Or more bluntly, the last time the U.N. gave Americans a green light to go to war.
The parallels are chilling.
In June of 1950, the resolution Truman pushed through the U.N. called for ''members to furnish assistance to the Republic of Korea . . . to repel the armed attack and restore international peace."
What followed was a bitter three-year war in the snow and rocks of Korea. It cost 54,246 American dead and 103,284 wounded.
Forty years later, George Bush is getting the same United Nations blank check for war against Saddam Hussein.
Even the language sounds haunting. Bush's resolution will authorize U.N. nations, unless Iraq backs out of Kuwait, "to use all necessary means to restore international peace."
"All necessary means" is a diplomatic euphemism that translates: Fire when ready, George.
The prospect that all five permanent U.N. Security Council members - the Soviet Union, China, Great Britain and France joining the U.S. - will OK a military strike against Iraq is considered a Bush triumph. His secretary of state, James Baker, hopscotched the world, pleading for open hunting season against Saddam Hussein.
Bush has one-upped Truman. He wants a U.N. ultimatum: Saddam out of Kuwait by Jan. 1 or tanks will roll. The deadline signals Bush's impatience. He cannot keep 400,000 U.S. troops in the desert with flagging home support. So Bush rigs a time bomb that could detonate early war.
"A public deadline puts Saddam's back to the wall and makes negotiation impossible," says Judith Kipper, a Brookings Institute associate returned
from Iraq. "It's a guarantee we'll have to go to war."
"You don't back an enemy against a locked door," said Robert Murphy, a State Department official in the Reagan administration.
Another ominous parallel between Harry Truman and George Bush: their mistaken stubborness that a president can go to war under a U.N. fig leaf with no vote by Congress.
Like Bush, Truman said he would "consult" with a rebellious Congress. When Republicans hammered for a congressional commitment before sending ground troops into Korea, Truman barked, "I'm acting as commander of chief. If I need congressional action, I'll call on you."
So Korea, a "police action," was the 20th's century's first undeclared U.S. war. Vietnam was No. 2. Iraq may be No. 3.
That would be a mistake. Bush's aides celebrate because they'll get a United Nations good-housekeeping seal. But the U.N. is not the American people or their elected lawmakers.
Unlike Truman, who had to cope fast with a North Korean invasion, Bush has ample time to argue for a declaration of war or a congressional resolution. If Bush can make a strong case for an early 1991 attack against Iraq, let him expose it to open debate.
But Bush's rationale for quick war is more fickle than a desert thermometer. Aggression, oil, hostages, and now the emphasis is on fear of Saddam's nukes. Even Defense Secretary Dick Cheney admits Saddam is a year away from making a bomb - "a crude device, nothing you could drop from an airplane."
In truth, Bush, like Truman, would use a United Nations piece of paper as cover for a presidential war. In Korea, American casualties were 9-to-1 over those of other U.N. nations combined. Anyone doubt who'll do the dying against Iraq?
Aging diplomats in the U.N. tower on New York's 42nd Street shouldn't decide whether Americans go under fire.
Bush needs permission for his desert rumble. But he's asking the wrong people in the wrong place.