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Published: Sunday, 3/2/2003

Dividing, not uniting

In trying to force support for another United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq, the United States is learning the difficulty of promoting unity with what is essentially a divisive policy.

Unable to line up more than a few votes in the Security Council to launch a war to disarm Saddam Hussein, U.S. diplomats now are hammering would-be allies with a final, unyielding message from President Bush.

Here's what one foreign diplomat says U.S. officials told him: “You are not going to decide whether there is war in Iraq or not. That decision is ours, and we have already made it. It is already final. The only question now is whether the council will go along with it or not.”

In other words, my way or the highway.

This is not a message likely to win friends and influence people, at the United Nations or anywhere else, and the Bush Administration clearly does not intend it as such. It is what it is, an arrogant warning to friend and foe alike to get out of the way or get run over.

Whether the Bush ultimatum will achieve its purpose remains to be seen, but Americans should not be surprised that foreign policy has become a blunt instrument in the President's hand.

George W. Bush's presidential campaign platform as a “compassionate conservative” was built on tax cuts and studied moderation on issues such as the environment and abortion. He promised a “humble” foreign policy, in which the U.S. would not tell others around the globe how to conduct their affairs.

What we got was pretty much the opposite: radical, far-reaching tax cuts tilted sharply to the rich, a social agenda appealing to the far right, and rollbacks of virtually every environmental regulation in the book.

And all that was under way before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks ushered in the Bush Doctrine of moral, cultural, and military superiority before the world, coupled at home with a strict regimen of secrecy and surveillance.

Some argue that the advent of the war on terrorism in 2001 “changed everything,” but Mr. Bush's primordial inclination to go it alone in matters of domestic and foreign policy is no different now than before. His promise to be “a uniter, not a divider” has the same hollow ring as Richard Nixon's declaration of an earlier era, “I am not a crook.”

By defying the letter and spirit of the United Nations charter and marching toward a war of volition against Iraq, the President is saying to the world, “I don't need you, I'll do what I want, and you can't stop me.”

Military action may work in the short run, but it is neither the key to lasting national security nor a workable substitute for unity in the community of nations.

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