Search This Blog

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Did Bush misread his audience?

I don't know what the domestic polls will show, but I'd guess there's a good chance that President Bush's UN speech today will be seen as genuine and helpful. He tried to put the past behind everyone, suggested a common agenda, and offered to lead the world down a pathway to solve security priorities.

However, I also think Bush's speech will be unpopular in much of the rest of world -- and was unlikely to be well-received by the delegates in the room.

A great many people around the world share the views expressed by Jacques Chirac today, after the President spoke:

"The war, launched without the authorization of the Security Council, shook the multilateral system....The United Nations has just been through one of the most grave crises in its history...In an open world, no one can be isolated, no one can act alone in everyone's name, and no one can accept the anarchy of a lawless society. There is no alternative to the United Nations."

So, why is the world so unlikely to be impressed?

First, Bush is still pushing the pre-emptive use of force. He didn't really talk about invading any specific countries, but the President did say that "Nations of the world must have the wisdom and the will to stop grave threats before they arrive." He also talked about interdicting lethal materials in transit, which is a pretty controversial idea given the lack of authority ordinarily governing the open seas.

Kofi Annan's speech, which preceded the President's, very clearly stated strong worldwide opposition to the so-called "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive war. Here are several highlights from the Reuter's story:

"My concern is that, if it were to be adopted, it could set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without credible justification," said Annan to sustained applause.

...[Annan] questioned U.S. arguments that nations have the "right and obligation to use force preemptively" against unconventional weapons systems even while they were still being developed...

"But until now it has been understood that when states go beyond that and decide to use force to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, they need the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations," he said.

"Now some say this understanding is no longer tenable since an 'armed attack' with weapons of mass destruction could be launched at any time..." said Annan.

"This logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles, on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last 58 years," he said.

Actually, the text of the speech included an even stronger point that Reuters didn't quote:

"My concern is that, if it were to be adopted, it could set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without justification."

Second, consider weapons of mass destruction. Bush called for new international cooperation to "criminalize" the proliferation of WMD -- but said nothing about the size of US arsenals, British weapons, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Israeli weapons, etc.

Take a quick look at Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty:
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

Does anyone believe that the US is committed to this goal? Many states, such as India, point to US hypocrisy vis-a-vis Article VI again and again to justify their serious opposition to various nonproliferation measures.

By the way, the US position on this issue is quite hypocritical for another reason.

The NPT includes a provision (Article X) allowing states to withdraw from the treaty. North Korea took advantage of this legal action and is now outside the treaty -- just like Israel, India and Pakistan. When the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty, the administration defended the action as necessary for national security. It suggested that the US should not embrace arms control at the expense of national security.

Why, exactly, is the North Korean case different?

Third, consider the task of rebuilding Iraq. President Bush placed all the blame for Iraq's horrific infrastructure on decisions made by the old regime. However, the two US wars against Iraq, as well as the many long years of economic sanctions had a great deal to do with Iraq's crumbling "power plants, water and sanitation facilities, bridges and airports."

I'm not trying to be an apologist for Saddam Hussein...but the former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq did say that US government officials could "be blamed for crimes against humanity, including possibly genocide" as a consequence of the sanctions, which he estimated were killing 7000 people a month. 100s of 1000s died over the years.

Certainly, millions in the Arab world viewed the sanctions with moral outrage.

The President made moral arguments in an attempt to inspire the world, but he was speaking to a pretty skeptical and knowing audience.

No comments:

Post a Comment