Saturday, February 15, 2003

Welp, so much for Powell's Adai attempt; as MSNBC's Powell’s Bad Day points out, he's been outmaneuvered- and in some cases flatly contradicted- by others, including the French Foreign Minister and Blix himself.

One reason for the French victory Friday was Powell’s rather laid-back diplomacy during the week since his broadside at the Council. While Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, Vladimir Putin and de Villepin have spent the week traveling to and fro, forging coalitions, making speeches, Powell (who doesn’t like to travel) and Bush have stayed put. Even at the Security Council on Friday, de Villepin deftly played to the court of public opinion better than Powell. At one point, even while the Council was still in session, he left to launch a preemptive strike with the press staking out the meeting. Another reason: while the Blix report was mixed, it was much more positive than the Security Council’s last update, on Jan. 27. Referring to weapons of mass destruction, Blix said flatly, “So far Unmovic has not found any such weapons.” He noted new Iraqi cooperation, including the new law announced Friday morning banning WMDs from Iraq—which Blix noted had been suggested by him and the U.N.’s chief nuclear weapons inspector Mohamed El Baradei during their visit to Baghdad last week. Blix even tweaked Powell over elements of his dramatic Feb. 5 presentation. Referring to the suspected bio-chem site of which Powell had shown detailed before-and-after satellite photos, Blix dismissed the idea that the supposed presence of a “decontamination truck” was meaningful. “The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been routine activity,” he said.
Powell's impressive presentation appears to be almost flatly contradicted by Blix and Co. It's kind of sad, actually; were it not obvious that the presentation were both an attempt to justify a war that everybody already believes inevitable and a broadside shot at the U.N. itself, Blix might actually have been sympathetic to an American presentation that could have been used to pressure Iraq into even greater compliance. As it was, however, Powell ended up in a situation where the credibility of his assertions was matched up against that of Blix's findings, and is it any surprise that the one that neither belongs to a serially-dishonest administration nor is trying to back up an already decided course of action comes out ahead?

Even worse is the huge backfire that was the rhetoric about "old Europe":

Powell also paid for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s unfortunate jibe at “Old Europe” at week ago, a remark that turned into a hilarious football at the Security Council, mostly at America’s expense. De Villepin, the first of the permanent five to speak, gave an eloquent defense of the U.N. (and the inspections regime), concluding, “In the temple of the United Nations we are all guardians of an ideal, the guardian of a conscience,” he said. “This message comes from an old country, France, that does not forget ... all it owes to freedom fighters that came from the United States of America and everywhere.” His statement brought a sustained ovation from all parts of the chamber, including the press gallery. The Chinese foreign minister, speaking next, referred to his country as “an ancient civilization,” and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw comically countered with: “Britain is also a very old country. It was founded in 1066—by the French!” Powell, improvising, came back with: “America is a relatively new country, but it is the oldest democracy around this table ...” Unfortunately, that appeared to snub America’s most stalwart ally, Great Britain, which has had an operating parliament that outdates America’s founding by many years.
I was under the impression that the U.S. was technically the world's oldest liberal democracy, but it honestly depends on how you define those. Besides, whether true or not, it was a terribly lame attempt to defuse a pointed counter to Powell's own (likely scripted) rhetoric. It comes back to the central problem with the rhetoric coming out of the White House and its satellites and sycophants recently... what on earth is the point in trying to antagonize and demonize France? The rest of the planet is not going to be one bit more sympathetic than they already were, it won't win over the French in the slightest, and it's just going to cause the European powers to join ranks.

(Other, less powerful European states might align themselves with the U.S., but they have little reason not to do so and can just as easily ally themselves with "Old Europe" if they see a greater benefit in that.)

As the article points out, there still remains two options: let the inspections continue, or go in using the allies and resources that the United States already has. As the Bush administration has staked its credibility and reputation on going into Iraq, I imagine that it will be the second option that is pursued, but it would appear that the attempts by the U.S. to bully and/or cajole the U.N. to join them have dissipated, and the Americans will look even more imperial.

Somewhere in Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden is still smiling.

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