Ask most Americans what we did wrong in the first Persian Gulf War and they will tell you that we didn’t go far enough. We should have taken Baghdad. We should have eliminated Saddam Hussein when we had the chance. It was inevitable, they say, that he would rebuild his army to fight another day.

But that wasn’t America’s first mistake.

Where we really got snookered by President George Bush was in turning the war into a United Nations action. It was an un-American idea — an unconstitutional strategy and one doomed to failure.

In America, only Congress has the authority to declare war — and we need to remember that. Everytime we forget, we lose. Have we learned nothing from Korea? Have we learned nothing from Vietnam? Korea, too, was a U.N. action — one we fought not under our own rules, our own initiative and in our own interests. Vietnam, where we lost 58,000 U.S. troops, wasn’t even a war, we’re told. Congress never declared one. And ultimately, when the going got tough, Congress pulled the rug out from under the very people with whom we were fighting side by side.

In the first Persian Gulf War, the U.S. didn’t stop because of a bad military call. It stopped because the mission, as defined by the U.N., was completed. U.N. resolutions authorizing the conduct of the war called for Saddam Hussein’s army to be driven from Kuwait. That was it. Once we did it, our mandate was finished. The war was over. I don’t believe there was ever any serious consideration by George Bush to go any further.

Worse yet, the U.N. defined the peace, as well. It is, after all, the U.N.’s rules that have permitted Saddam Hussein to remain in power and to rebuild his strength. Once again, he is a threat to his neighbors — this time with missiles capable of delivering biological and chemical weapons.

What’s truly amazing about this odyssey is that Americans are still missing the point. The problem was not in the way we finished the war, it’s how we started it. We should never, ever have allowed ourselves to provide the manpower for a U.N. war. Can anyone point to one example of a U.N. military action that has resulted in victory? Can anyone show me a part of the world governed by U.N. peacekeepers that is truly peaceful? And, most importantly, can anyone show me where in the Constitution participation by the United States in such actions is authorized?

It might have seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, even most of the Arab world was angry with Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait. It was inviting to bring Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia into the alliance. But where are our so-called “friends” in the Arab world today? They’re leading the rebellion against what they perceive as cruel, unnecessary and prolonged U.S. sanctions against Iraq. Even Kuwait, the country we liberated from occupation, has abandoned us.

That’s one of the problems with conducting wars through the auspices of the U.N. The U.S. gets to do most of the dirty work under somebody else’s rules of engagement and then take the blame when things go wrong.

Now the U.S. finds itself in a no-win situation. If we act strongly, using military force, there will be outrage throughout the Arab world. If, on the other hand, we simply continue to rely on sanctions that haven’t worked, Saddam Hussein’s position will actually be strengthened. He will become a hero throughout the Arab world for standing up to the U.S. Our position as the world’s “lone superpower” will be greatly undermined — at the very moment when Russia and China are both working overtime to form strategic alliances with the Islamic nations. Israel, the Mideast’s only truly free nation, will be more threatened than ever.

U.S. options are limited. It’s highly unlikely we could mount a Desert Storm-style operation after five years of military neglect. And what would be our objective? To destroy Baghdad? To occupy Iraq?

Look for President Clinton to try to save face with some limited military response — bombings, firing some cruise missiles, maybe some one-sided dogfights with the remnants of Iraq’s air force. In other words, more impotent, meaningless fireworks that have nothing to do with ridding ourselves of the problem — Saddam Hussein.

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