Thursday, January 30 2003
KING KOFI: When I buy a newspaper, I usually sort out and dispose of the sections I don't read - like the "Life" section in USA Today, for example. Today, the Washington Post's "Style" section was literally on its way into the trash bin when I caught a glimpse of this fawning profile of Kofi Annan.

Lynne Duke's piece is filled with fatuous praise of Annan, including the following:

"Known for the subtle push, the deft move, the calculated but gentle blow, Annan must rely on his strongest weapons, the U.N.'s moral suasion and its legitimacy. He can only nudge nations, cajole them, reason with them or shame them. He can only try, perhaps in vain, to slow down a drive toward war. But try he must. That's his job. No wonder some in Washington wish he'd just butt out."

Of course, part of the problem is that the U.N., by allowing travesties such as letting Libya head the Human Rights Commission, has lost all claim to possessing any shred of "moral suasion" or "legitimacy." Just this morning USA Today ran the following item:

"Iraq is scheduled to chair the UN Conference on Disarmament in May. The post rotates alphabetically among the 66-nation conference."

I am not making this stuff up.

Despite widespread praise from the international community - including winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 - Annan has made some very personal contributions to the evaporation of the UN's moral authority. Most notable among Annan's failures was his 1998 trip to Baghdad to negotiate a "compromise" with Saddam Hussein - one which the dictator subsequently violated.

The left's admiration of Annan is rooted in his unwillingness to use force under any circumstance as a method of compliance. But this is exactly the characteristic that makes Annan such a feckless leader. Sixteen UN resolutions sit stacked on his desk, everyone of them violated by Iraq over the last 12 years. Yet he still wants more time, more diplomacy, more tolerance of Iraq's defiance of international law.

"Our agenda is one of disarmament," Annan says. "And the UN is not in the business of overthrowing governments." Perhaps they should be. Without the use of force to back UN resolutions, which in the case of Iraq would almost certainly lead to a change in regime, the UN serves no other purpose than to pass meaningless paper through a bureaucratic machine. - T. Bevan 10:22pm

Tuesday, January 28 2003
SCORING BLIX: Reactions to the Blix report, delivered to the UN yesterday, were mixed. My sense is that the report provides pretty damning evidence against Iraq - much more than expected. I'm not sure the report is the "slam dunk" Andrew Sullivan thinks it is, but at the very least it represents another documented piece of evidence that Iraq continues to defy the world and play hide-the-ball.

Of course, the French and the Germans used Blix's statement as an opportunity to argue that inspections are doing the job and should continue for as long as necessary. I don't think history is going to be kind to defenders of the status quo.

Still, the consensus seems to be the UN will indeed grant inspectors at least a few more weeks to poke around the desert. In the interim, the United States has announced it will release more evidence on Iraq's WMD programs.

This has all the markings of a set up by the Bush administration. They may not provide a "smoking gun," but you get the sense they have conclusive proof of Iraqi violations they've been holding back on. Biding their time while military preparations take place and the French and Germans make fools of themselves.

If there is one thing we know about President Bush, it's that he is deliberate and disciplined. Despite his instinct for decisive action, Bush has taken the slower, more difficult path through the UN, realizing well ahead of time the current impasse would be the result of choosing that path. I get the impression he and his team have been playing a methodical game of chess for months in the run up to what is now an inevitable conflict with Iraq. Maybe I'm giving them too much credit, but I think Powell's sudden reversal in tone is not just a fit of pique at those allies opposing invasion.

PREBUTTAL: The Democrats take the Bush doctrine of preemptive attacks to a whole new level. I was surprised by the move, but I certainly wasn't shocked. During his time as Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle has set a string of hyper-partisan precedents.

Nancy Pelosi, however, seems to be way out of her league in criticizing the President. Pelosi may be a fine organizer, but she's not a very effective public speaker - in part because she's constantly trying to hide her far left ideological views and appear more "moderate."

Pelosi stuttered, stammered, and generally talked in circles this past Sunday on ABC's "This Week" - as she did on Meet The Press a couple of months back - about Saddam being a menace and her unwavering support for the military while blasting the President over his approach on Iraq. It was bizarre. I kept wondering where the ventriloquist was sitting.

