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A War Begun in Failure | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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A War Begun in Failure

It appears that George W. Bush will get his war. But it will be a war begun in failure. Even as Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders in the United States dutifully signed up with promises of support or silence regarding a war many of them know to be unnecessary, the blunt reality is that this American president has failed to convince the world of the need for a war with Iraq.

The president's dramatic defeat in the court of international public opinion was acknowledged Monday, when the administration abandoned its doomed effort to win a go-ahead from the United Nations Security Council for warmaking.

That rejection of diplomacy was met with a diplomatic response from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who telegraphed his frustration with a read-between-the-lines statement to the effect that, "If the action is to take place without the support of the Council, its legitimacy will be questioned and the support for it will be diminished." Others were not so gentle in their assessment.

Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair abandoned their attempt to get a new UN resolution, said Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, the French ambassador to the UN, because the argument for war was unconvincing. "It (the resolution) did not get the votes because the majority of the UN and, I would say the majority of people in the world, do not think it would be right to have the Council authorize the use of force," he explained.

It was not just the French who noted the collapse of the Bush Administration's diplomatic initiative.

The leader of the British House of Commons, Robin Cook, who quit Blair's Cabinet to protest the Prime Minister's commitment of British troops to the US cause, articulated the reasoned view of that failure when he argued on Tuesday that: "The harsh reality is that Britain is being asked to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which we are a leading member. Not Nato. Not the EU. And now not the security council. To end up in such diplomatic isolation is a serious reverse. Only a year ago we and the US were part of a coalition against terrorism which was wider and more diverse than I would previously have thought possible. History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition."

In the United States, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, who may be the closest thing the current Congress has to an opposition leader, said, "The President's decision to push our nation, and the world, to the brink of war, in the face of intense international opposition, and without UN approval is a failure by this Administration to exercise world leadership and a grave mistake. The Administration's decision to withdraw its resolution from the United Nations Security Council is a dramatic admission of its failure to convince the world of its case against Iraq."

Despite months of cajoling, conniving and, when all else failed, behind-the-scenes offers of economic aid and political consideration, the Bush Administration could not convince the chief target audience -- Security Council members -- that there was sufficient legal or moral justification for war at this time. To wit:

* The president and his aides built their case for war on a "foundation" of discredited data, including reports of supposed Iraqi "threats" that turned out to have been misread, falsified or, in the case of a key British document, reliant upon out-of-date information culled from the Internet.

* The president and his aides repeatedly attempted to establish a connection between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaida terrorist network, yet they never succeeded in doing so. The unrelenting focus on finding such a linkage undermined the Administration's broader argument for war. It became clear to the international community that if there was the slightest shred of evidence, the administration would have produced it. And they were never able to do so.

* The president refused to perform basic diplomatic duties. In particular, he failed to maintain personal contact with leaders of countries that questioned his stance - especially French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Neither the president nor Secretary of State Colin Powell engaged in the sort of international travel and one-on-one communication that former President George Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker used to build coalition support for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The mumbles, stumbles and bumbles that characterized the Bush Administration's approach to the question of how best to disarm Iraq served to isolate the White House from leaders with whom Bush thought he had built solid personal relationships, such as Russia's Vladimir Putin and Mexico's Vicente Fox. And it has severely strained relations with historic US allies such as Germany and China. The veteran French journalist Gérard Dupuy used a physical metaphor to explain the diplomatic reality. "In the end, Mr. Bush finds himself backed up by the only two leaders who have stuck by him from the beginning - Mr Blair and (Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria) Aznar," noted Dupuy, as he described the one-hour "summit" on an island in the Azores at which the determination was made to reject diplomacy. "Their meeting on an American base lost in the immensity of the Atlantic neatly symbolises the isolation of a president who has fallen victim to his own mediocrity."

Nothing that the president said in Monday night's televised address to the nation, and the world, changed the fact that George W. Bush has entered the international arena and stumbled. Badly. His ultimatum to Iraq's Saddam - leave the country or face the "serious consequences" mentioned in U.N. Resolution 1441 - made war seem inevitable.

If war comes, however, it will not be the war that any thoughtful American president could have wanted. Rather, it will be a misguided mission pursued by a troublingly small "coalition of the willing" - with most coalition "partners" there against the will of the people in their countries.

A wiser president might have refused to go ahead without having convinced more of the world. Then again, a wiser president would not have pursued this path in the first place.

After all, the point of diplomacy is not to wage an unrelenting campaign for an unpopular result. The point of diplomacy is to propose action, open a dialogue about the plan and then to refine and improve the approach until the theoretical becomes the possible. It is about winning the faith of others.

George W. Bush leads the world's remaining superpower. That position places great responsibilities on his shoulders. The greatest of these is to engage seriously and sincerely in the diplomatic process that allows for the collective wisdom of many nations to inform the actions of the United States.

President Bush has failed to meet that responsibility. He has let his country down. He has let his world down. The Spanish newspaper El Pais said it best in an editorial that read, "Diplomacy has ended because the US president has had enough of negotiating..."

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