After Punishing Week at U.N., Bush Still Doesn't Get It

ISTANBUL: If it weren’t for the Bush administration’s grave error, perhaps September 11th would be remembered as a common day of commemoration, a day when the entire world condemns terrorism.

But just after the 5th anniversary of the terror attacks at the annual U.N General Assembly, it was clear that the sympathy that America had gained after September 11, 2001 has now turned to antipathy.

Of course, anti-American tirades from the usual suspects like Chavez of Venezuela Watch and Ahmadinejad of Iran Watch were no surprise. What was surprising was that a majority of U.N. members wholeheartedly applauded them. When Chavez described Bush as a “The Devil,” many U.N. diplomats didn’t appear the slightest bit distressed; to the contrary, they couldn’t help laughing. And you can be sure that those who didn’t have the courage to chuckle openly were laughing under their breath. These members chose more diplomatic ways of expressing what Chavez and Ahmadinejad had said. “Democracy cannot be forced” became the universal consensus.

As for me, I laughed the most at U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack’s statement, “It was a good week for American diplomacy.” If McCormack meant that Rice was able to convince her boss, Bush, to be a little more balanced and calm in his U.N. address, then he’s right. Perhaps it can be said that the diplomatic community, which has had difficulty reining in its cowboy President over recent years, had a local success. But if he’s claiming that it was a good week for the U.S. from the angle of tangible benefits to it, and if he genuinely believed this, I would be quite surprised.

At the General Assembly, one could say that Washington either left empty-handed or took a step backward in terms of the most important issues it has wanted to resolve. For example, they found no support for the idea of enforcing an embargo against Iran over to its nuclear program. Half-heartedly but helplessly, the U.S. agreed to give Tehran more time. The U.S. effort to obtain international intervention in Darfur, which they call a genocide, also had no results. And even from its closest NATO allies, Washington isn’t getting the degree of assistance it wants against the Taliban uprising that flared up in Afghanistan. In Iraq, it has come face-to-face with its destiny. In short, by displaying at least passive resistance on many issues important to the U.S., the world is in fact punishing the Bush Administration. It is forming an anti-U.S. bloc.

This silent but effective resistance the world is applying against the Bush Administration is leading to differing reactions in Washington. Instead of learning a lesson, White House supported think-tanks are becoming even more obstinate, particularly the neocons and the right-wing Israeli lobby. As for more moderate groups, they are now beginning to find the courage to speak out against the attitudes that have led to the deep diplomatic helplessness that the U.S. has fallen victim to.

For example, despite all the protests of Secretary of State Rice and some Israeli lobbyists, the Council on Foreign Relations’ gave Iranian President Ahmadinejad an opportunity to speak. This was a significant example of moral courage. Chairman Richard Haass explained that “opening the doors” of the Council to someone that many Jews have compared to Hitler this way: “The United States gets itself in trouble when it limits its options and approaches diplomacy as a value judgment. It’s not obvious to me, looking at the last 50 or 60 years, that we paid a price for talking to the Soviets. At the end of all the talking, we won the Cold War.”

If this approach by Dr. Haass, who was the director of Political Planning at the State Department during Bush’s first term, had been dominant in Bush Administration today, neither the United States nor the world would now have such a tremendous headache. One can’t say, “I won’t talk to people I don’t like; I’ll just overthrow the regime with preventive attacks or by secret means and all will be fine.” Even if you are a superpower, you can’t do this. Even the U.S., which covers almost a third of the U.N. budget, can’t prevent itself from ridicule and insult at that institution. Its authority does not equal its contribution. If it does, it is only through the use of force.

Diplomacy is the art of not cutting off dialogue with an enemy, drinking coffee with your adversaries when necessary and trying to will goodwill by sharing credit with others. But if a cup of coffee is worth 40 years of warm feeling, a bomb does 40 years of damage. For this reason, calls are increasing in the United States to remove obstacles to direct talks with the Iranian regime, which eagerly wants dialogue, and for Bush to keep his bombs in his pocket.

A peaceful solution to dispute between the U.S. and Iran would make the entire world more comfortable, including Turkey. If the Democrats take over Congress in the November elections, Bush’s margin for hasty action will decrease. I hope he has learned his lesson in Iraq. But unfortunately due to Bush’s character, no one can be certain that he will forego a fight with Iran or the world.

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