Who or what convinced President George W. Bush in August 2002 to make the United Nations the centerpiece of his campaign to build domestic and international support for using force in Iraq? And why did he persist in that effort for so many months despite substantial frustrations along the way? To some the answer may seem obvious: the U.N. is the world's premier political body, its Charter requires Security Council authorization for the use of force, and the Council has been seized of various aspects of the Iraqi challenge to global order for a dozen years. Yet the world body had failed in all those years to attain the goals that the President was seeking, in large part because the Council was bitterly and chronically divided on the critical question of how—sometimes even on whether—to enforce its numerous resolutions on Iraq. The President's enthusiasm for international law and multilateralism, moreover, had been episodic at best. To many, he would have seemed an unlikely candidate and this would have appeared an unpropitious moment to try to stiffen the Security Council's resolve in dealing with Saddam Hussein and to rescue its lagging credibility in the process. That would have been a tall order even for a Texan with the potential to be the world's last idealist or its newest imperialist.
This chapter weighs against the available evidence the four factors most often cited for the President's decision: U.S. public opposition to a war with Iraq and its preference for a more multilateral approach; Congressional pressure; the insistence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other foreign leaders; and the persuasiveness of Secretary of State Colin Powell, backed by many of the U.S. foreign policy elite. These findings should be tested against additional information on the inner workings of the Bush White House as it becomes available. While each of these dimensions has its place as part of the explanation, this chapter finds that a largely overlooked fifth factor—the President's own views, values, and priorities—appears to have been the decisive link and glue among them. 1 Once he decided to engage the U.N., he did manage to have some success not only in framing the issues to be addressed and defining the political context in which they were to be considered, but also in influencing the positions of other actors. To a certain extent, the successes and failures of the prewar political-diplomatic campaign, and it had plenty of both, were attributable to the strengths and weaknesses of the President's understanding of