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September 24, 2003

The Sound of Misplaced Cawing

Posted by Mike on September 24, 2003 11:16 AM

I read MoveOn's side project, The Daily Mislead, like a good little liberal. It's a newsletter focused on "mis-representations, distortions and downright misleading statements by President Bush and the Bush Administration," which we can safely file under "gotchas for your daily clash with the neocon down at the water cooler." Today's edition crows about Bush at the UN:

"The deaths of numerous American troops over the summer and escalating violence and chaos led Bush to reverse course earlier this month. Bush now insists the U.N. nations he once belittled 'have an opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.'"

Except Bush hasn't "reversed course," and there's nothing to gloat about:

In their zeal to score a point for the team, the Daily Mislead is misrepresenting the nature of Bush's speech by contrasting it with earlier statements by Condoleeza Rice who asserted "It would only be natural to expect that after having participated and having liberated Iraq ... that the coalition would have the leading role."

Can we see the difference between "broader" and "leading" when we're discussing roles?

"Broader" means exactly what Bush offered the UN: help running elections, writing a constitution (because, as he told Brit Hume, the UN is "good at that sort of thing"), and training bureaucrats. He'll take some money and a few divisions of groundpounders, too, but who are we kidding? A platoon of Bulgarian generator mechanics or a battalion of Belgian clerk-typists aren't going to lessen the burden on an essentially American occupying force, and that's about all we're going to get in return for showing the UN the back of our hand.

"Leading" means exactly what Bush & Co. are doing: controlling the country, setting the timetable for when and how it's finally certified as liberated enough to handle its own affairs, and maintaining it as a giant firebase from which further incursions into Turr-rism Land can be staged.

Muddying the distinction between the two will serve only to sap any will the loyal opposition has to make noise about its issues with Bush giving the UN the finger and telling the world he's gonna do what he's gonna do.

Bush did not go to the UN in a spirit of internationalism, and he certainly didn't go out of contrition: He went because the American public is largely convinced that the $87 billion it's going to take to start reconstruction is wasteful, and he knows that it will take still more if we're to have any hope of building the shopping mall wonderland neocons promise will rise from the desert. He made it clear, however, that even if he's uncertain about what he's gotten the country into, he's not interested in ceding any control or hearing any arguments about accelerating his timetable. This is not some kind of net win for people who want the occupation of Iraq to end well.

Less US control and an accelerated timetable are what's important here. Neocons are trying to paint demands for more Iraqi independence sooner as some sort of French trick. Their carefully mouthed noises of "doing it right" are belied by their fundamental war-craziness, which is what's really being fed by the US staying in there (and staying in there virtually alone in terms of military presence) until we've satisfied ourselves that the broader Middle East is somehow friendlier to us. A putatively "progressive" newsletter ought to remember that before it tells its readers Bush has gone to the UN in disgrace begging it to take Iraq off his hands: He has not. He has kept things on course and he's kept the UN at arm's length, which is where he wants the international community until his broader Middle East roadmap is fulfilled.

That isn't to say that his attempt at an imperious dismissal of the UN's usefulness by offering it work in the scullery won't have unintended consequences.

This morning I heard that Bush and Gerhard Schroeder met, and I was briefly encouraged: Even if the US isn't going to pay any regard to the UN, there's always hope that, on the level of individual relationships with allies, we'll approach things with something akin to humility and a desire to do what's best to put Iraq together again. The political axis Bush centers on might hate the UN and desperately want to undermine its legitimacy and effectiveness, but it realizes it still requires good individual relations.

The Germans, evidently, are interested in helping establish a police force. That's good news: It isn't exactly boots on the ground, but it's another country with irons in the fire and a likelihood to squawk loud and long if the US continues to inadvertently stoke the flames of violent nationalism by holding out on Iraqi demands for sovereignty. (Did I say 'inadvertently?' Sorry. I forgot that getting US troops killed in ones and twos was part of the grand flypaper strategy.)

It's important to remember, though, that Germany's assistance could be considered something offered despite Bush's alienating speech at the UN, which did little to encourage other countries to become stake-holders in Iraq's reconstruction, and represents nothing to gloat about for an opposition interested in bringing about a just resolution to the occupation.