Monday, March 17, 2003

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And so, the end is near....

Bush's scheduled address this evening, combined with Blair's emergency cabinet meeting, means that everyone knows what's coming.

The question that's been asked this weekend is, "Handled differently, could there have been a better outcome? Could the U.S. have succeeded in prosecuting a war with the U.N.'s blessing?"

The New York Times and Washington Post both have detailed post-mortems on the last six months of diplomacy [Are they slanted in any way?--ed. The Times account is pretty biased in reporting U.S. missteps but not those of other countries, but the information contained in the article seems accurate.] If you read them carefully, the following is clear:

1) The administration could have done more. Anonymous administration quotes in both stories acknowledge that they've made mistakes. What's appalling in both the Times and Post accounts is how little effort the administration put into its diplomatic efforts. Here's the Post:

Last weekend, while Blair was working the phones -- he spoke to 30 heads of state in six days -- and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was traveling to the capitals of uncommitted Security Council members, Bush made no visits or phone calls....

The president and senior officials in the current Bush administration spend less time on the phone or on the road, They appear more comfortable issuing demands than asking for help or bridging differences, diplomats and U.S. officials said. The [Azores] summit will be Bush's first overseas trip in four months. He has not spoken to French President Jacques Chirac in more than five weeks.

Baker, in contrast to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, was almost constantly on the road before the Gulf War, flying at one point from the Middle East to Colombia to make the U.S. case to a Security Council member. 'It was a very different level of activity, much more face-to-face than long-distance,' said Dennis Ross, who was director of policy planning for Baker. 'It was a way of demonstrating to those publics and those leaders that we were interested in their concerns.'

The easy thing to do here is blame the Rumsfeld/Cheney side of the administration. The Times story, however, is surprisingly blunt at pointing the blame at Powell:

Throughout the last several months, one of the puzzles at the State Department and throughout the administration is why Mr. Powell, one of the best-known and best-liked Americans in many parts of the world, never engaged in a campaign of public appearances abroad as energetic as the telephone and broadcast interview campaign he pressed from his office, home and car.

'His travels abroad are too few and far between,' said an official, noting that the only trips Mr. Powell made to Europe since the beginning of last year were to accompany the president or to attend short-lived conferences.

The secretary also never traveled to Turkey to help line up support for using its territory as a base for a northern front in the war, although State Department officials say doing so would have undercut his stance that he was trying to prevent a conflict.

Mr. Powell is known to dislike travel. 'I think I have a right balance between phone diplomacy, diplomacy here in Washington, and diplomacy on the road,' he said recently when questioned about his schedule. (emphasis added)

Let's be clear -- Powell's task was not helped by Donald Rumsfeld's audition for a late-night talk show gig. However, since Powell was the principal who pushed the multilateral route, it was his obligation to execute that track to the utmost of his ability.

2) If the administration had expended more effort, there would be more multilateral support... If you make a list of the key countries that needed persuading on Iraq, it comes down to the Security Council members plus key regional actors. Let's list those countries: Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, France, Germany, Great Britain, Guinea, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, and Turkey.

Now, some of those countries were persuaded, but most weren't. What's shocking is that many of the unpersuaded countries are close U.S. allies. With the exception of Turkey, however, none of them received any positive inducements, in the form of tangible carrots or expressions of empathy to their objections. Instead, there were hints at possible retaliation. Here's the Times again:

[O]fficials said President Vicente Fox of Mexico was too boxed in politically after the United States gave him little of his own agenda, particularly easing curbs on Mexican immigrants in the United States.

There were hints for Chile that if it went along with Washington, it might smooth the way for its free-trade agreement pending in Congress. But Chilean leaders reacted negatively, saying the agreement benefited the United States just as much as Chile.

At a minimum, if the administration had expended more effort and more resources on the diplomatic front, there would be more support for the U.S. position now. But....

3) The outcome -- military action without an explicit Security Council resolution -- would still be the same. There is fundamental disagreement between the U.S. and France, Germany, and the U.N. bureaucracy on Iraq. The U.S. prefers to see Iraq disarmed and Saddam Hussein removed from power, even if that means the use of force. France, Russia, Kofi Annan, and Hans Blix prefer the absence of war, even if that means Iraq refuses to fully comply and Saddam Hussein stays in power.

[Aren't you overstating French inflexibility?--ed. Exhibit #1 -- what Cheney said on Meet the Press and Face the Nation: "he rattled off an impressively detailed case against the credibility of the French when it comes to disarming Iraq. France, he explained, opposed a 1995 U.N. resolution finding Iraq in material breach; a 1996 resolution condemning the massacre of the Kurds; a 1997 attempt to block travel by Iraqi intelligence and military officials; and the 1999 creation of the UNMOVIC weapons-inspection regime. The French also declared in 1998 that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, Cheney said. 'Given that pattern of behavior," Cheney told Russert, "I think it's difficult to believe that 30 days or 60 more days are going to change anything.'" Exhibit #2 -- Chirac's unequivovcal statement from last week.]

No amount of diplomacy in the world could have reconciled those views. A better effort would have left France more isolated in the Security Council and given the looming war a greater patina of multilateralism. Make no mistake, however, this ending is not that much different from a best-case scenario.

posted by Dan on 03.17.03 at 10:47 AM