Nations permission is a prerequisite
for a U.S. war against Iraq, we should consider: If everyone is
responsible for protecting the world from Iraqi terror weapons,
then no one truly is.
This is why the Bush Administration
would be wrong to give the U.N. veto power over U.S. actions.
The question is not: What does
the U.N. think? It is: Is war necessary to protect the U.S.?
If the alternative to war is
less palatable than military action, then on to Baghdad. The U.N.
may support us, but not veto us.
Responsibility for the defense
of the United States is invested by our Constitution in our President
and Congress; war decisions are to be made in Washington, not
at U.N. headquarters.
Democracies properly go to war
to protect themselves. President Bush is making the case that
this war meets that test by providing evidence that Saddam Hussein
is amassing weapons of mass destruction for use on innocent people.
Bush likely will make this case
convincingly, as most Americans already agree.
Those who oppose Bush's plans
have a moral obligation to propose a better option. So far, they've
The most frequent call is for
resumed weapons inspections. Been there; done that. After the
Persian Gulf War, Hussein promised to rid his country of weapons
of mass destruction and to allow U.N. inspections to confirm his
adherence to his pledge. He brazenly broke these promises; inspections
are a joke.
Bush's critics simply aren't
suggesting any workable alternative to "regime change,"
which (apparently) means war. Most want to pretend the Iraqi problem
does not exist. That works -- in the short run. In the long term,
it may mean body bags in large numbers and more dates on the calendar
like September 11.
Not all of Bush's critics live
in Europe and the Arab states. Some inhabit Congress and seem
more concerned about the war's timing -- they don't want it before
Election Day -- than war itself. This insults everyone.
If war is to occur, it should
take place at the best time for achieving war goals at the least
cost in lives. The date of domestic elections in which our commander-in-chief
is not even a candidate is not a proper strategic consideration.
In any case, we do not know
how the timing of a pre-election invasion would influence voters.
Fears by Democrats that the war would go well and voters would
reward Bush by backing local Republican candidates are merely
speculative. The war could be harder than expected or voters could
perceive that its timing was political, thus favoring Democrats.
Voters also could quite reasonably decide that since all candidates
are pro-U.S. anyway, they'll vote based on other considerations.
The bottom line: if the Iraqi
threat is serious enough for war, we are morally obligated to
conduct the war in the most responsible manner possible. That
means strategic considerations trump everything, including the
The U.N. has known for years
-- particularly since 1998 -- that the weapons inspection program
was a failure. It did nothing. Since September 11, 2001, the U.N.
has known that some U.S. action against Saddam Hussein's Iraq
was likely. Again, the U.N. did nothing.
The U.N. has failed to lead.
In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the U.N. began passing
resolutions aimed at promoting peace and security in the region.
Twelve years later, Hussein is more dangerous than ever.
If Saddam Hussein launches a
massive terror attack against Americans, will the U.N. comfort
the widows and raise the orphans? Will the U.N. make us whole?
That's no more accurate than
the notion that the U.N. has the right to stop us from self-defense.
Amy Ridenour is President of
The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington,
D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].