US hawks press Bush to go to war, UN or not
By Roland Watson in Washington, Richard Beeston and Philip Webster
Times of London - UK - 13 March:
PRESIDENT BUSH is facing increasing pressure from hawks to cut his losses at the United Nations and strike Iraq without further delay.
The injudicious comments by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, that the United States could go to war without Britain has prompted Americans sceptical of the UN to wonder aloud why Mr Bush is prolonging the waiting game.
“My guess is that the Administration will stay with it as long as there’s a reasonable chance of getting the necessary votes,” Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and unofficial leader of the Washington hawks, told The Times.
“But the more people ask themselves: ‘Why are we going through this to persuade the unpersuadable?’ — the more difficult it becomes to give a serious answer.”
Others are more outspoken. “Walk away, Mr President. Walk away from the UN Security Council,” wrote Charles Krauthammer, a Washington Post columnist who reflects the views of the Republican Right. “It will not authorise the coming war. You can stand on your head and it won’t change the outcome. You can convert to Islam in a Parisian mosque and it won’t prevent a French veto.”
The White House made clear yesterday that, however the votes are stacking up, the US is reaching the end of its patience with the UN process. “You are seeing the final moments of action, or inaction, at the UN Security Council,” Ari Fleischer, Mr Bush’s spokesman, said.
White House officials tried to smooth feathers in London, ruffled by Mr Rumsfeld’s slip, saying that it fully expected British military involvement in the looming war.
Officials also insisted that Mr Bush was committed to a final round of diplomacy, thanks in large part to Mr Blair. “This President is going the extra mile to consult,” Mr Fleischer said. “The President is very respectful of the thoughts of our allies in Europe who have a different focus on this.”
Translated from officialese, that means that Mr Bush understands how much trouble the Prime Minister faces at home and is prepared to help him as much as possible. But Mr Bush’s willingness to allow Labour MPs to dictate American foreign policy, at least for the next 48 hours, is not open-ended. He, too, has domestic interest groups that need tending. The Wall Street Journal, a bastion of US corporate opinion, declared the drive for a second UN resolution to be a “diplomatic blunder”. Referring to Guinea, it said: “The spectacle of the US Government begging that African nation for permission to sacrifice American blood and treasure to save the world from Saddam Hussein exposes the farce that the UN Security Council’s Iraq debate has become.”
British officials in London and Washington accept that Mr Rumsfeld’s comments — that the US could not yet be sure of Britain’s support, but was able to “work around” its absence — were not ill-meant.
He had recently ended one of his regular telephone calls with Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary. Mr Hoon had explained that the Prime Minister had obligations to Parliament that do not exist in the American Constitution. And Mr Rumsfeld was trying not to take for granted, at least in public, that British troops would play a combat role, British and US officials said.
Mr Rumsfeld is a notoriously abrasive and outspoken character, and his relations with British diplomats have always been tricky. When he arrived in Brussels as US Ambassador to Nato 30 years ago, British officials decided that they ought to get onside with him early. A young British diplomat was delegated to play squash with Mr Rumsfeld, and to lose deliberately in order to curry favour.
After two games, the diplomat returned, having tried but failed. “He’s so awful that I had to win,” he said. Or perhaps it was an early example of Mr Rumsfeld refusing to play by anyone else’s rules.
However, officials say that Mr Rumsfeld has made efforts to understand the peculiar difficulties that parliamentary accountability forces on the Prime Minister.
He has a video of Mr Blair’s speech to Labour’s spring conference in Cardiff. Well-placed sources say that he watches it to try to understand the pressures that the Prime Minister is under, and the critical importance to Mr Blair of achieving a second UN resolution.
America’s media, and its wider public, have also been going through a crash course in British politics over recent days. Breakfast-time viewers of CNN, normally used to a chatty round-ups of news and sofa-bound interviews, were greeted yesterday with Prime Minister’s Questions live. Mr Blair, invariably described in all American newspaper copy as “America’s staunchest ally”, currently has a higher media profile than any politician other than the President.
“His skin has turned pale, and his hair looks thinner and greyer. He seems to be constantly fighting a cold. His tailored suit coats seem to hang from a trim frame turning gaunt,” began a piece in The Washington Post yesterday.
There is enormous admiration for Mr Blair among America’s political classes and the public. But his influence on Mr Bush, even if it is greater than that of fellow foreign leaders, will always be limited, possibly more so in future. It was he, and Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, who persuaded Mr Bush to go to the UN, something for which many on the Right will never forgive either of them. Even if a war in Iraq leaves Mr Blair’s authority intact, he will have trouble restraining the US from taking its revenge on the Security Council. Advisers are telling Mr Bush that he should never again place US national interests in the hands of a body that forces Washington into contortions. Mr Perle said: “We have made the mistake that people make when they go into a sausage factory: you can never eat sausages again. The UN is a diplomatic sausage factory, and people have seen something that they would rather never see again.”