Defense Secretary Cohen on Thursday continued his Middle East tour, finding little enthusiasm for U.S. military action. Washington has no desire to ratchet up the crisis before it has a game plan -- which may be why its closest U.N. ally, Britain, sponsored the open-ended resolution. Right now, Washington needs time to think.
Damned if we do and damned if we don't. Bombing Iraq carries a political cost, but so does walking away -- which is why Thursday's noncommittal U.N. Security Council resolution suits Washington right now. The international body demanded Iraq resume cooperation with U.N. arms inspectors, but stopped short of threatening the use of force if Baghdad refuses. The U.S. is in no rush to respond to Saddam Hussein's latest defiance. "Unilateral military action by the U.S. will be opposed in the region, because Washington lacks a plan to get rid of Saddam and there's a great deal of Arab sympathy for the suffering of ordinary Iraqis," says TIME Middle East bureau chief Scott MacLeod. "The perception of an American double standard when the country defying the international community is Israel rather than Iraq adds to Arab opposition." But failure to act decisively could leave U.S. credibility in tatters.