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Analysis: Debate Continues Over U.N. Resolutions Against Iraq

U.N. Resolution Update

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The next chapter in the confrontation with Iraq is being written this week and next in meetings, in phone calls, but primarily at the United Nations Security Council. Newspaper reports say the council is inching toward a compromise resolution, but perhaps no institution anywhere inches more slowly than the Security Council. For six weeks now, the United States and Britain have challenged the UN to adopt language that declares that Iraq is in violation of previous resolutions, that failure to cooperate with a tough new inspection regime would constitute another violation--`material breach' is the UN's term--and that serious consequences would follow.

Opponents, led by France, say that is a prescription for war. In response to American pressure, they want to give Iraq one more real chance at disarmament, a resolution that omits the issues of material breach and serious consequences. If Iraq does not cooperate with inspectors, the US would have to come back to the council for a second resolution to authorize the use of force.

This hour, we'll check into reports of a possible compromise, perhaps as soon as next week. Later in the program, Secretary of State Colin Powell joins us, and we'll talk with analysts E.J. Dionne and Robert Kagen about some of the underlying issues here: the American insistence on freedom of action, European efforts to rein in the sole superpower, and differing views on the value and the nature of multilateralism. Do we need allies? How much? Is multilateralism a useful tool to assemble allies, or is it a goal unto itself the basis of international order?

If you have any specific questions about the UN resolutions, call now. Our telephone number is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. And our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And we start this hour with Time magazine's Michael Elliot. He's been covering the diplomatic negotiations at the UN. He joins us now by phone from Chicago.

And, thanks for joining us again, Michael.

Mr. MICHAEL ELLIOT (Time Magazine): Hi, Neal. Good to be here.

CONAN: We've been hearing today, at least in the US press, that compromise is in the air. Are we really any further along than we were a week ago?

Mr. ELLIOT: Well, when did you and I talk about this on TALK OF THE NATION? Three or four weeks ago, I think.

CONAN: Yeah, I think so, two weeks ago.

Mr. ELLIOT: And what we said then, as I recall, was that the thing about diplomacy is that it takes time. As soon as President Bush, as it were, pitched Iraq into the UN system, it was plain to everyone--it certainly should have been plain to the president, and I'm sure it was--that this was going to take some time. And I think what we've seen over the last few weeks is the long and slow and sometimes annoying process of crafting a Security Council resolution that has as near as possible unanimous support behind it.

I have always taken the view that the UN process was simply a question of being patient, and that if the American administration was patient and skillful in its diplomacy--and I have no reason to think that they're not--then at the end of the day, they'd have a resolution which people, if they didn't support, at least certainly didn't veto. And I suspect some time next week that's what we'll get.

CONAN: Yet time is an element in all of this. The thing we're constantly reminded of is if there is going to be military action in that part of the world, that you best want to do it no later than February, which is, of course, the last time they did it.

Mr. ELLIOT: Well, you know, this question of the time line on Iraq, Neal, I think, is a very interesting one. I mean, my view has been that the conventional wisdom on the Iraq time line on any given day or any given week was much, much, much too short. What is the absolute end point of the Iraq crisis? And I would say that the end point is the presidential election in 2004; that that's the absolute end point, at which stage the Iraq crisis has to be solved.

Now if you walk back to Cant(ph) from November 2004, we have a lot of time to solve the Iraq crisis. And I think, you know, it is perhaps unwise to think that there is this kind of great sense of rush, this great sense of urgency, it's got to be done in January, it's got to be done in February. I suspect we have rather longer than that to play with here.

CONAN: Yet the president of the United States this past week has been saying, `Let's get off the stick and have a vote at the UN. Time is running out there.' Are he and Colin Powell playing good cop and bad cop there?

Mr. ELLIOT: I think they're doing a brilliant job of playing good cop and bad cop, and yin and yang and what have you. I mean, the president's job here is to keep pounding the table, particularly when he's on the campaign trail, and particularly when he is talking to, as it were, his own audiences, and to say, `Let's get on with it. This is urgent. This is important. We can't wait.'

And at the UN, you have a very skillful diplomatic team led by John Negroponte, you know, whose boss is the only person who's ever been secretary of State, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, national security adviser. So they know what they're doing, doing the diplomatic stuff, which precedes inevitably and always in a more leisurely, considered manner. I don't think there's any necessary inconsistencies here. I think the administration are playing this actually rather skillfully. They've got a number of different constituencies that they have to talk to and they're using different language for those different constituencies.

