Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2003 / 28 Elul, 5763
Two world leaders passing in the night
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | President Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reached out to each other on Tuesday, but stopped within the limits of their own systems and experiences. Although they groped for common ground, the two leaders ended by describing two different worlds that lie ahead and seemed to talk past each other.
In his speech opening the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Annan sketched a world in which U.S. concern about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism could be accommodated within a reformed and revitalized U.N. system. He was critical, but not dismissive, of the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emption.
"It is not enough to denounce unilateralism," Annan told the annual gathering, which he challenged to address U.S. concerns about surprise biological, chemical or nuclear attacks. It is time "to begin a discussion of early authorization of coercive measures" to be taken by the world body to prevent terror groups from repeating or surpassing 9/11, Annan said.
You could hear the scales being balanced with great care in each sentence uttered by Annan, a consummate diplomat who possesses a profound understanding of the reality that without active American involvement and support, his beloved United Nations would wither into insignificance.
But neither would it survive in any meaningful way were the United States to repeat elsewhere the invasion of Iraq, which Annan portrayed as "a fundamental challenge" to the "unique legitimacy" of the United Nations in matters of war and peace.
Annan has faced intense behind-the-scenes pressure from within his own secretariat to withdraw all U.N. staff from Iraq rather than cooperate with the U.S.-led occupation. On Tuesday he chose to offer Bush help instead of placing demands on the administration. The United Nations is ready to play "a full role" in reconstruction if bitter prewar arguments can be put aside, Annan said.
It was on the immediate future of Iraq that Bush seemed to respond with his own conciliatory remarks. He declared his support for a new Security Council resolution that would "expand the U.N. role in Iraq" through involvement in developing a new constitution, helping train civil servants and conducting national elections. Bush also made a point of paying extensive tribute to the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, Annan's special representative who was killed in the truck-bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19.
But Bush passed up an opportunity to engage in Annan's broader, future-oriented appeal for a search for new cooperative methods to fight international terrorism. He left no doubt that, in his mind, the world must be protected from a variety of evils primarily by American resolve and American power.
The president challenged other nations to follow the U.S. lead in fighting those "who incite murder and celebrate suicide." He said the United States had been forced to assemble a coalition to invade Iraq in March "to defend the peace and the credibility of the United Nations" when the world body itself would not act. And he recited the horrors that Iraqis had endured under Saddam Hussein, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Bush also seemed to be addressing his domestic audience as much as the world body when he placed heavy emphasis on U.S. determination to end "sexual slavery" and other forms of illegal traffic of human beings. A tone of American moral superiority crept into his remarks on saving Third World and other children from sexual predators.
Bush's points were all valid. But he seemed unnecessarily unrepentant, and a trifle defensive. He has little if anything to lose in engaging in the kind of rule-changing global dialogue and reflection that Annan proposed.
Terrorism does threaten all countries, rich or poor, as Bush and Annan each said on Tuesday. Finding ways to make the exercise of American power more acceptable to other nations -- and more cost-effective and reliable for Americans -- is worth the time that the effort would take. It would also help Annan resist pressures within the U.N. system to cut and run now.
Before his murder, the enormously talented Vieira de Mello had helped U.S. authorities in planning and working for a smooth end to occupation and a return of the country to Iraqi authority. His presence brought reassurance and hope to Iraq's beleaguered civilians.
The United Nations owes it to Vieira de Mello to stay engaged in
the transition from Iraq's occupation and help make it work. And
the United States must summon and demonstrate fresh
commitment to working with the United Nations there and
elsewhere. There can be no better tribute to those who have died
while trying to help in Iraq.
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