In diplomacy, it’s all about timing

Back in high school, my best friends Blake and Mark would perform a two-man schtick.

“Blake, I have a question for you,” it would begin.

“Yes, Mark?” came the reply.

“What’s the key to com — “

“Timing.”

And I would chuckle to myself, the girls would giggle, and everyone smiled. The key to comedy is, in fact, timing.

These days, the Bush administration could use some advice — perhaps from Blake and Mark. At best, a valuable window of opportunity has been missed by the Bush foreign policy team in the past month. At worst, the administration’s poor sense of timing has deflated its overseas support and may force the United States to invade Iraq unilaterally.

On the one-year anniversary of the events of Sept. 11, world leaders extended their sympathies to the United States. Le Monde repeated its empathetic banner headline of last September: “We Are All Americans.” Representatives from almost every nation on earth attended memorial ceremonies in Manhattan.

One day later, President George W. Bush displayed a keen opportunism, delivering a powerful speech to the United Nations in New York focusing on Iraq’s repeated violations of U.N. Security Resolutions. His speech galvanized support for firm international handling of Saddam Hussein’s regime, centering on the long-standing demand that Iraq disarm. From Canada to Norway to South Africa, presidents and foreign ministers applauded Bush for bringing the issue to the front burner at the U.N. Even the Saudis said they’d support a U.N.-backed war on Iraq. Given that the outcome of the domestic Iraq debate was essentially a foregone conclusion, the Bush administration had smartly turned to coalition-building and sought an international mandate.

Under renewed international pressure, Iraq has agreed — for the moment at least — to readmit inspectors, a move that should have been anticipated by the United States. Unsurprisingly, the subsequent rhetoric from U.N. states moved speedily in the pacifist direction. Though full enforcement of the resolutions has been delayed for 11 years, not all Security Council members are yet impatient. France is currently proposing a “one thing at a time” approach, while the Russians continue to flinch at any suggestion whatever of military means.

Truth be told, the European states are experts at staying out of other nations’ business — to a fault. During the Clinton administration, Secretary of State Warren Christopher waited for the European states to develop a coherent policy on the former Yugoslavia and enact it accordingly. The result: diplomatic squabbles among NATO states while the Serbian army “cleansed” Bosnian towns of Muslim minorities. Even where troops had been sent in, their mandate was so weak as to allow, for example, Dutch troops at Srebrenica to hand over 7,500 men and boys to the Serbian army, whereupon they were bussed out of sight and killed.

In the case of Iraq’s development of weapons of mass destruction, the stakes are much higher than 7,500 people. Certainly the Bush administration believes so, and, as President Bush has repeated on numerous occasions, “Time is not on our side.” Yet since Sept. 12, the United Nations has done precious little to formalize the sentiments expressed on that day. More accurately, it has done nothing.

Upon whose shoulders does this blame fall?

Those of the Bush administration. Caught off guard by Iraqi talk of readmitting inspectors, the U.S. has stumbled forward. Only last week did the U.S. and Great Britain explain their joint draft resolution to Security Council members, ruffling the feathers of fellow veto-holders China, France and Russia. An endorsement meeting with Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix also waited until last week. Almost all of the momentum from the symbolic anniversary — and from Bush’s speech — has been lost.

In the weeks ahead, the wheels of diplomacy will churn slowly forward. America and her allies face a strong challenge within the Security Council and the specter of massive popular protest abroad. This challenge might have been diminished if the U.S. had prepared a draft resolution before the Iraqis predictably caved to mounting pressure. Perhaps, to succeed in international diplomacy — as in comedy — the key is timing.



Shane Braunstein is a senior in Silliman College.

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