CONAN: Well, the language that may ultimately matter will be in the resolution itself, and I wanted to run down some of the sticking points that are preventing an agreement, at least at this point. The issue of authorization of force--that's not the only big issue, is it?

Mr. ELLIOT: No. I mean, authorization of force, I think, is not language that will find its way into the resolution. There will be some other kind of diplomatic form of words. But the real sticking point here, I mean, beyond the kind of language, is a very strong sense that the French and, for that matter, the Russians have, that war is a last resort and that one should very visibly and clearly jump through a number of hoops before you go to military action.

And that seems, to me, to be a perfectly reasonable, you know, position for a nation to take. And I'm sure the American side would be past--well, actually we intend war to be a last resort. So it's a kind of question of finding the words in which the French can satisfy themselves that they have made their point and in which the Americans feel that their hands have not been completely tied.

CONAN: Is the situation in Moscow, the terrorist situation that was resolved over the weekend with the use of the gas--the Russians have now said it was fentanyl, or at least a fentanyl derivative--where so many people died in that? Did that situation play into this at all, do you think?

Mr. ELLIOT: Well, I think it did. I mean, I think President Putin has one more reason to say, as to be honest he's been saying for a year, that terrorism is a worldwide threat. I mean, with the tragedy in Moscow over the weekend, the threat posed by terrorists is obviously very much in the minds of the Russian government.

Look, I mean, I've said right from the start that the--right from the moment that the president went to the UN, that I was absolutely sure--and, you know, I've made little side bets with colleagues--that at the end of the day, neither France, nor Russia, was going to veto a United Nations security resolution sponsored by the Americans and the British. I think the Russians have signaled that they think there is a real problem with Iraq. They want it to be handled in a particular way. I'm quite sure they'd like some favors to be done, as it were, in inside agreements.

They've got a substantial debt that the Iraqi government owes them. Their oil companies would doubtless like to take part in the post-regime change environment in Iraq. All of that's true of France as well. You know, it's just a question of how patient can you be. And when push comes to shove, it seems to me that neither the Russians, nor the French, have any inclination to veto something.

CONAN: We're speaking with Michael Elliot of Time magazine. In about five or six minutes, Secretary of State Colin Powell will joins us, and we'll talk more about the UN resolution. If you have questions about it, give us a phone call at (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. And you can also send us e-mail: totn@npr.org. Later in the program, we're going to be discussing some of the underlying issues of multilateralism and unilateralism with Robert Kagen and E.J. Dionne.

And first, let's go to the phones. And our first caller is Jack, who joins us on the line from Oakland, California.

JACK (Caller): Michael, my question is, if we're willing to move militarily against Saddam Hussein, how can we not consider moving militarily against North Korea, which is much further along? It's no longer a question of when they will have this nuclear potential, but we know they have it. Why is Saddam--is he a more glamorous target or are there real security reasons that we're not moving on North Korea?

Mr. ELLIOT: Well, shall I take that, Neal?

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. ELLIOT: I mean, I think, you know, in the real world there are no one-for-one analogies. Iraq is different from North Korea. The situation in North Korea is distinguished in a number of ways from the situation in Iraq.

First of all, we have regional interlocutors--South Korea, Japan, China, for that matter--who are themselves engaged in a process of negotiation with the North Korean regime and trying to get it to change in particular ways.

Secondly, I think everyone understands that simply thinking in terms of a simplistic military solution in North Korea is not a good idea, never has been a good idea. You know, I don't know if our caller's ever been to Seoul. You can practically see North Korea from Seoul. And we know that the North Koreans have, you know, very substantial artillery batteries, what have you, just north of the DMZ. So no one's ever thought that a military solution in North Korea was a way to go.

Iraq is a different case. If reports are to believed, not just from the American government, but from the British as well, they have a major program of developing weapons of mass destruction. The administration's case is that it is better to try and get those programs closed down, weapons dismantled, what have you, before they're used.

So, you know, simply because North Korea admits it has the bomb and Iraq does not does not mean that the Iraq policy of the administration is automatically wanting.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Jack.

JACK: OK. Thanks for taking my question. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get Jeff in. Jeff's calling from Ft. Lauderdale.

JEFF (Caller): Yes, hello. Thank you. I heard James Woolsey make a point that the inspection regimes he was involved with only worked when the country being inspected was trying to prove that they had disarmed rather than the inspectors trying to catch them having not disarmed. Since it's well-known that Iraq has been in violation of the UN resolutions and its own agreements on disarmament, why isn't it that Iraq not have the burden to prove compliance instead of the UN or the US having the burden to prove non-compliance?

