Alone at Last




“Every young democracy needs the help of friends,” President Bush told the U.N. General Assembly earlier this week, and then proceeded to tell the world to “drop dead.” His latest performance at the U.N. was mostly panned by the foreign press, though there were a few raves, too.

The United Press International writes that there was a “special irony” in the air at the U.N. General Assembly, namely that of Bush’s strained efforts to “sound a conciliatory, internationalist tone in his speech.” Ironic, because Washington is “now more isolated than ever.”

Luckily for Bush, Germany’s leader, Gerhard Schroeder has decided to make nice, for now. The two posed for pictures at the General Assembly, shaking hands and smiling. Notwithstanding the diplomatic show of handshakes, and some economic aid, Bush still isn’t getting any troops from Berlin.

Germany’s conservative daily, Die Welt, mystifyingly, liked the speech, calling it “forgiving, kind, full of sympathy.” But according to the Deutsche Welle other German news sources were in a less loving mood. Frankfurt’s The Frankfurter Rundschau, scoffs at Bush’s desire for “silent partners” in Iraq:

“‘The paper’s editors claimed they are convinced there will be no French veto this time. “The danger is that Bush wants only silent partners,’ they wrote. ‘But the situation in Iraq demands a credible alliance with international credentials,’ the paper says. ‘Sovereign Iraqi institutions without a timetable and mediation by a neutral organization like the UN are unrealistic.'”

Hanover’s Neue Presse writes that Bush “has recognized that without broad international support no progress will be made in Iraq or Afghanistan.” And, the paper further opines that perhaps a new international role is in store for Germany as “a mediator between Washington and Paris.”

In Paris, Le Figaro (translated by the BBC, and the Guardian) said, “In short, France wants to act as an outside consultant — involved, but not fully engaged.” However, the paper also says both Bush and Chirac are “entrenched in their positions.” French President Jacques Chirac, it argues, “presented himself as the champion of the rule of international law” while Bush “came across as the lord of global antiterrorism.” Le Figaro further notes Bush’s seeming offhand attitude, as against Chirac’s attentiveness, during the each others’ speeches. Chirac, it writes, “paid close attention to Bush’s speech, and even applauded politely, with his fingertips.” Bush, on the other hand, “had already left the hall when his French opposite number started to speak.”

Meanwhile, France’s conservative Liberation (translated by London’s Guardian) took a much more pro-American stance, criticizing France for setting the bar too high for French cooperation:

“France and the US have to try and reach a compromise, however difficult. Even the most hawkish voices in the Pentagon understand that Washington can’t run postwar Iraq on its own, especially a few months before the beginning of the presidential race. For its part, France needs to stop itself being perceived as the enemy of the world’s only superpower

But this time, each country has set the bar too high. The timetable France wants for the transfer of power to Iraqis, six to nine months, is far less than Bosnia or Kosovo needed. … With the two countries so far apart, the UN risks only being able to agree on a vague resolution which would make very little difference on the ground.”

So much for Europe. In Iraq, the president’s speech drew skepticism. One university student in Bagdhad told the Associated Press that he couldn’t watch Bush’s speech because his electricity wasn’t working. But a former military officer (former, because now unemployed) who had the chance to watch the speech wasn’t impressed.

“‘Bush’s speech was bad. He talked about liberating Iraqi people while the reality is that the Americans liberated only the criminals and bad people who are looting the country.

‘He talked about Iraq being the front line for combating terrorism, while it was Bush’s war that brought terrorists to our country. He talked about better life for the Iraqis, while now most of them are jobless,’ he said.”

More of the same from the Arab world, reports the AP:

“‘President Bush and the world are still poles apart,’ Sahar Baasiri said in a front-page editorial in Lebanon’s leading An-Nahar newspaper. ‘He spoke extensively of his fine achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq — as if people are ignorant of what is happening in both countries.'”

The Lebanon Star suggests that Bush might fare better if he actually listened to the advice of his allies, who by the way, aren’t our enemies:

“If Washington has yet to do the homework that might go into any well-conceived program of its own, the sensible course is to take a very close look at the suggestions of others. If nothing else, such an approach would at least go some way to burnishing AmericaÕs tattered credibility.

Countries like France and Germany do not want America to fail, but nor do they want to be part of a disaster that they rightly see as being perfectly preventable. Their involvement might come with a heavy political price tag, but their continuing estrangement will be even more expensive.”