Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2003 / 28 Elul, 5763
President gave the UN
tough talk it deserves
You could see expectation on the faces of the delegates as President Bush took the podium.
For weeks, the President's critics had been predicting that he would come to the UN General Assembly to beg for help in Iraq. And, now, here he was.
"He needs something," CNN's Aaron Brown sagely observed moments before the President's speech. "He needs something." And then up stepped Bush and it turned out he didn't need a damn thing.
The President began by redeclaring war on a global terrorist enemy that stalks the world from downtown Manhattan to Jakarta (not forgetting, as the UN would like to forget, Jerusalem). Deadpan, he told his audience, which included representatives of some of the terrorists' biggest supporters, that these killers "should have no friend in this chamber."
Last year, Bush said much the same thing in a memorably tough speech. Yesterday, buoyed by what he regards, correctly, as a great victory in Iraq, he was even tougher - and unmoved by criticism. Yes, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Yes, the doctrine of preemption is essential to international security. Yes, it's still a for-or-against-us world: "There is no neutral ground. Governments that support terror are complicit in a war against civilization."
Bush offered up the Taliban and Saddam as object lessons in what happens to such governments. He recalled that the UN itself had threatened Saddam with "serious consequences." As far as the President is concerned, deposing Saddam makes America a defender of the world body's credibility.
With Saddam gone, the Middle East and the entire world are more secure, Bush said. What's more, the Iraqi people are better off. With what may have been a hint of Texas irony, he noted the presence of a Free Iraq delegation in the hall. TV cameras obediently panned to a beaming Ahmed Chalabi, former anti-Saddam dissident turned pro-American statesman. Among UN diplomats, of course, Chalabi is regarded as a villain of epic proportions, like Basil the Bulgar Killer. Or Paul Wolfowitz.
After long minutes of such hard-line talk, Bush finally got around to asking the UN for something. When he did, he sounded like a bored teacher doling out busywork. Why not help Iraq write a new constitution? (You diplomats are good with fancy words and, anyway, we'll check everything over.) Or supervise Iraqi elections? (It's easy; even Jimmy Carter could do it.) Or maybe train Iraqi civil servants? (If more than a smattering of UN bureaucrats ever get up the courage to return to Baghdad.)
These proposals were greeted with shocked silence. Wasn't Bush supposed to be begging for troops to relieve his beleaguered G.I.s? And money to take the burden off the broken-backed American taxpayer? Surely, the U.S., isolated and despondent, couldn't be planning to slog through the quagmire alone? Bush's answer: Could, and is.
The President spoke of spending Marshall Plan money on Iraqi recovery and vowed to install self-rule in Baghdad at an American pace. Other nations of goodwill were, of course, invited to join in. Or not.
While he was on the subject, the President reminded the world just how much the U.S. spends on other good causes, from checks on nuclear proliferation to the fights against AIDS and hunger. Naturally, he didn't say that if they won't help in Iraq, they may have to start footing some of those bills.
Bush concluded his speech on an odd note, denouncing the international sex trade. Pimps and johns, he observed, "debase themselves." Perhaps the President was being slightly malicious in his choice of topic - a lot of delegates are famously social. More likely, though, he was just tired of talking about Iraq. After all, he has a war to run.
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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.
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