Mr. ELLIOT: I think it's a good question, and I think the administration's case essentially is that Iraq does have the burden of showing that it's in compliance. I mean, that, in a way, is the point of this whole exercise at the UN, to place Iraq in a position where it has to conclusively show with very clear and demonstrable evidence that it either doesn't have programs for the development of weapons of mass destruction or that it's closed them down. So I think that's exactly what the administration is trying to do.

CONAN: Michael Elliot, thanks very much, as always.

Mr. ELLIOT: All right, Neal. Good to talk to you.

CONAN: Right. Michael Elliot, a reporter with Time magazine. He was with us by phone from Chicago. We're going to take a short break now. When we come back, we'll discuss more about the UN, the United States, Iraq and its alliances--the United States, that is--with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Stay tuned for that.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

If you're just joining us, we're talking about the Bush administration's negotiations for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq. The news today is that a compromise may be getting closer.

Joining us now by phone from his office at the US Department of State is the US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

And, Secretary Powell, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Secretary COLIN POWELL (State Department): Thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: Secretary, you spoke yesterday with a group of European journalists and you said you were being flexible in offering the Security Council a second debate to authorize war should Iraq fail inspection, but you wanted to emphasize that the United States would not be handcuffed. And what did you mean by that?

Sec. POWELL: What I meant was that the president really believes this problem has to be dealt with now before it gets any worse. And he would much prefer to see it dealt with by the international community. Iraq's offense is against the United Nations for ignoring the many resolutions that Iraq has been bound by for these past 11 years. And so we would like to see it done through the multilateral organization of the UN. And we want a tough resolution that puts in inspectors to go back in with the toughest set of standards to see if Iraq will cooperate. If Iraq cooperates, then we can find a peaceful solution to this if it results in their disarmament.

But we also know that Iraq will not cooperate unless the element of pressure in the form of potential military force is there. And we want to make sure that that pressure is there. Now some of our friends in the Security Council say, `Well, therefore that has to come back to the Security Council for its consideration.' And we say, `Fine, it can come back to the Security Council for its consideration. But if the Security Council refuses to act, the United States must be free with other like-minded nations to act to deal with this danger.'

But we will participate in whatever debate the Security Council chooses to have and whether a decision is made to provide a second resolution authorizing force or not. But the United States cannot find itself handcuffed to an extended debate in the presence of a new Iraqi violation and new Iraqi material breaches.

CONAN: In the Los Angeles Times today, a French diplomat is quoted as saying, "This is a matter of principle. This is about the rules of the game in the world today, about putting the Security Council in the center of international life and not permitting a nation, whatever nation it may be, to do what it wants, when it wants, where it wants."

Sec. POWELL: He might just as easily have been referring to Iraq than the United States. It's Iraq that has decided to do what it wants to do when it wants to do it, not withstanding the international rules of the road. The United Nations passed 16 resolutions telling he to disarm. Saddam Hussein frustrated the inspectors for years and violated the international community. Now is the international community supposed to simply say, `Well, oh, never mind,' and look away?

And so the United States took this problem to the international community and is asking it to act. We hope it will act. And the one who is the violator of international standards and law is Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime, which has gassed its own people, gassed its neighbors and invaded its neighbors. It's not the United States that's done all that; it's Iraq that's done all that.

CONAN: Let me put the same question another way, and this time I'll get a quote from Francis Fukuyama, who wrote on September the 11th, "Americans are largely innocent of the fact that much of the rest of the world believes that it is American power and not terrorists with weapons of mass destruction that is destabilizing the world. And nowhere are these views more firmly held than among America's European allies."

Sec. POWELL: I don't agree with Francis, as much as I respect his opinion. The fact of the matter, America isn't out terrorizing the world. If you look at where American armed forces have gone over the last 10 years, they went into Kuwait to do what? To overthrow an invasion of a Muslim nation by another Muslim nation--Iraq invasion of Kuwait. We sent our brave young men and women into Kosovo to do what? To rescue a Muslim population. We sent our young men and women into Afghanistan after we were attacked by terrorists operating out of Afghanistan to do what? To free a Muslim people. And now our young men and women are over there, not terrorizing anybody, not threatening anybody, but building a new nation where people are free, where women can come out and participate in the society, where children can go to school and get an education that is useful, where reconstruction has begun.

