Bush's wasted U.N. efforts.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Sept. 25 2003 5:52 PM

Axis of Non

European papers have been following this week's U.N. maneuvering involving the leaders of France, Germany, Russia, and the United States, as President Bush lobbies for their help with Iraqi reconstruction efforts. Bush set the tone of the proceedings with a decidedly unapologetic speech to the General Assembly Tuesday (discussed here by Slate's Fred Kaplan), drawing generally unfavorable reactions, and he has been unable to gain any concrete support for American aims since.

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Most commentators agreed with Turkey's Hurriyet that "[t]he U.S. is stuck in a quagmire like never before," though papers differed on whether Bush's request for U.N. assistance was too haughty. While Germany's Die Welt supported the speech, saying there was "no reason for repentance" over U.S. actions in Iraq, Süddeutsche Zeitung argued that the leaders of the United States and Germany "are still talking at cross-purposes" (translations courtesy of BBC Monitoring). The Dutch newspaper Trouw pointed out that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's speech, made immediately before Bush's, slammed the U.S. doctrine of preventative war and "made it completely clear that this doctrine is totally incompatible with international law as it has developed since 1945" (translation from the Guardian).

Despite two days of personal diplomacy by Bush, it quickly became clear that the U.N. resolution he is touting, which seeks more international troops and financial aid for Iraq, has stalled for lack of support. Le Monde described the solidarity of France, Germany, and Russia in the face of U.S. pressure as a united "front of refusal." Another French daily, Libération, reported on the "veritable charm offensive" German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has endured from President Bush. The two appeared together for a photo-op where Bush twice referred to Schröder by his first name, in what Libération called "his first face-to-face discussion with George W. Bush for a year and a half. Previously, the White House had shunned Germany in punishment for its opposition to the war."

Russian President Vladimir Putin also received special attention from the White House, including a trip to Camp David this weekend. A long report in the English-language Moscow Times described Putin's meeting-intensive schedule for the summit, where Bush will "urge a deployment of Russian peacekeeping troops to serve under U.S. command in Iraq." According to the article, Putin has hinted he may accede to these requests but "that this would not happen any time soon." An op-ed in the St. Petersburg Times encouraged Russia to maintain its caginess, saying "a peacekeeping force would be a symbolic but unjustified step." Instead, the piece argued, Russia should rebuild infrastructure and get in on business deals in the new Iraq once the situation stabilizes.

The high intensity level of the four countries' U.N. discussions, coupled with Bush's failure to apologize during his speech for any U.S. actions in Iraq, have spurred several articles considering America's performance in Iraq to date. A scathing Guardianop-ed lambasted Bush and Tony Blair for the war: "Every key calculation the pair made—from the response of the UN to the number of troops needed and the likely level of popular support and resistance in Iraq—has proven faulty." The article went on to argue that Iraq's deteriorating security situation should help Bush and Blair realize the importance of "a political decision to end the occupation," to be followed by elections and evacuation as soon as possible. Prince Hassan of Jordan also decried Iraq's spiraling postwar violence in Canada's Globe and Mail, where he pleaded for the holy city of Najaf to be granted special protection, perhaps as a Vatican-like city-state. An impassioned editorial in France's Le Figaro pointed out the limits of America's "hard" power and France's "soft" influence, noting that "for Jacques Chirac, it's no longer a matter of being right despite the United States, but rather of helping the Americans to give Iraq back to its people."

Ed Finn is the director of the Center for Science and the Imagination and an assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English at Arizona State University.

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