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In the Crossfire

Is U.N. relevance at stake in Iraqi crisis?

Sen. James Inhofe: "It's easy for us to talk about what the United Nations or NATO or some others may say. But the president's going to do what he was elected to do."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the face of French and Russian veto threats, the United States and Britain have indicated they may be willing to extend a Monday deadline for Iraq to disarm.

Passage of a second U.N. resolution on Iraq requires nine of the Security Council's 15 votes, with no vetoes from the five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

If the United States fails to secure the resolution and attacks Iraq anyway, what impact will the decision have on the United Nations? The Bush administration has said the world body's relevance is on the line if it fails to enforce resolutions against Iraq.

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined "Crossfire" hosts Robert Novak and James Carville on Monday. Inhofe said that the United States doesn't need U.N. approval for a possible invasion of Iraq.

NOVAK: Sen. Inhofe, let's be realistic. We are going to war against Iraq, whether or not the United Nations passes a resolution or not. If we go to war without a U.N. resolution or with the resolution being defeated, this would be a blow to the United Nations. From your standpoint, sir, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

INHOFE: Well, you know, I told a crowd last weekend, I'm not a United Nations senator, I'm a United States senator. I wonder what happened to sovereignty in this country. I think of our forefathers rolling over in their graves thinking before a president can defend America, he has to get permission from some multinational organization.

So I think the president will do what his constitutional oath tells him to do -- defend America with or without the United Nations or any other group.

NOVAK: I understand that, sir. But what I'm asking you is -- do you welcome a loss in prestige by the United Nations, or do you think that is a bad thing to happen?

INHOFE: I don't think it's a loss in prestige. I think we know what we have to do. I mean, let's look at what happened in 1983 and 1986 and [in] Panama and Grenada. [In] 1986, President Reagan had to send 29 F-111s over to Libya because of what Moammar Gadhafi did. We couldn't even get overflight permission from the French. And yet, he went in there with 29 F-111s. You haven't heard from them since.

I think we have a responsibility to the American people. It's easy for us to talk about what the United Nations or NATO or some others may say. But the president's going to do what he was elected to do.

CARVILLE: OK. I want to continue on Bob's question here, and I'll show you what Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations, had to say about this.

ANNAN [in a video clip]: The members of the Security Council now face a grim choice. If they fail to agree on a common position, and action is taken without the authority of the Security Council, the legitimacy and support for any such action will be seriously impaired.

CARVILLE: OK, Sen. Inhofe, if in fact we go with the U.S. resolution, [and] we don't get it, [and] we go to war anyway, would you be in favor of the United States withdrawing from the United Nations?

INHOFE: No, I don't think so. I think that they know we're going to do what we have to do. And, you know, a lot of these countries that are sitting around right now saying they may not be supporting us, it'll be almost like Afghanistan when the dancing in the streets start. These people are going to know that they're a lot safer today or after this than before.

CARVILLE: ... Why did they go if they're not going to pay attention? Why didn't we just attack them? Why did we go in the first place? Why are we subjecting ourselves to this kind of ridicule in the world? Why are we subjecting ourselves to having the secretary-general of the U.N. basically say we'd be an outlaw nation? If we didn't need the authority in first place, why didn't ...

INHOFE: ... An argument could be made that it would have been better if we ... [had] done it before now. ... But you [have] got to keep in mind that this president inherited a military that Bill Clinton had decimated for eight years. We had to build up our smart bombs, ... and it took some time. I think we're more prepared now than we were. ...

CARVILLE: ... I asked you why we went to the U.N., and you start attacking Bill Clinton? If we didn't need to go in the first place, why did we sit around and do it? If your position is the U.N. has no authority. ...

INHOFE: No, that's not my position. We needed time to rebuild our arsenal. ...

CARVILLE: Why do we have to go to the U.N.? If -- I mean, we didn't have to ...

INHOFE: Well, now, if we hadn't gone to the U.N., you'd be crying about that, wouldn't you?

NOVAK: Senator, the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations [Munir Akram] -- and I think Pakistan has been a good ally of the United States and the war against terrorism -- he said on CNN, "We would want to exhaust every possible means for a peaceful solution, and I think that is the vocation of the Security Council."

There'll be lives lost, damage done. Don't you think that there's no rush to do this? That every peaceful mean should be exhausted through the Security Council?

INHOFE: Bob, we've done this now for 12 years, almost 13 years. He has violated -- what? -- some 16, 17 resolutions. Why do we have a U.N. passing resolutions if we're going to let someone violate the resolutions and do nothing?

Now, something's happening. This isn't all happening in a vacuum. All the time he is hiding his stuff, and keep in mind we're not supposed to be out there trying to find it. We're supposed to be out there accepting what he is proving to us that he has done in the way of destroying weapons of mass destruction. ...

So each month that goes by -- we don't know what he has. You and I sat at this table just about two months ago, and I told you that when the weapons inspectors were kicked out in 1998, we asked all the weapons inspectors a question. How long could it be before Saddam Hussein has all three weapons of mass destruction and the missile means of delivering it intercontinentally? And they said six months. That's a scary thought. So time is not our friend, Bob.

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