Commentary: Bush can't roll back isolation

By MARTIN SIEFF  |  Sept. 24, 2003 at 4:23 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- There was a special irony in President George W. Bush's address to the U.N. General Assembly this week. The president took pains to sound a conciliatory, internationalist tone in his speech. But at the General Assembly, the United States is now more isolated than ever.

On the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace process, Bush authorized the welding of America's veto power as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council to block a council resolution challenging any possible future Israeli move to expel or even assassinate Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. But the General Assembly then responded by overwhelmingly passing its own resolution virtually identical to the vetoed one.

Also, Bush faces renewed and, if anything, increasing diplomatic pressure from Germany and France over U.S. Middle East policies toward the Palestinians and Iraq.

Major Western European nations like France and Germany have rejected outright Bush's drive to get them to pony up major troop contingents for Iraq. Russia has refused U.S. feelers on the subject, too.

Even India, led by a Hindu-nationalist government eager to boost its security ties with Washington, was forced to back down from sending major forces to help ease the burden on the U.S. Army in Iraq in the face of massive public pressure.

Only in Eastern Europe has Bush's drive to spread the load of the occupation of Iraq borne real fruit so far. Polish and Ukrainian forces will be the leading components in a new international force being organized. Superficially, this looks like a victory for the neo-conservative strategists in the administration with their allies in the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute who have fiercely argued that "old" Europe, the major historic Western European nations who were America's leading NATO allies throughout the Cold War, is now passé and a relic of history and that the United States should instead rally the forces of grateful, free-market-committed "new" Europe, the former communist nations of the East instead.

But it looks far too soon to claim Poland, Ukraine and their neighbors as effective military substitutes for France, Germany and Spain. The forces these nations, along with Bulgaria and other neighbors, are sending to Iraq are going to be poorly trained and equipped with enormous problems of even communicating with each other in any mutually acceptable language.

Further afield, Russia and China have both shown far more caution than France and Germany in avoiding outraging Bush and challenging him head-on at the United Nations on Iraq or in other areas. But they are hanging the president out to dry by their studied inaction and refusal to actively cooperate with him in bringing pressure to bear on the remaining -- and ever more threatening -- two members of the president's so-called Axis of Evil: Iran and North Korea.

On Iran, Russia continues to push ahead with its $800 million development of the Bushehr reactor program that some neo-conservative analysts highly influential with the administration argue may now be only months away from assembling working nuclear warheads.

Russian officials have dropped cautious hints to the administration they would be prepared to do a lot more if genuine concessions on contracts and influence were given to them on Iraq. But so far Bush and his administration have not taken any steps to deliver, so neither have the Russians.

The Chinese are playing a similar game on North Korea, going through the motions of diplomatic cooperation with Washington such as playing host to last month's six-party talks, but not putting any real pressure on Pyongyang to moderate its defiant and hard line on publicly brandishing nuclear weapons. There is no joy for the globally overextended administration there either.

The administration's neo-con hawks had high hopes of making Turkey the cornerstone of its ambitious plans to redraw the maps and security relationships of the Middle East. But Turkey is ruled by an Islamic fundamentalist-led government that refused to allow U.S. ground troops to enter its territory to invade Iraq from the north. And while, like the Russians and Chinese, they see no percentage in confronting Washington outright, they are not dancing to its tune either.

Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's one ever-loyal and reliable ally through the build-up to war with Iraq and subsequent occupation, is mired in controversy and scandal over the alleged cooking of British intelligence estimates to justify the war. His loyalty to the president through thick and thin has become an albatross round his neck.

Only north of the border does Bush have any hope of a brighter future. Treasurer Paul Martin in the past week won a landslide victory to become the next leader of Canada's ruling Liberal Party, ensuring his succession as prime minister in the next few months. Martin has made clear he wants to improve relations with Washington, which have hit rock-bottom under current Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

But what profiteth a president of the United States if he gains Canada but loses the rest of the world? For all his traditional, cocky faith in U.S. unilateralism, Bush, as evidenced by the more conciliatory and internationalist tone of his General Assembly speech Tuesday, now seems to be finally asking that question.

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