SOTU: The most interesting thing about the annual State of the Union is the expectations game. When Bill Clinton was President most of the pre-speech chatter consisted of how incredibly long it might run or how many mini-policy initiatives he could possibly cram into one speech.

For Bush, the media continue to set expectations incredibly high; framing it as a "pivotal moment" of his Presidency. It may very well be just that. Even Bush is taking a personal interest in promoting the speech. In Bush's crisis-laden Presidency each speech has become bigger, more important, and thus more politically risky than the next.

Think back to the expectations of Bush's first major speech, his inaugural. There were none. Now the pundits clamor - as they did last September 12 before the United Naitons and the year before that when the President came before Congress - that everything is riding on this speech.

He's outperformed expectations every time. I suspect he'll do it again. - T. Bevan 8:35 am

Monday, January 27 2003
ANTIWAR DEMS: Watching the crop of Democrat presidential hopefuls tackle the war issue is sort of like watching a root canal in progress. Let's give Dean and Sharpton credit for at least articulating a clear position on the subject - even though both aren't constrained by Congressional voting records or, for that matter, a realistic shot at being the party's nominee.

The rest of the group, however, is working on a muddled message that goes something like this: Saddam is a real baddie and I've voted to disarm him by force if necessary. Even though inspectors haven't found any "smoking gun" yet, we need to give them more time to work. Bush is on a unilateral rush to war and we need to be more sensitive to allies like Germany, France, Russia and China.

If you boil all this mumbo jumbo down you're left with a policy of containment, plain and simple. Let inspections continue under the supervision of the UN and don't push for any action aggressive enough to provoke a French veto in the Security Council.

So why not just say, "I'm for containment?" Well, because frankly it looks weak. And guess what? It is. We've been going the containment route for years and all it's gotten us is a stack of UN resolutions worth less than toilet paper. The public knows this.

So why won't one of the candidates come out in favor of the war and frame it in a way that appeals to the base? Play up the humanitarian angle, liberating an oppressed people from a brutal despotic regime? You know, the sort of "We Don't Want to Take Their Oil, We Want to Give Them Freedom" rhetoric that resonates with liberals everywhere. It's also an angle the Bush administration, to their detriment, I believe, has failed to emphasize enough. It should be easy pickings.

David Remnick lays the template for the argument in the new issue of The New Yorker. Read the whole thing. I don't want to spoil it, but here's his conclusion:

The United States has been wrong, politically and morally, about Iraq more than once in the past; Washington has supported Saddam against Iran and overlooked some of his bloodiest adventures. The price of being wrong yet again could be incalculable. History will not easily excuse us if, by deciding not to decide, we defer a reckoning with an aggressive totalitarian leader who intends not only to develop weapons of mass destruction but also to use them.

Saddam's abdication, or a military coup, would be a godsend; his sudden conversion to the wisdom of disarmament almost as good. It is a fine thing to dream. But, assuming such dreams are not realized, a return to a hollow pursuit of containment will be the most dangerous option of all.

This is a pretty reasonable argument- one that should be easy enough to make if you have the courage to buck current Democratic party orthodoxy, step forward and make the case. It speaks volumes about the character and leadership of the crop of Democratic candidates that not one among them is willing to do this, especially if they truly believe that force against Saddam is necessary.

WHERE'S YOUR FAITH?: On the eve of the Blix report, both Jack Straw and Colin Powell have toughened their language considerably on Iraq. This is good news, and even if more time is granted to the inspectors it will probably be done so with strict guidelines and timetables.

One the other hand, liberals in both in the United States and Europe seem content with the view of Charles Kennedy, leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats:

"I think that most people would prefer to place their faith in Kofi Annan and the UN than in the more bellicose statements that emanate from time to time from in and around the US administration."

If the true aim is to disarm Saddam, continuing to support an organization that has failed in spectacular fashion to deal with Iraq for the last 12 years seems (I'm searching for a nice word...) misguided. Not to mention that the ONLY reason the world is making an effort to disarm Saddam at all is because of the United States' willingness to lead with tough, and yes, bellicose language. My faith is in Bush, Blair, Straw and Powell. Where's yours?

NO REGRETS: Susan Page says the White House has no regrets over using the phrase "Axis of Evil" in last year's State of the Union address. What will be the money phrase from this year's speech? - T. Bevan 8:14 am

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