One-point-nine million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the United States invaded, as some might call it. What we did was free Afghanistan, and those 1.9 million Muslims are voting with their feet for the opportunity--to get to the opportunity created by America. Our Europeans allies know that. Most of our European allies participated with us in these efforts. So although there may be disagreements from time to time, as there is now between some of our European allies and the United States, but not all of them--a number of our European allies are solidly supportive--the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain; a number of the Benalux countries. But it is not a monolithic trans-Atlantic alliance, and there will be disagreements. And we work our way through debate and dialogue through these disagreements.

CONAN: President Bush has been speaking today with chief UN inspector Hans Blix to outline inspection processes that could validate Iraqi disarmament. How much time would this take?

Sec. POWELL: That's a good question. A lot depends on the level of cooperation. I was listening to an earlier segment of your show, and some of the callers said there must be cooperation. There has to be cooperation in order to have a good inspection regime. And that's certainly true. You'd get a much better inspection regime with cooperation. If they don't cooperate, then it has to be far more intrusive as it was in the early-'90s. I can't tell you how long it'll take, but it's certainly a matter of months before Dr. Blix and the head of the IAEA, Mr. El Baradei, would come back and say, `We have made our determination whether or not they are continuing to pursue this kind of technology.' And we understand that it will take time, and the president understands that that means that we will have to wait for them to do their work and complete their report.

When the president met with them this morning--and I was present at the meeting--he made it clear to them that we have confidence in them and that we're going to give them all the support we can so that they can do the job. And their job is to find out the truth, and then the Security Council will then make its determination of what should follow.

CONAN: I know you have to leave shortly, but can you give us a better appreciation of the time line on a vote in the Security Council?

Sec. POWELL: I would say that we are narrowing the differences. I've been on the phone most of the day with my colleagues in the Security Council, and I think we're getting much closer. And I would say that this will break in one way or another, either with agreement, or if we don't get agreement, different sides can put down different resolutions to see who has the votes. I think this is all going to happen certainly by the end of next week. I'd be surprised if it went into the following week.

CONAN: Secretary Powell, thank you very much for joining us today.

Sec. POWELL: You're quite welcome. Thank you, Neal. Bye.

CONAN: United States Secretary of State Colin Powell was with us by phone from his office at the Department of State here in Washington, DC.

As you heard in our program today, the negotiations over a UN Security Council resolution are at least in part about the best way to deal with Iraq and in part about fears that the United States is becoming too powerful. Is America becoming too much of a, to use the French expression, `hyperpower'? Is it a mistake to face international crisis from a position of lone leader, happy to have allies but willing to go it alone? Or should we make our decisions always in coalition with the rest of the world? What's the role of our allies? Why do they matter?

We want to hear from you. Give us a call: (800) 989-TALK; that's (800) 989-8255. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And joining us now from his home in Brussels, Belgium, is Robert Kagen. He's senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

And, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. ROBERT KAGEN (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): It's my pleasure. Thank you.

CONAN: Mr. Kagen, we just heard Colin Powell say that, well, you know, the European allies are not necessarily so dead set against this and that it's not really about a position of the United States being the sole superpower.

Mr. KAGEN: Well, in a way, it's two things at once, and there's a certain paradox here. I do think that, by and large, our European allies don't agree with the Bush administration's view of what needs to be done in Iraq. On the other hand, I think that when and if the United States winds up going into Iraq, it will have a number of those allies with us, not because they agree but because they're very reluctant to see us go in alone with them standing on the sidelines.

CONAN: So they don't want us necessarily to go, but if we do, they want to go with us?

Mr. KAGEN: That's right. I mean, you know, six months ago, pretty much every one of our allies was heatedly explaining why the idea of invading Iraq was a terrible idea and that the administration's approach was absolutely wrong. I don't think in the last six months they fundamentally changed their view. I don't think the United States or the Bush administration or even Colin Powell has persuaded them that we are right. And yet, they probably will be with us because, in a way, for a European power like France, one nightmare is the United States going into Iraq. A worse nightmare is the United States going into Iraq alone with France sort of standing helplessly and impotently on the sidelines. That's just not a desirable outcome for them.

CONAN: There's been a lot of debate in the last year over the role of the United States in the world. It's often characterized as a debate, almost the definitions between unilateral and multilateralism. There are different interpretations of both those words on different sides of the Atlantic, aren't there?

Mr. KAGEN: Well, that's right. Most Americans, even most Americans who consider themselves multilateralists--generally what they mean by that is they'd like to have allies on their side. They'd like to have as much international approval as possible. They'd rather not go in alone. But most would say that if it's necessary to do something about Iraq and allies won't go along and you've tried to bring them along but they won't, that the United States should go anyway, if that's the situation. And...

