George W. Bush tells the United Nations that he's going with or without them--but he wants to see their cards anyway.
11:00 PM, Mar 6, 2003 • By DAVID BROOKS
THE MOST SIGNIFICANT THING President Bush said during his press conference--just about the only significant thing he said--is that regardless of the whip count, he will put a second resolution up for a vote in the U.N. Security Council.
This is remarkably bold. The normal thing to do, especially if three of the major powers are threatening vetoes, is to withdraw the resolution, and thereby try to diffuse the showdown. But Bush has chosen the path of maximum confrontation. So imagine this scenario: The United States puts forward its resolution. It gets vetoed, or even voted down by a majority of the members. And then, on the heels of U.N. rejection, the United States still launches an attack against Iraq. This would give the expression "in your face" new dimensions of meaning.
Maybe Bush thinks that by essentially threatening the diplomatic equivalent of the doomsday scenario, he can induce Russia, China, and France to abstain, rather than veto the resolution. But it is an incredible gamble. It certainly does nothing to help Tony Blair, who has been trying to somehow finesse things at the United Nations.
If the resolution fails and the United States acts successfully, then the consequences will be amazing. The U.N. process will have been fully discredited. I happen to believe the East River will run gold with champagne before another U.S. president, of either party, takes another problem of this sort to the United Nations anyway. The process there is simply too treacherous and too dishonest for any president to trust. But this would really ruin the organization.
If on the other hand the United States acts over a negative U.N. vote and the action is not successful, then some of the American public, and much of the American elite, would lose confidence in non-U.N. actions of all sorts. The multilateralists would gloat and Kofi Annan and his successors would suddenly emerge as powerful global figures.
I hope the administration has thought all this through. I do suspect that the decision to pursue this confrontational course emerges from Bush's own nature. He is a man of his word. He expects others to be that way too. It is indisputably true that Saddam has not disarmed. If people are going to vote against a resolution saying Saddam has not disarmed then they are liars. Bush wants them to do it in public, where history can easily judge them. Needless to say, neither the French nor the Russians nor the Chinese believe that honesty has anything to do with diplomacy. They see the process through an entirely different lens.
The rest of the press conference was a bore. The reporters tended to ask the same questions over and over again. Bush was repetitive and often long-winded. He broke no news in his opening statement, and spoke remarkably little about the recent captures in Pakistan.
Still, we are on course for war, a week from Monday if you want my guess. Bush set the bar for Hans Blix incredibly high.
After that, to switch metaphors, he is forcing everyone to show their cards. The 12-year diplomatic game is coming to a close.
David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.