THE TENSION that is now rising within the Western alliance, NATO and the United Nations over how to deal with Iraq is deeply disturbing.
It raises fears that the postwar security system, which stabilized the world for 50 years, could come unglued if America intervenes alone in Iraq. Dean Acheson, who was secretary of state at the birth of this security system, wrote a memoir titled Present at the Creation. Can we deal with Iraq and still ensure that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's memoir is not titled Present at the Destruction? Yes, we can -- if we, the Russians, the Chinese and the French all take a deep breath, understand our common interests and pursue them with a little more common sense and a little less bluster.
That means the Bush hawks need to realize they cannot achieve their ultimate aim of disarming and transforming Iraq without maximum international legitimacy. And the Euro-doves need to realize they cannot achieve their aims of a peaceful solution in Iraq and preserving the United Nations and the whole multilateral order without a credible threat of force against Saddam Hussein.
Let's start with the Bush hawks. The first rule of any Iraq invasion is the pottery store rule: You break it, you own it. We break Iraq, we own Iraq -- and the primary responsibility for rebuilding a country of 23 million people that has more in common with Yugoslavia than with any other Arab nation.
The only way we can do it right is if we can see it through, which will take years. And the only way we can see it through is if we have the maximum allies and U.N. legitimacy.
We don't need a broad coalition to break Iraq. We can do that ourselves. But we do need a broad coalition to rebuild Iraq, so that the American taxpayer and Army do not have to bear that full burden.
The allies also have a willful blind spot. There is no way their preferred outcome, a peaceful solution, can come about unless Mr. Hussein is faced with a unified threat of force. The French and others know that, and therefore their refusal to present Iraq with a threat only guarantees U.S. unilateralism and undermines the very U.N. structure that is the best vehicle for their managing U.S. power.
We need a compromise. We need to say to the French, Russians and Chinese that we'll stand down for a few more weeks and give Mr. Hussein one last chance to comply with the U.N. disarmament demands -- provided they agree now that if Mr. Hussein does not fully comply they will have the United Nations authorize the use of force.
If war proves inevitable, it must be seen as the product of an international decision, not an American whim.
France, China and Russia have to get serious, but so do we. The Bush talk that we can fight this war with just a "coalition of the willing" -- meaning Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- is dangerous nonsense. There is only one coalition that matters to the average American and average world citizen. It is one approved by the United Nations and NATO. We may not be able to garner it, but we need to be doing everything we can to try before we go to war.
Why? Because there is no war we can't win by ourselves, but there is no nation we can rebuild by ourselves -- especially Iraq.
Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays in The Sun.