CONAN: So the Security Council does not get a veto.

Mr. KAGEN: That's right. And most Europeans have a very different view of it. They are trying in their way to establish a system of international law where no state is any stronger or bigger or more able to act on its own than any other state. They want decisions to come out of the UN Security Council, and if the UN Security Council says no, then it shouldn't happen. Most Americans say, `Well, let's try the UN Security Council, and if they say no'--even Colin Powell says that--`and if the UN Security Council doesn't go along, then we'll go alone.' And that's a very different view from that held in Europe.

CONAN: Yet in Kosovo, which was one of the examples Secretary Powell was talking about, that was a NATO operation and did not get approval from the Security Council.

Mr. KAGEN: Well, that's right. And the interesting thing about that is that I would say most Americans, including the Clinton administration, were not at all troubled by the fact that we acted in Kosovo without a UN Security Council authorization. European powers who did act nevertheless were troubled by it. Germany was very troubled by it. They are very unhappy about acting without UN Security Council authorization and other European powers were. So in a way, the American view, even under a Democratic administration, was, `Well, this is fine. We can go ahead and do this without a resolution.' Europeans felt like that was an exception to the rule, and really, we ought to have a resolution all the time if we possibly can.

CONAN: Seemingly on the other side of the divide now, you have Germany and Chancellor Schroeder saying that he won't support an action, even with a UN Security Council resolution.

Mr. KAGEN: Well, that's right, and that's a pretty controversial position within Europe, and what's sort of been amusing to watch here in Europe is how the French have sort of been condemning Germany's unilateralism in being, as you say, unwilling to go even with a UN Security Council resolution. Schroeder has staked out a fairly extreme position, but in fairness, it does reflect a German opinion as far as I'm able to gather it. They really are opposed to an action in Iraq and are not even willing to go with a UN Security Council resolution.

CONAN: We're speaking with Robert Kagen, and we'll be later joined by E.J. Dionne. We're talking about the situation in the United Nations Security Council where the United States is urging its allies to go along on Iraq, but also saying if they don't, it will go it alone. Is that the right position in this world today?

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go to the phones. Our next caller is Luneb(ph). Am I pronouncing that correctly?

LUNEB (Caller): That's right. ...(Unintelligible) Luneb. How you doing?

CONAN: How you doing? You're in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Go ahead.

LUNEB: Yes, sir. I agree with the French ambassador, and I agree with the premise of Schroeder and the French that no country should be so powerful that they can just veto everyone else in the UN and say, `We're going to go it alone.' The whole point of balance of power is to make sure that no other country in the world can become the 800-pound gorilla, like the Germans did in World War II. And I think just because we think we are so benevolent that we have the right moral, ethical ground, the high ground, does not translate to a green light for us to just go ahead and bypass the UN.

And I also think on the subject of the weapons of mass destruction that that is a red herring; that first of all, if there are weapons over there, we should try to disarm them, but we need to go and take out Saddam himself instead of just--carpet bombing countries is not going to solve terrorism around the world. It's just going to make people more angry, and it's not really going to get anything accomplished. So weapons of mass destruction can take the form of airplanes. They can take the form of gas, snipers, etc. So we've got to be real careful when we go bombing Third World countries in the desert. That's my comment.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

So, Robert, there's a lot of people who will say, in this country as well as in Europe, that like that last caller, you do have to wait for the United Nations.

Mr. KAGEN: Well, that's right. And, I mean, there are certainly what I would call principled multilateralists in the United States as well. As it happens, I don't think there are too many of them leading the charge, even in the Democratic Party, let alone in the Republican Party. But, you know, the caller expresses a very legitimate view of international relations. My own view is that, you know, in order to have that kind of international legal system work in any way, you've got to have power behind your ideals. You can't simply declare that you have a perfect system of international order where everyone is going to be obedient. Now what do you do when you have a proven aggressor like Saddam Hussein or we have known other proven aggressors in the past? In fact, to promote an international order, sometimes you have to use force. That was the lesson of the Second World War. We amassed a great deal of power in order to win the Cold War. It's an unfortunate fact, but it is a fact of humanity, that there are always going to be some dangerous people out there who only respond to power.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a call in from Michelle in Baltimore.

MICHELLE (Caller): Hi. I just have a comment. Given the administration's push to go to war against Iraq, it seemed that they were really intensely focused on that in the beginning, and now having heard Colin Powell's comments, doesn't it seem that the US administration right now seems somewhat disingenuous with negotiations that are going on right now with the UN?

