A father-son chat about Iraq

September 20, 2002|By Clarence Page

WASHINGTON - "Dad, why was President Bush speaking to the United Nations?"

Oh, you've been watching the news again? What happened to Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

"The news is scarier."

I know what you mean, son. Well, rest your frightened soul. Mr. Bush spoke to the United Nations and he did not look stupid or embarrass the country.

"I thought he didn't want to talk to the United Nations. I thought he wanted America to go it alone."

Well, somewhere along the path from his August vacation in Crawford, Texas, he seems to have been converted by the doves.

"The who?"

Oh, you remember our little talk about the hawks and the doves?

"I thought it was the birds and the bees."

Wrong talk. I'm talking about Mr. Bush's Cabinet. You've got the hawks, like Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who have been leaning toward an all-out war with Iraq. They're called "unilateralists" because they lean toward the United States going it alone, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

Then you have the doves, like Secretary of State Colin Powell and several other top foreign policy experts who, like Mr. Powell, used to work for the first President Bush, who have been pushing for more diplomacy.

Anyway, by the 9/11 anniversary, Mr. Bush sounded like a new president. He promised to seek congressional approval before waging war against Iraq. Then he went to the United Nations and forcefully requested their support for new sanctions and possible military action against Saddam Hussein. Can you say "multilateralist"?

"No."

We'll work on it. Anyway, Mr. Bush reminded the United Nations of some 16 resolutions that Mr. Hussein has violated since the Persian Gulf war and put the onus back on the United Nations: If they were not going to enforce their own resolutions, then we, the United States, would go out and do it for them.

"Did he really say that?"

His words were a little nicer.

"So, is the United Nations going to invade Iraq?"

Well, Mr. Hussein is worried about something. Lo and behold, he says that he is willing to admit weapons inspectors again - unconditionally. His ambassador fumed and fussed and shook his little fist and stomped his little feet over Mr. Bush's speech. But the international community seemed to like what Mr. Bush had to say and that left Mr. Hussein isolated.

Even Saudi Arabia, which had said before Mr. Bush's speech that it would not allow the United States to use its bases to attack Iraq, said after the speech that, sure, we could use their bases, if the United Nations backs the war. Other Arab nations warmed up to us, too, as the weekend approached.

It appears that Mr. Powell had the right idea: Other countries want to join us against Mr. Hussein. They just needed a little nudge.

"Noodge?"

Yes. It's a Yiddish word that Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut used a lot during the 2000 presidential campaign. It means to pester, nag, complain, badger, carp and whine until you convince somebody that your idea was really their idea all along.

"So, are they going to have inspections to look for Mr. Hussein's nukes now?"

Well, not so fast. Mr. Hussein played this game before. Many times since the Persian Gulf war, he would invite inspectors in, then block them on some technicality, like claiming that the United States had put "spies" in among the inspectors.

Well, duh, what does he think an "inspector" is?

Anyway, he would stall while his people moved whatever it is that was supposed to be inspected to some new location. In 1998, he stopped allowing any inspectors in at all. Now he's going to try to do what Mr. Bush has done in reverse, try to win back sympathy from the world community.

"Can he do it?"

He's got a problem. He's invaded his neighbors, bombed his own people and behaved on the world stage like a dangerous idiot. The world does not have much sympathy left for him. You can tell a lot about people from the enemies they make.

"Is Mr. Bush just doing this because Mr. Hussein tried to kill his father?"

I know a lot of people say that. But the United Nations seems impressed that Mr. Bush has a bigger case than that. To tell you the truth, though, I'd be pretty steamed if somebody had tried to kill my dad, wouldn't you, son? Son?

"I'm thinking. I'm thinking."

Finish your homework!

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Fridays in The Sun. He can be reached via e-mail at cpage@tribune.com.

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