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Annan Trounces Bush at UN

While Bush's speech was filled with empty rhetoric and bluster, Kofi Annan delivered a powerful indictment of U.S. foreign policy.
 
 
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While the U.S. media will most likely play up George Bush's boring speech to the UN, the day clearly belonged to Kofi Annan.

In his distinctively quiet-spoken manner, Annan trounced the Bush administration's foreign policy doctrine of unilateral preemptive strikes at the United Nations General Assembly. Saying the world had "come to a fork in the road," at what "may be a moment no less decisive than 1945 itself, when the United Nations was founded," Annan spelt out explicitly and in the most public way possible the position he has until now reserved for quiet off-the-cuff sessions with the media. Drawing on the power of his office, he ripped apart the U.S. policy of hot preemption -- though without pointing specifically at the Bush administration:

"Until now it has been understood that when states go beyond (self-defense), and decide to use force to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, they need the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations.

"Now, some say this understanding is no longer tenable, since an 'armed attack' with weapons of mass destruction could be launched at any time, without warning, or by a clandestine group. Rather than wait for that to happen, they argue, states have the right and obligation to use force pre-emptively, even on the territory of other states, and even while weapons systems that might be used to attack them are still being developed.

"According to this argument, states are not obliged to wait until there is agreement in the Security Council. Instead, they reserve the right to act unilaterally, or in ad hoc coalitions.

"This logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last fifty-eight years ... if it were to be adopted, it could set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without justification.

By UN standards, it was an unprecedented, if justly deserved, rebuff to the United States.

George Bush's speech that followed displayed the usual tone-deaf rhetoric that has become a hallmark of his foreign policy. While there were no outright lies, he was, as a British Cabinet Minister once said, "economical with the truth." Indeed, the president was positively miserly with the truth this time around.

His speech barely acknowledged the fact that the vast majority of UN members disagreed with the invasion being conducted in their name. Being the president of the United States means never having to say you're sorry. But even so, an occasional hands-on contact with reality would be useful. While Bush admitted last week that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11 attacks, he declared once again today, "The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction." The phrase "ties to terror" is seemingly the ambiguous phrase of choice, carefully crafted to reinforce the mistaken beliefs of the 70 percent of Americans are convinced that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 without having to actually say so.

Indeed, Bush's speech introduced a whole new word to the spin-meisters' dictionary: "proliferators." This is an entirely new category of people, who have joined the ranks of assorted "evildoers," as enemies of all that is good in this world. While he did not explicitly mention a list of potential target countries like Cuba, Syria, or Iran as "proliferators," it sounded a lot like neoconservative vigilante justice as usual: "Because proliferators will use any route or channel that is open to them, we need the broadest possible cooperation to stop them."

To add to the Bush in Wonderland effect, he welcomed the delegation from the Iraqi Governing Council which was sitting in the Iraqi seat at the UN. They were, he said, "the first truly representative institution in that country." Could this be the same IGC that the administration says is not ready or fit to take over Iraqi sovereignty? The same leaders who are pushing for a greater UN role?

More disturbingly, there was little evidence in Bush's speech of any of the new-found flexibility being touted in the media. On the subject of transferring power, Bush claimed that the handover of sovereignty "must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis, neither hurried, nor delayed by the wishes of other parties." No prizes for guessing who will be the judge of these "needs." The same US government that handpicked the members of the IGC and flew Ahmed Chalabi and his friends in as a government in exile!

Bush even mentioned the resolution he is trying to get past the Security Council, giving a full and frank disclosure of his vision of the "vital role" to be played by the UN. The United Nations, he said, "should assist in developing a constitution, in training civil servants, and conducting free and fair elections." In short, it should do what it is told.

In the end, there was little that was new in Bush's speech -- just the same old tired assortment of cliches about terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and Iraq. It's not an argument that won many supporters in the UN when it was new, and is unlikely to do so six months into a botched-up occupation.

Ian Williams is the author of " The United Nations for Beginners."