CONAN: Just looking for a pretext?

MICHELLE: Something like that, yes.

CONAN: Yeah. Robert.

Mr. KAGEN: Well, sure. And that's certainly what the European view has been, or certainly the French view and others, that the United States is just going through the motions of appealing to the UN, and I think that there's a certain truth to that. President Bush has made it clear that he will do what he thinks needs to be done, with or without a UN Security Council authorization, but he'd rather have one if he can get it. So, yes, there's a certain amount of posturing that's going on. In fairness, however, there's a certain amount of posturing going on on all sides. I think at the end of the day, the real irony will be that although France is trying to have its say on the UN issue, even if they don't get what they want, they may well be with the United States in an invasion of Iraq. So this is, unfortunately, the world we live in where people, you know, don't always do exactly what they say they're doing.

CONAN: Michelle, thanks very much for the call.

We're talking about America's relationship with its allies in the context of the confrontation with Iraq, which is coming to a head as the United Nations Security Council debates the language of a resolution. Earlier on the program, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would be very surprised if a vote in the Council did not happen before the end of next week.

Coming up, along with Robert Kagen, we'll be joined by columnist E.J. Dionne. You can continue this conversation online if you'd like. Go to npr.org, click on the discussion section and then scroll down to TALK OF THE NATION. Our number is (800) 989-8255.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Tomorrow, it is number one on the list of parents' concerns: how to talk to their kids about drugs. Tomorrow, we'll look at several anti-drug programs to see how they work, if they're successful and how you can talk about drugs with your kids. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're talking about the role of US allies as we get down to the wire on a UN Security Council resolution. Our guest is Robert Kagen, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and he's on the line with us from Brussels.

And, Robert Kagen, you've written that `Multilateralism for multilateralism's sake is a sign of weakness' and I was wondering if you could explain that.

Mr. KAGEN: Well, what I mean is countries that have more capacity to go it alone will generally be more inclined to go it alone. The United States is a country of enormous power, and whether one likes it or not, it's going, as most great powers have done in history, to want to preserve its ability to act on its own when it feels necessary. Many of the European powers, and obviously other powers in the world, lacking that great power obviously prefer that everyone act in a multilateral fashion. They themselves don't have the capacity to act unilaterally, and therefore, they would prefer if no one else did either. I'm not saying that one side is necessarily right when the other side's necessarily wrong. It just seems to me to stand to reason that the Europeans in their present state prefer multilateral action and would rather not see the United States act unilaterally.

CONAN: And the one assumption that underlies all of this is the enormous gap between the United States' military power and everybody else.

Mr. KAGEN: Well, that's right. And, you know, since the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of a common threat which sort of bound the United States and Europe together, I think that both the United States and Europe have developed somewhat different and, in some cases, rather importantly different strategic perspectives and perspectives on how the international system ought to run. Europeans who've created a successful supranational institution in the European Union would like to see the whole world run that way, if possible. I think Americans who haven't had that experience and who have great power and believe that power needs to be put in the service of liberal order and liberal principles believe more in military force than the Europeans do. And that's just a fact of present-day international life that we have to get used to.

CONAN: Robert Kagen, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. KAGEN: Thank you. My pleasure.

CONAN: Robert Kagen, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and he was with us on the line from Brussels in Belgium.

Joining us now is E.J. Dionne, columnist with The Washington Post, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. He's here in Studio 3A. And, E.J., good to have you back on the show.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (The Washington Post): Good to be with you.

CONAN: Of course, you can join the conversation as well, (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And, E.J., you've been listening to the program this hour: concerns about the US going alone or concerns about the US being handcuffed by multilateralism. What do you make of it? How important at this juncture are allies to the United States?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think part of the problem with this discussion is, if I can in a cheap way paraphrase Jefferson, is we are all unilateralists, we are all multilateralists. That is to say, if Americans thought that US interests were deeply at stake or we were under attack, we wouldn't wait for the UN, we wouldn't wait for NATO. We would defend ourselves. When the United States attacked the Taliban, we actually had large-scale international support. But there was a general sense in the United States that this was something worth doing in direct response to September 11th. But all things being equal, most Americans are multilateralists because we like to have allies, and we don't see any need to alienate the rest of the world. I think Bob Kagen, whom I disagree with sometimes but deeply respect, was right, that we are the most powerful power in the world, and he's written that many Americans are--and I quote him--"instrumental multilateralists."

