A Chastened George Bush Before the UN

US President George Bush’s fourth address to an opening session of the United Nations was yesterday, but in the European press I’ve surveyed so far there is little in the way of analysis of his remarks, as opposed to articles which more-or-less simply report to readers what it was he said. One paper that did get a jump on that was the Danish Berlingske Tidende, and getting reaction from a country which after all does still have troops engaged in the occupation in Iraq must surely be worthwhile. Berlingske author Ole Damkjær’s very title (Bush Goes Courting at the UN) already gives you some idea that he is willing to cut the American president some slack.

Damkjær detected a considerably more conciliatory tone in Bush’s speech this time around than in the past. The reason, in his eyes, was that George W. Bush is still all-too-aware of how much the US needs the United Nations to help salvage something out of the situation there. Quite apart from contributions of troops and money that the US would still like to see coming to Iraq from among the UN’s member nations, that organization’s imprint will be crucial in assuring the credibility of the national elections scheduled for next January. And there’s also the small matter of bringing the UN back to Baghdad in a simple physical sense; so far solicitations to gain troops to constitute a UN protection-force for the eventual re-establishment of offices there have come to nothing.


Another angle Damkjær takes on the story of Bush’s UN speech is yesterday’s speaking-order, which had UN Secretary General Kofi Annan directly preceding the US President at the podium. Given Annan’s widely-reported assertion in an interview with the BBC last weekend that the invasion of Iraq was “illegal,” you could think the stage had been set for a rhetorical confrontation between the two leading world politicians. But, in Damkjær’s estimation, Bush did not rise to the bait and instead soft-pedaled his differences with Annan. He did this by sticking to playing defense, i.e. simply presenting once again his argument why that invasion was in fact not illegal. Saddam Hussein had continually ignored instructions given him by the UN Security Council, even when ultimately warned of “serious consequences” should he persist in doing so; when such resolutions speak of “serious consequences,” then “serious consequences” indeed need to happen if they are once again ignored. Besides, maintained the President, the invasion of Iraq was justified because it freed the Iraqi people from a “criminal dictator.” It was also justified because of Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism – although here the President apparently did not mean support for al-Qaeda, an assertion that has become increasingly difficult to maintain seriously, but apparently for Palestinian terrorism against Israel instead.

In all, that was a somewhat chastened, decorous, and conflict-avoiding George W. Bush that Ole Damkjær saw speak yesterday before the UN General Assembly. In contrast, he paints a Kofi Annan increasingly pessimistic about the viability of any international “rule of law” when nations can get away with interpreting it as they like as he apparently feel the United States has done. He also is likely rather pessimistic about the true chances for any sort of democracy arising in Iraq – he after all has access to sources that let him know the situation on the ground there precisely – and Damkjær speculates that with his speech he was preparing the ground for blaming failure there on the US-UK “going it alone” in the invasion, the démarche that opened up this entire genie’s bottle of troubles in the first place.

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