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Making Nice at the U.N. ...

September 22, 2004

As expected in a speech to fellow heads of state and diplomats, President Bush on Tuesday dispensed with the red-meat phrases beloved by his supporters on the campaign trail. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, there were no sneering references to nations like France and Germany that opposed the Iraq invasion.

Instead, the president was conciliatory, intent to show that he can play with others. He didn't quite break out in Esperanto, but he spoke admiringly of the principles and values embodied by the United Nations. He also lavished praise on NATO for helping to train "a growing Iraqi security force." Bush's tone was far from his 2002 warning that the U.N. would be made "irrelevant" by ignoring the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

The president went on to state that Iraq and Afghanistan were on the "path to democracy and freedom" and to again speak of his vision of the two countries as a model for the Middle East.

Here, a dose of reality is called for: Kabul and Baghdad face formidable obstacles in their journey toward representative government. Democracy in Iraq is unattainable amid the current violence and instability that a majority of Iraqis believe is Washington's fault. Though Bush may see "a growing Iraqi security force," the situation is getting worse, with beheadings, suicide bombings and insurgent control of important cities.

Bush, still eager to gain more than a token U.N. presence in Iran, gave deserved praise to U.N. personnel who will help conduct elections and perhaps help rebuild Iraq. The U.N. mission was forced from the country when a bomb destroyed its Baghdad headquarters last year, killing the organization's special envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and dozens of others. Praise, however, won't make up for the worsening security situation for all foreigners in Iraq. Besides security problems, Bush's continued refusal to accept that international cooperation means more than doing what Washington orders has made others reluctant to step in.

Without a change in strategy and tactics by the administration, Iraq will be an unavoidable Topic A at the president's annual U.N. speech again next year, with little likelihood of a more stable and secure nation, or world. Bush offered a finely crafted speech and admirably hopeful phrases. Unfortunately, kind words can't erase past slurs -- or current ones out on the campaign trail -- against the U.N. and "Old Europe," and hope is not enough to change the disaster on the ground.

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