Well, that's very important because there is absolutely no need for the United States, in the situation we are in, to create needless opposition in the world to alienate large numbers of people in the world who themselves broadly support our democratic values. You quoted Francis Fukuyama earlier, and he's a conservative broadly in the same camp as Bob Kagen. He wrote recently that `The United States can mitigate the problem of opposition from the Europeans by a degree of moderation on its part within a system of sovereign nation-states. Overreaction to September 11th,' he went on, `will lead to a world in which the United States and its policies remain the chief focus of global concern.' In a situation like this, we want Saddam to be the issue, not American power to be the issue.

CONAN: You say that we're all multilateralists and we're all unilateralists, but Robert Kagen was also talking about a different definition of multilateralism in Europe where the Security Council--you could not go it alone, in their view, if the Security Council said no.

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think one of our problems here is that we are basing our--we have had a kind of inconsistency in our argument for this. The administration on the one hand has put out a doctrine of preemption which says that we have a right to go out and take out enemies if they threaten us, and certainly in dire circumstances I think Americans would believe that. But they have also gone to the UN and said, `This is about enforcing UN resolutions.' Well, that's not preemption. That's about saying, `We support international law.'

I remember when President Bush gave his speech before the UN, I was interviewing Joe Biden, the Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, and I said, `You know, this sounds to me like Dick Cheney in Colin Powell's clothing,' and he said, `No. It's Colin Powell in Donald Rumsfeld's clothing. ' Now whichever one of us was right, it suggested an...

CONAN: Maybe one of them ought to get out of the closet.

Mr. DIONNE: Right, exactly. And there's an ambiguity here, and I think the administration's problem is this ambiguity that it's offered us over the last several months.

CONAN: Let's get some callers involved. Our first caller is Andrew, who's on the line with us from St. Louis, Missouri.

ANDREW (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

Mr. DIONNE: Greetings.

ANDREW: I was just kind of wondering, why would the US--excuse me. I'm...

CONAN: Happens to me all the time. Don't worry about it.

ANDREW: Thank you. Since Iraq is in clear violation of the 1991 cease-fire, how come I haven't heard too many people bring that up?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think your point is right, and it goes to the point I guess I just made, which is that if we want to make a case for this in terms of international law, which says there was a deal made to end the Gulf War. That deal required Saddam Hussein to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction. We are making the case for international action on the basis of essentially international law, on the basis of what the UN said. I think there are very few people in the country--yes, there are pacifists whom I admire and respect who say, `We shouldn't go to war at all.' But I think this argument is largely an argument between people who broadly agree that Saddam Hussein is in violation of exactly those UN resolutions that you allude to, and the question is, what is the most effective and least dangerous way of going about this?

And that's another problem I see in the administration's approach. Is this primarily about disarming Iraq, which is a goal that I think has very broad support, or is this about an American invasion that's designed to change the balance of power in the Middle East, create an opening for democracy? The first is a very clear and limited goal. The second is a very broad objective. Now, in principle, I'd like to see the Middle East democratize. I'd like to see that come about. But if we're really doing this for the second reason, that's a very different reason than the one that we are mostly talking about.

CONAN: But in a way, Andrew, if you'll let me--in a way, isn't Andrew's question exactly what President Bush said to the United Nations when he went up there to say, `They're in materiel breach. What's the problem here? They're violating your resolutions'?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, some of this--and Mike Elliot talked about this earlier in your show--if this were simply about soft cop, tough cop, where Colin Powell goes there as the diplomat, may have doubts about this policy himself, reassures our European allies and then President Bush is out there--and I think, again, Bob Kagen talked about the unilateralist fist in the multilateralist glove--if this were about President Bush says really tough things, Powell says diplomatic things and we try to push the world toward its upper stance towards Saddam, I think a lot of Americans who were skeptical of the administration policy would like that outcome. A lot of the Democrats who voted for the war resolution, despite a lot of doubts, did so because they wanted to sort of push the rest of the world to take a tougher stand toward Saddam. If that's the policy, I think in the end, an awful lot of people will say, `Well, good for them. They pulled it off.' It's not at all clear, especially when you listen to Mr. Cheney or listen to Mr. Rumsfeld, that that is what the policy is.

CONAN: Andrew, thanks very much.

ANDREW: You're welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And now let's go on the line to Lisa, who joins us from Cortland, New York.

