The lack of diplomatic success the Administration has had in selling this war brings a whole new dimension to the questions, “Why war? Why now?”
New York Times editorial, March 16, 2003
Three men meeting on an Atlantic island seems an apt symbol for the failure of the Bush administration to draw the world around its Iraq policy. That’s not the intended message of President Bush’s meeting today in the Azores with Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and José María Aznar of Spain, but it’s hard to avoid that impression. In what appears to be the final days before an American invasion of Iraq, Mr. Bush is taking time to consult with two loyal allies and, ostensibly, to decide if any realistic chance remains for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq. But the underlying diplomatic reality is bleak. Only a little more than four months since a unanimous Security Council backed American demands for disarming Saddam Hussein, Washington’s only sure council supporters are Britain, Spain and Bulgaria.
President Bush was dealt a bad hand by others. Baghdad refused to provide the active cooperation that alone could have brought inspections to a swift and successful conclusion. France has created enormous problems through its unwillingness to back up inspections with tight deadlines and a credible threat of force.
But the Bush administration’s erratic and often inept diplomacy has made matters immeasurably worse. By repeatedly switching its goals from disarmament to regime change to broadly transforming the Middle East, and its arguments from weapons to Al Qaeda to human rights, the White House made many countries more worried about America’s motives than Iraq’s weapons. Public arm-twisting of allies like Turkey and Mexico backfired, as did repeated sniping at Hans Blix, one of the U.N.’s two chief arms inspectors.
Just this past week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld damagingly suggested that Washington didn’t really need British military help, administration diplomats unhelpfully hedged their support for a British compromise proposal and Secretary of State Colin Powell further undercut London’s efforts to win over undecided Security Council members by suggesting that Washington might soon withdraw the pending resolution without a vote.
Even now, diplomacy might be resuscitated if the administration made an all-out effort to seek broad consensus around the British concept of disarmament benchmarks and specific, achievable deadlines. Such an effort would require much greater American willingness to negotiate realistic deadlines and credible mechanisms for measuring Iraqi compliance than has yet been evident.
Instead, the Bush administration now gives every appearance of going through the motions of diplomacy as a favor to Mr. Blair without really believing in it. By allowing that perception to grow, Mr. Bush finds himself about to embark on an uncertain course of war and nation-building in one of the world’s most dangerous and complex regions, with an alliance far too narrow for comfort.