September 23, 2003

Bush's U.N. Speech As regular

Bush's U.N. Speech

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a pretty strong Bush supporter. But I found his speech to the U.N. today somewhat mixed. The speech was basically divided into three sections (or "challenges"): 1) Afghanistan/Iraq, 2) WMD proliferation, and 3) humanitarian crises ranging from AIDS to famine to the sex trade. I'm not going to discuss 2 and 3 here--despite their obvious importance--but will rather concentrate on Iraq.

My basic beef with that part of the speech was that it didn't show enough humility (the projection of a humble America that Bush campaigned about back in 2000) and there was nothing really new in it, ie. Dubya sounded like a broken record here and there. In a way, both of these issues can sometimes go hand in hand.

For instance, even the most die-hard Bush supporters would admit that the post-war in Iraq hasn't gone too swimmingly. So maybe Bush might have mentioned that the going had been a bit rough and that was one of the reasons he needed more international support.

This would have also served to inject a bit of new language into his speech (over and above the Iraq is the "central front in the war on terror" mantra) while simultaneously showing we can eat a little humble pie now and then.

Nah. Instead he just says as follows:

"Our international coalition in Iraq is meeting its responsibilities. We are conducting precision raids against terrorists and holdouts of the former regime. These killers are at war with the Iraqi people, they have made Iraq the central front in the war on terror, and they will be defeated."

Great, but such language doesn't smell like a fully honest reckoning.

For example, how precise are the "precision raids"?

And are we really meeting our responsibilities? If those responsibilities include provision of security and basic services to the Iraqi people--we simply haven't to date.

We can't just blame it on terrorists and assorted dead-enders. Iraq's our baby now. We've got to make it work--no matter the legions of saboteurs that are rearing their heads to scuttle our efforts.

Sure it's early days. But we should be confident enough to get in front of the podium at the U.N. and talk about the difficulties we are facing in Iraq--rather than sound a bit too pollyannaish.

Another snippet:

'Our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were supported by many governments and America is grateful to each one.

I also recognize that some of the sovereign nations of this assembly disagreed with our actions. Yet there was and there remains unity among us on the fundamental principles and objectives of the United Nations. So let us move forward." [my emphasis]

Why the need for the word "sovereign" here? Was that ever in question, as if the U.S. holds sway over the national security decision-making processes of other states? And great to stress common ground--but the "so let us move forward" sounds a tad breezy--and perhaps to some ears a bit like a diktat of sorts.

All this said, there were some good parts of the speech. Bush made specific mention of the "vital" work the U.N. carries out in Iraq every day--with an eye towards signaling to the French that the U.S. is happy to see the U.N. play a major role in Iraq.

That said re: warming up to the French demands a bit, I also liked the swipe at Chirac and de Villepin's highly unrealistic timetable for transfer of key governing responsibilities to Iraq (that the self-government process would be "neither hurried nor delayed").

Still, it might have been better if that sentence wasn't placed directly before Bush turned to the prospects of a new U.N. resolution on Iraq. Not the most diplomatic juxtaposition.

There were also eloquent parts of the speech that reminded us of why we are engaged in this war on terror: "24 months ago--and yesterday in the memory of America--the center of New York City became a battlefield and a graveyard and the symbol of an unfinished war."

It was also positive to see Bush, in such an international forum (and with many Euro leaders prancing about), state that the U.S., in Iraq, had undertaken "the greatest financial commitment of its kind since the Marshall Plan." A powerful reminder of the scope of the current task as well as the work undertaken after WWII to help create a peaceful and prosperous Europe.

No doubt, Bush has definitely put his (well, our...) money where his mouth is. He's really striving to make a success out of Iraq (more than say, his efforts with the roadmap or NoKo). It's probably still all going to work out pretty well--and the doom-sayers will be proved wrong again. But it wouldn't hurt to project a bit more humility and adjust some of the themes to the changing situations we are confronted with now and then.

Posted by Gregory at September 23, 2003 08:22 PM

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