LISA (Caller): Yeah. Hi. You know, I just want to say two things. I have a pet peeve. I'm tired of hearing the French vilified, you know, just because they don't lay down and do whatever we tell them. They play a very important role in the Middle East in terms of keeping doors of communication open that allow negotiation when force isn't appropriate. Number two, I get very frustrated when we say that Saddam has broken UN restrictions, and yet, we don't need the UN to back us if we want to go ahead and make war on him. That's trying to have it both ways, and we really can't. Number three, I think I would take all of our allegations and our decisions for actions much more seriously if they weren't being headed by a man who was quoted in Newsweek as having said, "Hey, these guys tried to kill my daddy." I do think that, to some extent, this is a personal vendetta on the part of George W. Bush to get back at Saddam Hussein. Those are my comments. Dr. Kagen I think is obscenely unilateralist, and I'm glad to hear that the gentleman from The Brookings Institute and The Washington Post at least has some rational thought on this issue. And that's it. Thanks.

CONAN: Thank you very much, Lisa, and you're the first ever to accuse E.J. Dionne of having a rational thought.

Mr. DIONNE: Yes. God bless you. Thank you very much. I mean...

LISA: Well, in comparison to Kagen. I'm sorry.

CONAN: OK. All right. We'll give you that proviso. Thanks very much for the call.

Mr. DIONNE: I guess a couple of points. First, as you can tell, my last name is French. I grew up in the only household in America I think where de Gaulle was a hero, so I always liked people sticking up for the French. That's just pure ethnic nationalism. The second point is I don't think there's anything wrong with Americans, as a whole, being opposed to the idea that a foreign leader tried to arrange the assassination of an American president. I will say I didn't vote for George Bush the elder, but I think that's a legitimate reason.

I do think that the rhetoric is unfortunate, and I have a hunch the White House wished President Bush hadn't said that, because when he gave his earlier speech, he was very careful not even to mention the name of his father. The difficulty here, I think, is a lot of Democrats and a lot of people on the left simply mistrust the Bush administration, and I think this policy might actually have more support under another administration, and people need to be honest with themselves as to whether they are opposing this because they don't trust the Bush administration. But I think the Bush administration, in turn, has to ask itself, has it put rhetoric out there, particularly some of the rhetoric of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld, which actually scares people and sends the signal that `All along, we intended to do this unilaterally. The UN is kind of window dressing and, you know, we'll do this one way or another'?

And I think they have actually hurt their own policy, hurt their own objective by some of the things they--the `they' meaning people in the Bush administration--have said. And I think this split, which I still think exists between Mr. Powell on the one side and Mr. Cheney on the other, is very important, and we're still waiting for it to play out.

CONAN: Part of the audience that's been listening to all of this discussion at the UN is obviously the American public. I think people have noticed there's an election coming up next week. Is this entire debate over unilateralism, going it alone--and unilateralism, I guess in this case, includes Britain and a couple of other allies; that would be unilateralist--or multilateralist--is that going to make a difference? There were between a hundred and 200,000 people in the streets of this city protesting the idea of a war with Iraq. Do you think it would matter to them, you know, if there was a UN Security Council resolution along the lines of what we're expecting?

Mr. DIONNE: I mean, the polling clearly suggests that. I was on the road all last week. I was mostly in South Dakota and Minnesota and spent time, in fact, with the late Senator Wellstone, and that was just a very--it shook a lot of us to see what happened to Senator Wellstone. What struck me is that this war does not have deep support in the country. It doesn't mean that if we go to war, Americans won't support it. I was struck by Republicans I ran into who had doubts about it. And if you look at a Gallup poll from about a week ago--and Peter Beinart in The New Republic wrote very powerfully on this--Americans who say national security is their big issue tend to lean toward the Republicans, but Americans who say Iraq is the issue are actually leaning toward the Democrats.

I think one of the odd things about this is the people who feel most strongly about it are more against war with Iraq, even though, in the broad sense, there's probably moderate support for the president. When I talked to Senator Wellstone last Wednesday, he said, `I thought that vote against the war was going to be the end of me,' and I'm surprised that that's not the case at all. I've had lots of people come up and be very sympathetic. So I do think there's great ambivalence out there in the country on the war.

CONAN: We're going to give the last word to an e-mailer, Ken, who writes, `Would it be fair to say that historically, the great powers fall because the costs of asserting their power becomes greater than the gains from doing so?' He answers his own rhetorical question by saying, `Going it alone is costly in a lot of ways.' E.J. Dionne, thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. DIONNE: Very good to be with you.

CONAN: E.J. Dionne is a columnist with The Washington Post, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, heard from time to time on another of our NPR programs, "All Things Considered." Always good to have him on TALK OF THE NATION.

In Washington, I'm Neal Conan, NPR News.

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