Politics & Policy

No Smile On His Face

Bush is on a great roll.

George W. Bush is on a great roll. His speech on Thursday combined everything needed at this near-decisive moment. He gave our allies, Congress, and the public exactly that — what was needed. And he engaged in a venture in diplomatic craft that will make its way into the textbooks of the future, in all the languages spoken at the U.N. Security Council.

Here is the open question: What is it that’s now expected from the Security Council? And what is it that is needed from the Security Council?

The papers tell of discreet maneuvering by representatives of the great powers. France and Germany are most conspicuous here, France because of its serpentine maneuvers around blatant truths, Germany because it is the most powerful of the European nations. France has the veto, Germany doesn’t. China does, and Russia does, but they seem to be preparing for a siesta when a fresh resolution is voted on. The parliamentary threat is that of France.

But what is it that opponents of the Bush policy will focus on?

Here was the president at his shrewdest. In his speech, he recalled that Security Council Resolution 1441 was passed by a unanimous vote, that Saddam Hussein was enjoined to make a full declaration of his weapons program. “He has not done so” — the judgment was Biblical in its directness. And Saddam was enjoined to cooperate fully in disarmament. “He has not done so.” What follows from this? “Now the Security Council will show whether its words have any meaning.”

Mr. Bush went on to say that the United States would support a supplementary resolution. He did not specify the language of such a resolution. But he was saying, by the structure of his speech, that no new resolution is really required, that 1441 said it all; that the Iraqi regime had been called upon to do things it has not done, leaving it to the enforcers in the world to take the next step.

What the diplomats are apparently going on about is whether a resolution should now be passed specifically to the effect that the Security Council authorizes, and indeed encourages, the use of armed force to effect compliance. Such language sticks in the throat of some members. Cultural interpreters of Germany are saying something to the effect that Germany used up a century’s ration of violence not so long ago, and couldn’t possibly endorse violence again, even to restrain violence. There are reports from French realists that, when all is said and done, whatever their stand in the United Nations, they will come in with a few thousand troops and perhaps their aircraft carrier.

But the U.S. appears to be taking steps to avoid a parliamentary session the positive conclusion of which is less than certain. And Mr. Bush perfectly contrived to do this by his simple and entirely plausible contention that the resolution already passed — unanimously — as recently as twelve weeks ago — is all that is needed.

Anything more is by way of a piccolo, signaling the military parade to begin. “The game is over,” Mr. Bush said.

I have a copy of a private communication. It is written by a close student of rhetoric, and the author writes, “George Bush is a phenomenon: he is the innately nonverbally apt, or deft, speaker who transcends eloquence, [nevertheless] achieving that which is greater in oratory — a plainspoken integrity that unites the emotions and the intellect.” Bush replaces, the analyst continues, “mere eloquence with genuine conviction, character, moral courage, and personal goodness.”

The writer makes one critical point worth passing on. “Off-putting is that ghost of a smile that haunts his upper lip at inappropriate moments and lingers. It comes sometimes close to the simper that marred the performances of Bill Clinton, residing physically in the way he sets his overhanging upper lip at the ends of phrases.”

No smile was intended when George Bush spoke of the consequences of Iraqi defiance, or of the sad derivative obligations of the guardian of the strategic peace.


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