Better Late

President George W. Bush asked, in his stellar State of the Union Address, for "all free nations [who] have a stake in preventing sudden and catastrophic attacks… to join us."

But then came the punch line, which contained loads of punch: "Yet the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others."

It may not seem that way, after the latest episode of United Nations machinations last Friday. The "axis of weasel" states, France and Germany, seemed to be jerking Colin Powell around the Security Council table.

Presuming George W. Bush follows through with Iraq’s liberation -- and it’s catastrophic if he blinks now -- then going to the U.N. appears to have complicated that move, not broadened its support, as the State Department contended.

But that’s not surprising since the real mistake was not going to the United Nations at all. It was going to the United Nations too early.

President Bush naturally hoped the U.N. would lend legitimacy to liberating Iraq. This, to most Americans, sounds right. But those who look at  the U.N. see scant legitimacy there to lend.

Libya soon becomes Chairman of the U.N. Human Rights Commission! Iraq soon chairs the U.N. Committee on Disarmament, following the exalted chairmanship of that other real champion of disarmament, Iran!

How can the use of American power possibly be legitimized by the likes of Syria, China, France, or Angola, who sit on the Security Council? Watching those players from the 15 Council members mechanically read their lines brings to mind the mechanics reading their lines in Midsummer Night’s Dream, when they make a complete farce out of serious material.

The Iraq-athon last Friday further delayed the urgent need to remove Saddam, and muddled a clear and present way to end that danger. Macbeth’s cry -- "Confusion hath made its masterpiece" -- fits the current play at the United Nations quite aptly.

That's why, early in my two-plus years as a U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., the British ambassador took me aside to say that he was under strict orders from his Prime Minister to block any serious Security Council debate on Britain's use of force -- in Rhodesia, the Falklands, wherever.

That's why the Clinton administration’s largest use of force, in Kosovo, was never taken to the Security Council. And why the now-sanctimonious French’s use of force in Rwanda, or today in the Ivory Coast, was never taken to the Security Council either.

While the U.N. isn't much good on "before," it does have good to offer on "after." Its humanitarian efforts far surpass its political attempts.

U.N. Peacekeepers have contributed nicely for decades.The U.N. Development Program, Food Program, World Health Organization, and sundry other specialized U.N. agencies have the best people up there. Many wring their hands over the shenanigans on the political side of Turtle Bay.

Bypassing the U.N. before liberation, but activating it afterwards, would enable these professionals to help reconstitute and democratize Iraq. They’ve already gained experience in, excuse the phrase -- "nation-building" -- in Cambodia, Angola, Namibia and elsewhere. 

For the U.S. to out-source to these experts would boost the U.N.'s capability to turn "failed states" into real states. Since that’s a growing need, we’ll need that growing U.N. capability.

Relying on the non-political U.N. agencies would again prove we have no imperialistic ambitions. We’re liberating Iraq to help Iraqis and the whole civilized world -- not for land, oil or imperialistic power.

It would encourage other developed democracies to fork over their money and aide workers to help develop Iraq’s democracy.

The U.N. is utterly frustrating in political conflict resolution. But it shines in humanitarian conflict cleanup. So why not capitalize on its comparative advantage? It would have the added advantage of actually advancing our interests.

Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of