The Money Shot

If Bush is talking AIDS and sex slaves, it must be the UN


Whatever else can be said about this Bush White House, it is obvious someone studies the audience. President George W. Bush could have gone to the UN to bluster or beg, but instead he told the body all it could reasonably expect to hear and told it without condescension. Well, at least no condescension any UN diplomat would notice.

By talking up slavery, sexual "tourism," and the worldwide AIDS problem—not exactly A-list Bush concerns; two of the three don't come up even with Bono in the room—the President continued the courtship of African and Asian countries and Kofi Annan. It is a process which began with the inclusion of the AIDS initiative in Bush's State of the Union address and continued through U.S. support for a soft landing in Liberia. This diplomatic flanking maneuver allows the Bush team to court international support for its war on terrorism with or without the continentals.

Bush also included quite the carrot by advising that "the United Nations should assist in developing a constitution, in training civil servants, and conducting free and fair elections." You could almost hear the entire senior staff of the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia titter with excitement. "Train civil servants? We are so there!"

Yet, before he even opened his mouth Bush received some unlikely help from France's Jacques Chirac, who pledged not to block any future UN resolution on Iraq. Chirac evidently thinks he already gave the U.S. both barrels by insisting that something like Iraqi independence happen sooner rather than later. However, it looks increasingly like Chirac, other international critics and even, to some extent, the war hawks in the Pentagon, have been induced to throw Bush in a Karl Rove-built briar patch.

It may well be that Rove—who functions as Duyba's cerebrum and cerebellum, leaving the lower brain to the neocons—always intended no more than one year of U.S. control in Iraq, with some sort of international cover intended for Bush in time for November 2004. A new UN resolution on Iraq could allow for NATO to take up responsibility for security in and around Baghdad while other international agencies go about the rebuild, the model currently at work—on a good day—in Afghanistan.

There is also the sneaking suspicion that Ahmad Chalabi's supposed break with the U.S. on the timetable of Iraqi independence is not exactly unwelcome or unexpected news at 1600 Pennsylvania. "What, you mean, the UN has to get in there and hand power over to the natives even sooner in the election cycle? Well, if you insist."

UN blessing for a NATO role would also help paper over the sticky problem of Turkey supplying troops to the pacification effort. Even dispatching the Turks to duty far from their Kurdish enemies could still stir up fears of Turkish annexation of Kurdish areas. But put Turkish troops under NATO command as part of a NATO operation and perhaps things go a little smoother.

For its part, Turkey gets to be in a full-fledged NATO operation—in and around Kurdistan, no less—and start earning that $8.5 billion retainer Washington just forked over.

The one surprise is that Bush did not dwell longer on the international peacekeeping experience in Kosovo, an operation near and dear to the Euros. But that might be because the U.S. likely wants to find a way to quietly pull up some of its 4,000 troops in the Balkans for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

No one ever said advanced geopolitics was easy to follow—or to practice.