Tuesday :: Sep 23, 2003

Bush's Bad Day-Too Bad Skippy


by Steve

No matter how bad your day was today, it may not have been as bad as the day George W. Bush had today. Let us count the ways.

First, his big speech to the UN has now been panned by both the New York Times and Washington Post in Wednesday’s editions. In the Times, Steven Weisman writes:

A president who has led his forces to victory, ostensibly on behalf of the United Nations, would in theory deserve a hero's welcome. But that was not what President Bush encountered in an icy chamber here today, almost five months after he declared an end to major hostilities in Iraq.

The audience of world leaders seemed to perceive an American president weakened by plunging approval ratings at home, facing a tough security situation in Iraq where American soldiers are dying every week, and confronted by the beginnings of a revolt against the American timetable for self-rule by several Iraqi leaders installed by the United States.

Nor did they seem eager to help. If anything, they appeared more skeptical than ever of Mr. Bush's assertions, including his promise to "reveal the full extent" of illegal weapons programs he says exist in Iraq, and unforthcoming, at least for now, in their response to his appeal for help with the Iraq occupation and reconstruction.

Despite good marks from many for his performance, Mr. Bush did not seem to have advanced his administration toward broadening support for a Security Council resolution to expand the United Nations role in Iraq, a step intended to get more foreign troops and more foreign money for rebuilding.

"He gave a very sincere speech, but I don't think there was anything new," said a diplomat here. "The situation in Iraq is getting more difficult every day, and so is the atmosphere at the United Nations."

There was another grim reality here today. Even if the United States gets the resolution it desires, the money and troops may not be forthcoming in a way that the Bush administration had hoped. If the goal today was to cajole other countries and persuade them to be more forthcoming with their assistance, it failed to produce any immediate results.

A month ago, administration officials said they wanted billions of dollars pledged for Iraq at a meeting of donor nations in Madrid next month. It now appears they will have to settle for a fraction of that, which will complicate efforts to get the rest from Congress.

Increasingly, as well, the nations that have been asked to send forces to Iraq are not coming through. India and Pakistan now seem to be long shots. South Korea says it cannot decide until the end of October.

Mr. Bush's performance today seemed to reflect the precarious situation. Fidgeting in an almost eerily silent hall — where the audience observed a tradition of not applauding before or during a speech and offered only perfunctory applause at the end — the president spoke in an even tone, occasionally smiling but rarely becoming passionate.

In the corridors all day, diplomats were intensely discussing the recent decline in Mr. Bush's popularity at home and wondering if his troubles would make it easier for countries around the world to oppose the United States on Iraq.

But Mr. Bush's vision of the United Nations role continued to be less than the one desired by France, Germany and many others skeptical of the sweeping powers of the American-led occupation, which is called the Coalition Provision Authority. "He said he wanted the United Nations to assist," declared a diplomat here. "But assist what? Assist who? The Coalition Provisional Authority? Please."

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post weighs in with a similar assessment:

In his speech today to the U.N. General Assembly, President Bush tried to walk a fine line between defending a war deeply unpopular in much of the world and begging for help from reluctant countries to rebuild Iraq. The result left diplomats and lawmakers puzzled about his ultimate intentions.

Bush, in fact, sidestepped direct answers to many of the questions that have arisen since the administration said it would seek a Security Council resolution that would expand the United Nations' role in Iraq and call on countries to contribute more troops and money.

One reason for the vagueness is that U.S. diplomats have discovered in recent weeks that little help is likely to be forthcoming. Secretary General Kofi Annan, deeply disturbed by the bombing attacks on the U.N. mission in Baghdad, has urged a slow and careful review of the organization's role in Iraq, U.S. and U.N. officials say. The list of countries willing and able to provide troops appears to have dwindled, not increased, and even financially deep-pocketed countries such as Japan have indicated they would not be able to contribute much to the U.S. enterprise in Iraq, U.S. officials said.

