James Lileks (who managed to write link-worthy pieces damn near every day… putting us all to shame with sheer style) has a great explanation of what Bush’s speech was really about.
I’ve been reading reactions to the President’s UN speech, and I’m amused at how people don’t seem to get it. Oh, now he’s being a multilateralist? Now he believes in the UN? No. That speech was the equivalent of that fabled kung-fu move that removes your opponent’s heart and shows it to you, just before you crumple. It’s of a piece with the administration’s behavior since 9/11: Let all the carpers and obstructionists gather on the tip of the thinnest branch, then show up with a saw and announce they have five minutes to come hug the trunk, which incidentally is covered with sap and stinging ants. It was sheer malicious brilliance to cast the entire case in terms of UN resolutions, because it mean the UN had to chose: either those resolutions mean something, or the UN means nothing. Why, it’s almost as if the UN painted itself into a corner – and woke up to find this rude simple cowboy holding the brush. How the hell did he do that?
I had a chance to actually watch the speech rather than read the transcript, and it was good. Bush basically made the entire UN look like the dunderheads that they are. In one address he managed to cut through the hypocrisy, the arrogance, and the impotence of the UN. It wasn’t what I was expecting – in some ways it was better and smarter.
I think most of the world was thinking that Bush would talk about how Iraq harms US interests and must be stopped. The brilliance of what he did is the way in which everything hung around the UN mandates at the end of the Gulf War. Instead of playing the unilateral cowboy, Bush played it to the audience. It wasn’t about the US acting alone, it was about the UN failing to keep its word. It was about the UN being unwilling to back itself up. No one, least of all the UN, was expecting him to put this conflict into those terms, and by doing so he clearly put the UN on the spot – as well he should.
I can only imagine the annoyance of those UN bureaucrats that they got bested by a man that they thought was an idiot and a cowboy. I can see it as being something like one of those old Warner Bros. cartoons where Elmer Fudd becomes so enraged that a lowly wabbit can foil his plans that steam shoots out his ears.
Just thinking about that one brings a smile to my face…