WASHINGTON, March 23 (UPI) -- So many times in the run-up to the second Gulf War President Bush's diplomatic skills were contrasted detrimentally to those of his father. The broad coalition and unequivocal U.N. backing for the first war was an example, according to this theory, of the right way to do things.
The unilateralist cowboy approach of George W., failing to gain the military aid of the French Foreign Legion and the blessing of that final U.N. resolution, critics claim, doom the current war to -- well, exactly what it isn't clear, but obviously something not nice. Not military defeat, certainly. But victory without the blessings of certain European intellectual quarters, which they assume to be an equally traumatic outcome.
It's worth considering, however, that exactly these features of the first Gulf War contributed to the need for its successor. In particular, the fatal pause before Baghdad and the survival of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein were to some degree the result of the broadness of the coalition, some of whose members preferred a strong leader in Iraq because of fear of its fragmentation.
In a larger sense, the first Gulf War, coming in the middle of the Cold War endgame, marked the opening of a period, which we are coming to understand was a transitory interlude, in which a certain vision of transnational order was thought to be possible and desirable. Sept. 11, 2001, began the closing of this period. The second Gulf War may come to be seen as the final act of that closure, the two wars thus serving as bookends for the period.
During this brief period of illusion, the United Nations was envisioned as an effective organ of security, and the Security Council as body that would no longer be paralyzed by the vetoes of contending superpower rivals. An increasingly elaborate web of transnational law was promoted through treaties and the new institutions they established, which was moving for the first time to a transnational law of personal jurisdiction. International law was increasingly seen as something that bound individuals as well as states. A series of U.N. conferences on various topics would serve in place of elected legislatures, to establish by the consensus of the self-selected the new orthodoxy of thought, speech and behavior.
Sept. 11,2001, began the process of stripping away this illusion. It demonstrated that there was no such thing as an effective international civil society. Rather, it demonstrated that sufficiently large segments of the world's population held such dissimilar fundamental viewpoints on basic issues of life that peaceful coexistence and tolerance, without more forceful dissuasion of parties of concern than previously thought necessary, would not be possible.
Such parties, despising the concept of tolerance, and immune from conventional deterrence, now had access to powerful techniques of destruction. Left unchecked, they presented the prospect of being able to significantly rendering the still-fragile and not-fully-woven fabric of collaborative global prosperity, upon which all other dramas of international order depended, problematic.
Similarly, the period between Sept. 11 and the second Gulf War demonstrated the limitations of one of the other inherent weaknesses of the post-Cold War international order: The tolerance of parasitical states that mimicked the forms of functioning states only to prey upon their fellow states and their own subjects. Like insects evolved to mimic other forms of life, thug regimes like Saddam's mimic the forms of authentic sovereign states, with camouflage in the form of entities called "parliaments" that are not parliaments, events called "elections" that are not elections, and other forms and actions that are meant to resemble things that exist in real civil societies, but do not in places like Iraq.
The circumstances of the United Nations' founding at the end of World War II meant that such regimes were included in its membership from the start, and given equivalence to real living civic states. At the fall of the Soviet Union, it might have been possible to insist that the United Nations live up to its promise, and give the remaining non-democratic states the choice of becoming democratic, or facing suspension. But they were not. This failure marked what was probably the last chance for the United Nations to evolve into something genuinely useful. Instead, it was allowed to stagger on under the burden of fundamentally flawed assumptions.
Given international realities, it will probably not be possible to replace the United Nations outright. What can be done is to begin experimenting with genuine international extension of civil society. There already exists a complex set of international institutions limited to functioning democracies: NATO in the realm of security; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in the economic sphere, the G-7 conference of heads of state (now expanded to include shakily democratic Russia) and myriad others. Even these organizations, however, run the risk of being compromised by states that, although democratic, use them as arenas to contest the more market-oriented, robustly democratic agenda of America, Britain and their sympathizers.
The core of the coalition of the willing assembled to pursue the liberation of Iraq demonstrates the difference between broadly inclusive organizations and more limited ones that, because they share certain understandings of the world, are able to move more quickly and effectively. The task for the coming period is to construct a set of more permanent structures along similar lines to pursue important security, economic trade and development, and political goals.
American Jacksonians can learn from the second Gulf War that, unlike the universalist organizations they have come to despise, a more select group of nations can work together effectively increase their mutual security. American Wilsonians and their cousins, the British Gladstonians, can learn that the international order they crave will more likely grow from successful collaboration of more limited partners with strong civil societies and like assumptions than the morally compromised international bodies, which have tended to lower themselves to the lowest common denominator of morality, rather than raising, as they had hoped, the lower to a higher standard.
Britain, America, Australia and their allies have accomplished what is needed in Iraq, where a decade ago the broader coalition failed, with painful consequences for the Iraqi people and others. Now is the time to explore how to apply these lessons to the broader issues of international order.