"There is a hell of a case of donor fatigue," a senior administration official said today. "A realistic appraisal [of what a new resolution would bring] is 'not much.' "

In other words, they botched it by not bringing aboard more countries at the outset.

Bush's rhetorical maneuvering room was limited in other ways. Faced with the worst approval ratings of his presidency, Bush designed his speech to appeal to a domestic audience. But the president's conservative base, long skeptical of the United Nations, would not approve of an explicit acknowledgment of a broad U.N. role in Iraq.

Democrats on Capitol Hill quickly took note of Bush's unwillingness to offer a detailed plan for Iraq. "He came before the international community and he could have made the case for more troops, for more resources. He didn't do that," Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said. "He hasn't presented a plan to the United Nations. He hasn't presented one to this country or to this Congress. It was a missed opportunity, and that's very disappointing."

In the view of many in attendance here, Iraq is largely a problem of Bush's making. The Security Council was deeply divided over whether to authorize military action against Iraq -- and Bush withdrew a proposed resolution before the war when it faced certain defeat. Many nations might have been willing to support a war if the administration had been willing to give U.N. weapons inspections a few more weeks, but the administration refused to alter its military timetable. The inability to find proscribed weapons after the war also hurt the administration's case.

But in two speeches that bracketed the president's address, Annan and French President Jacques Chirac suggested that it is the administration's doctrine of "preemption" -- the promise to strike against emerging threats -- that threatens to spread chaos across the globe. Both men bluntly said that the Bush administration is undermining the collective security arrangements that have governed the world since World War II.

The enthusiastic reaction to those speeches in the General Assembly hall, compared to the tepid, almost perfunctory applause for Bush's presentation, underscored the difficult task ahead for the administration as it tries to build support for the nascent Iraqi government.

Colum Lynch of the Post also reported that the president’s appearance failed to win any new commitments of support.

President Bush's appeal for greater financial and military support for the reconstruction of Iraq failed to elicit fresh pledges today as members of the United Nations demanded that the United States yield greater power to the U.N. and the Iraqis.

The cool reaction to Bush's address by delegates at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly's general debate reflected concern at the United Nations that a larger military force in Iraq will not enhance security in the country unless authority also is transferred to a transitional Iraqi authority with real power.

Representatives from Brazil to South Africa used the General Assembly podium to underscore the limits of U.S. military action in resolving the dispute in Iraq and elsewhere. They said the obstacles faced by U.S. forces in Iraq prove the need for a greater U.N. role.

Yet Bush may still get a resolution through the UN in the coming weeks, as France told the president that they will not stand in the way. It does not mean however that we will see pledges of financial support or troops.

A new Pew Center Poll released today finds that over half of those polled now support giving up some military control to the UN to get more allied troop support.

And while Bush toiled in futility at the UN, his Senate minions tried to smear Teddy Kennedy for his remarks last week that the Iraq war was sold to the world fraudulently, and that coalition countries were bribed for their help. In response, Teddy presented actual evidence of US payoffs and loans to the participating countries to back up his claims. Oops.

Howard Dean ramped up the rhetoric against Bush today, with his harshest language yet.

Dean's prepared text included some of the harshest language he has used against the administration. He charged that the Bush team has "capitalized on domestic fears of terrorism for political gain," given "handouts" to industries that are "causing irreparable harm to our environment" and "shackled our children and grandchildren" with record budget deficits to enact his "reckless tax cuts."

Those tax cuts, he said, "are "bankrupting the states and starving Social Security, Medicare and our public schools" and have gone to "the largest political contributors at the expense of today's middle class."

That is how you go after Bush. Are the rest of you Dems taking notes?

And the General Accounting Office, continuing with a recent string of “gotchas” at the White House, released a report that called into question the wisdom and expense of Dick Cheney’s missile defense boondoggle.

Maybe George should just go back to the ranch and reconsider what the hell he is doing in this job, besides paying off his campaign contributors.

Steve :: 10:21 PM :: Comments (9) :: Digg It!