Very few Americans have noticed the irony and the humiliation of the Bush administration's seeking the help of the United Nations to pull our chestnuts out of the fire in Iraq. A year ago our swaggering, smirking president and our cocksure Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld embraced a unilateralist foreign policy. The United States was the only superpower. It could do whatever it wanted. It did not need the U.N., it did not need NATO, it did not need many of our former allies. We would clean up the mess in Iraq all by ourselves before Saddam Hussein created a mushroom cloud. Now the administration pleads with Kofi Annan to make a deal for us about Iraqi elections -- elections that will surely not produce the democratic Iraq we promised.
The U.N. might not be all that much, but it is the only international organization the world has, which the Bush administration now seems to admit. Among its many defects is the pretense of Franklin Roosevelt that France is a great power, which it was not in 1870 or 1914 or 1939. Yet every American president from 1945 on somehow managed to work with the U.N. to achieve this country's foreign policy goals. Bush, under the influence of the 'neocon' intellectuals, decided that such effort was unnecessary. Rumsfeld designed a plan that would ''take out'' Saddam quickly and almost painlessly. Now it turns out that the United States needs the help of the U.N. to extricate us from the quagmire we have created for ourselves. Alas, there is no Marshal von Falkenhayn around to tell the president that it's time to get out.
The Bush plan has failed in the same way that the Schlieffen plan failed. The prediction for a self-funding cakewalk is a year old and a year dead. Plans that depend on your opponents doing exactly what you want them to do tend to go that way.