Despite the glorious weather this weekend and today, I've been watching the hours pass with deepening dread. It started when George Bush and Tony Blair left the Azores and announced that there would be no second resolution at the United Nations. U.N. inspectors were warned to leave Iraq. Finally, government officials announced that the President would address the nation at 8 pm EST to tell Saddam Hussein that he has 48 hours to get the hell out of Dodge. Despite huge disapproval at home and abroad, we are going to war.
Few have commented that the Bush Administration lost the first battle of this war: the P.R. battle. Despite Saddam Hussein's record, the continuing suffering of the Iraqi people, and his obvious ambitions, more countries at the United Nations felt that he was less of a threat to the stability of the world than George Bush himself.
This was not about a French veto -- the Bush Administration simply bowed to the fact that instead of the nine votes to approve military action, it likely got no more than four. Tony Blair would have loved it if the final vote was 9-6, with a French veto, for then he could say "I'm sorry. We had the support of the majority of the Security Council; unfortunately, France, with substantial interests in Saddam's Iraq, decided to thwart that consensus. We'll just have to go forward in spite of that."
It should be an easy sell to gather support for toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein: there is a good chance he has weapons of mass destruction, and he has used them in the past. He is a brutal dictator with aspirations to be a Middle East strongman. He is a threat that isn't going to go away on his own, and he risks destabilizing the region. True, invading has risks. If done thoughtlessly, it could make a bad situation worse. There is the question of what the Kurds will do, and what Turkey will do in response. But we can talk about this. We can put together a good plan for a democratic, federated post-Saddam Iraqi republic. Let's negotiate!
But the Bush Administration doesn't negotiate. And that's the problem.
I would have to say that, in terms of diplomacy, George Bush heads the worst administration in the history of Presidents. It has no clue how to interact with other nations, let alone parlay and make mutually beneficial agreements. There is no understanding that diplomacy is not about knuckling under, but about give and take, measured language, persuasiveness, a nuanced and effective approach.
The Bush Administration does not do nuanced very well. Instead of giving and taking, it just takes and takes. Instead of speaking persuasively, it cajols and derides. Ideas are shouted down, not debated. Opponents are not engaged, they are labelled and dismissed. The Bush Administration didn't just walk away from the Kyoto Accord, it derided those nations which supported it. It didn't just dismantle the anti-ballistic missile treaty as an aging and unnecessary document, it followed it up with statements that it reserved the right to pre-emptively attack other nations in order to secure its own interests. The Bush Administration had to be dragged into the U.N. to try and get international approval for a war on Iraq. When opposition surfaced, insinuations were cast over the reasons behind the opponents' dissent. As divisions deepened, the Bush Administration stood idly by as the members of its own government pulled the most asinine retaliations out of their nose!
It's entirely possible that this Administration holds the very act of diplomacy in contempt, seeing it as a sign of weakness. Why talk when it can point a big gun in other country's faces and snatch? On the other hand, perhaps Bush just doesn't have a clue. The current U.N. debate was capped off with a special summit in the Azores, obstensibly held to break the deadlock between the United States and France and achieve consensus on the Security Council... Except that neither France, nor any other member of the council who'd expressed any sort of doubt about the resolution had been invited.
I guess that was a quick meeting.
Even Canadians are no strangers to the Bush Administration's clumsy intransigence. The U.S. Government has not bargained in good faith over softwood lumber, and it has turned a deaf ear to concerns about the economic consequences, on both sides of the border, of sweeping security measures that were considered even before September 11. And while it may be petty, but Canadians were still stung about being ignored in Bush's post September 11th thank-you speech, despite providing the invaluable service of hosting thousands of Americans stranded to the grounding of North American airspace.
Despite all this, Canadian sympathies for Americans remains at an all time high.
The Bush Administration bulldozes opposition at home and abroad. It refuses to listen to dissenting opinion. It carries on its shoulder the attitude of 'it's my way or the highway'. On a visceral level, this may be understandible; if one has the moral clarity this Administration seems to think it has (something shared by many Neo-Conservative regimes), what need is there for compromise?
What is perplexing is how the Bush Administration seems at a loss to understand the natural resentment that has grown from this. After all, if the Bush Administration doesn't listen to us, why should we listen to it? If it doesn't offer us any rewards for cooperation, why should we cooperate? The Bush Administration claims that it respects its allies, but it doesn't want allies, it wants blind obedience.
Following the September 11th attacks, there was worldwide goodwill towards the United States. There were candlelight vigils in Paris and all across Europe. Today, French jokes abound and Bush is burned in effigy. How did that goodwill get squandered? How is it that the tens of thousands who descended on Ottawa for a three-minute-long moment of silence are some of the same thousands who attended the anti-war protests two years later? Are we deficient? Are we traitors? Or is it more that there something wrong with Bush's message, either in content, in style, or both?
Half of Bush's problem is his inability to communicate his vision. If he were twice the diplomat that he is, we would have had a second U.N. resolution, and it would have passed.
But don't forget, communication is not just about talking, it's about listening. And when the Bush Administration starts to listen to anybody outside of its limited Neo-Conservative circle about anything, call me.