Sunday, July 20, 2003

Two Criminals Buddy Up Texas-Style

President Bush and billionaire Italian Prime Minister and current holder of the rotating Presidency of the EU, Silvio Berlusconi, hung out together at the Bush family's Texas Ranch. Burlesconi is a controversial a figure in Europe due to his glib and often ill-considered comments, and the serious personal legal baggage he brings to the Prime Ministership. In many ways, he is the perfect European partner for Bush.

Now that Bush is feeling the heat over NigerGate, he is looking to open up Iraq to UN participation in order to ease the pressure on US military and financial resources. He doesn't want to face the election with the military bogged down in Iraq, tens of thousands of reservists called up , uprooted from their homes and jobs, and a bum economy to boot.

In order to do this without ceeding control over Iraq he will have to walk a fine diplomatic line, leaning heavily on allies such as Berlusconi, and cherry-picking allies that might volunteer to get their troops shot at without the power to call the shots. Above all, avoiding UN control, but courting UN participation.

The Pentagon claims to have firm commitments for 30,000 foreign troops from 19 countries. But these are very small and specialized troop commitments, 13,000 of which are already in country, not the large number of combat troops Bush needs. India recently turned down Bush's overtures for 17,000 moving targets, saying that they will not participate without a mandate from the UN. Most other countries capable of deploying the troops Bush needs are likely to require the same conditions. With France, Germany and Russia riding a hard line in the Security Council, refusing any UN mandate without UN operational control, Bush is apt to be stuck collecting dribs and drabs from leaders corrupt enough, stupid enough, or weak enough to give in to him. His credibility with Security Council veto holders is low and he is very unlikely to get what he wants without losing the control he must have to help his cronies.

It looks very much like Bush is not going be able to escape the consequences of his own folly without fully internationalizing Iraq. Our potential partners smell the blood in water. Payback is coming for the Bush Administration's bullying and unilateralist tendencies. The world's other powers now know all they have to do is dig in and stick to their demand for control of Iraq and Bush will simply exsanguinate politically, to be finished off in 2004 by a reasonable Democratic candidate. A candidate who understands that we must cooperate and consider the interests of others, that diplomacy is not a dirty word, and that our traditional alliances are not straight-jackets, they are security blankets: Howard Dean, M.D. is that candidate.

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