Most Americans know that the U.N. Security Council has passed 17 resolutions on Iraq, but few know what they said. I didn’t. Reading them makes clear that, whatever the specific arguments about Operation Iraqi Freedom, this crisis is also about the legitimacy of the United Nations itself.

We know that the Security Council has demanded that Iraq “unconditionally” destroy all chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; accept immediate, on-site weapons inspections; and suspend any support or involvement in international terrorism. That’s not news, nor is Iraq’s utter failure to do any of these. The problem is that these demands were in Resolution 687, adopted on April 3, 1991.

We also know that the Security Council has demanded that Iraq fully and completely disclose all aspects of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs; cease all efforts to conceal those programs; and allow immediate and unrestricted access by inspectors. Here, too, Iraq’s complete failure to meet these demands is not news. These demands, however, were in Resolution 707, adopted on Aug. 15, 1991, more than 139 months ago.

How many times would you who are parents tell your children to do something very important? If only the Security Council were more like you, because it made the same unmet demands again and again. There was Resolution 715 (Oct. 11, 1991), Resolution 949 (Oct. 15, 1994) and, again, Resolution 1051 (March 27, 1996). The U.N. was looking pretty weak, and Saddam Hussein was obviously not listening.

But, wait: Are those some signs of life? Would the Security Council finally make demands, and back them up with real consequences? No – false alarm. It passed Resolution 1060 (June 12, 1996), declaring only that Iraq was in “clear violation” of its previous resolutions. No, really? A year later, the Security Council passed Resolution 1115, again declaring Iraq’s “repeated refusal” to permit inspections a “clear and flagrant violation” of previous resolutions.

All the United Nations had accomplished in six years was declaring that Iraq had not complied with its previous demands. Then, finally, the Security Council passed Resolution 1154 (March 2, 1998), this time saying that Iraq’s failure to give inspectors unrestricted access would bring the “severest consequences.” For the first time, after seven years and a dozen resolutions, the U.N. finally mentioned consequences, but late is perhaps better than never.

Perhaps not. Resorting to what it apparently does best, the Security Council again simply made demands and then declared them unmet. In Resolution 1205 (Nov. 5, 1998), it again demanded that Iraq “provide immediate, complete and unconditional cooperation” with inspectors and declared Iraq in “flagrant violation” of previous resolutions. Not a consequence in sight.

Like rain on the roof, or Muzak in the elevator, the Security Council passed Resolution 1284 (Dec. 17, 1999). You know the drill. It again – yawn – demanded immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access for weapons inspectors.

And now we have Resolution 1441 (Nov. 8, 2002). This one does all three things that the previous 16 had done. Once again, it demands that Iraq allow “immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unrestricted access” to weapons inspectors. Once again, it declares that Iraq “has been and remains in material breach” of previous resolutions. And once again, it threatens “serious consequences” for continued violations. By now, the Security Council was sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher – a voice without any distinguishable words with no one really listening.

I wonder why Saddam Hussein didn’t want inspectors roaming around? What do you think he was doing all that time the Security Council was huffing and puffing, strutting and fretting? Parents who tell their children 17 times to do something, or who tell them “one last time” time after time, end up raising brats, thugs and criminals. International organizations who do so can accomplish the same thing. And here we are.

Saddam Hussein was told to eliminate all missiles with a range exceeding 150 kilometers back in April 1991. He finally started doing so a month ago (after making who-knows-how-many more), and the French immediately want to cut him more slack. We’ll see, of course, whether he uses against us the very weapons he claimed not to possess. We’re more than a dozen resolutions past the point of mockery. Whatever the particulars about military action in Iraq, it’s the United Nations itself that needs a big change.

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