Jewish World Review March 18, 2003 / 14 Adar II, 5763
Bush, the "UN's cowboy," is really the "un cowboy" --- a softie
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | It is in moments of stress that we discover the real thoughts and intentions of others. Through the weekend and yesterday, the media-frenzied "rush to war" has obscured a bigger story. The war in Iraq has been inevitable for more than a year; what happens in the war will have unpredictable repercussions, but we'll have to wait to find what they are. On the other hand, we can now know, contrary to the received view of much of Canada and the world, that President Bush is not "un cowboy".
I use this term in the French sense, and in quotes, since it means something different in fact. As a friend who has read the memoirs assures me, the actual cowboys of the Old West were mostly unarmed, wrote sentimental verse, sang softly to pacify their cows, and were polite and deferential to upper class ladies in railway carriages. The French, and their pacifist fellow-travellers, are perhaps instead thinking of Billy the Kid -- an outlaw, not a cowboy.
Still, we know what they mean. They imagine that Mr. Bush is about to demolish the entire world order, starting with the United Nations, and that henceforth no country will be safe, if the Americans happen to dislike its government. It is a caricature that comes closer to describing my own views, than those of the U.S. President.
Mr. Bush's joint statement with allied leaders from the Azores explicitly and unconditionally offered the United Nations a role in the reconstruction of Iraq, after Saddam's government is removed. So far as anyone noticed this, it was dismissed as a cynical gambit, "an offer to let the U.N. pay for the clean-up", by the left, or "pablum for Tony Blair's children", by the right.
But a candid review of his oft-repeated statements over the past 18 months should remind us that Mr. Bush means what he says, regardless of the motives people assign to him. (In fact, he's candid about his motives, too, though the world is too subtle to believe.) He wanted regime change in Afghanistan; he didn't say he didn't. He has wanted regime change in Iraq. He's wanted someone other than Yasser Arafat to negotiate with over Palestine. He wasn't pretending about any of these things.
He also wasn't pretending about going to the United Nations to get support, if practically possible, to do something about Saddam. He stuck that out for six full months, getting no benefits from it whatever; and in defiance of the shouted advice of people like me. I might think that he had learned his lesson, and come round, as I have, to Jesse Helms's view, that what the U.N. needs is to be thrown, brick by brick, into the East River.
While there are timing considerations in each statement of policy -- as in the statements of any politician -- it is the credibility of the statement itself that we should consider.
Mr. Bush has committed himself publicly to involving the U.N. in post-war reconstruction. He cannot will this without willing its corollaries -- the invitations that will necessarily follow to e.g. France, Germany, Russia and others who have opposed his policy of invading Iraq. He is creating the conditions to kiss and make up, after the war, if his opponents wish.
For America's opponents cannot have it both ways (except rhetorically). There will be both costs and benefits to Iraqi reconstruction. If, for instance, the French contribute to costs, they are then in a position to claim as much as they can recover of the very favourable oil concessions that Saddam granted to TotalFinaElf (in return for French efforts to get the U.N. sanctions lifted). We can count on them to insist on "their rights"; and likewise the Russians, and Germans, both of which also enjoyed favoured status on commercial deals with the butcher of Baghdad.
"Un cowboy" would write them out of the equation entirely. He would be more inclined to do so, for the sake of U.S. domestic opinion, at a moment when the French threat of a Security Council veto has moved America itself to rage.
What Mr. Bush has said all along, about the U.N., is that he wants it reformed, and that he is willing to struggle for this from within. This is why the U.S. is back in UNESCO, and why the Bush administration put more pressure on Congress than the Clinton administration every did, to get U.S. back-payments settled.
The strategy against terror and terror-sponsoring regimes is just what he said: to do elsewhere what is being done for Afghanistan. To "drain the swamp", country by country, and spread democracy by any means available through the Middle East, in defiance of historical failure. Likewise, the strategy on the U.N. and other alliances will be, not to walk away from them, but to drain them, swamp by swamp; to force each to adapt, by increments under continuous pressure, to the dangerous realities of the post-Cold War.
He is "a patient man", he likes to say. Now the funny thing is, that he
means this, too; and will remain polite and deferential to old ladies.
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03/17/02: United? Nations?