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Bush's Imperfect Storm
March 1, 2003
By Michael Shannon

Meteorologists will tell you that in order to have a truly noteworthy weather event you need a complex combination of factors. It is not enough just to have large amounts of moisture, severe swings in temperature or the proper atmospheric conditions; you need to have all of these elements converge in a single place and time. When they do, the result can be staggeringly impressive in scope and effect. Evidence of this phenomenon can currently be seen in mounds of snow and ice from Washington to Maine.

The same is true in the political arena, in order to have an event of widespread impact and effect it is necessary to also have a convergence of a number of seemingly separate factors. Individually these elements can pose a challenge of limited degree, but put them together and they can effect a change that once the process is underway becomes exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to control.

Mr. Bush is now faced with just such a convergence.

Over the course of the past few weeks a series of developments have taken place that have altered the political climate to the point where what seemed to have been a preordained decision to wage war on Iraq, now must be seen in an entirely different light.

The first sign of storm clouds gathering was the less than hoped for response to Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council. It was an appearance that was widely believed, in advance, to be the defining moment of the Administration's effort to present its case for war. Relying on Mr. Powell tremendous personal popularity and stature, it was thought that he would layout, once and for, irrefutable proof of the malfeasance of Saddam Hussein's regime to a receptive and welcoming world audience. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.

Mr. Powell's declaration that Hussein is an evil man, who is a lethal menace to his own people and no friend to lovers of liberty and goodwill was hardly breaking news and made very few points amongst the nonbeliever. Likewise was his use of a British government intelligence dossier. This well hyped document was purportedly to be the latest in hard evidence of Iraqi duplicity, instead became a major source of embarrassment when it was revealed that its authorship and content were far less than advertised.

When Mr. Powell appeared before a Senate committee a few days later he tried to make up for where he had fallen short by playing his ace in the hole. By scooping the world's news agencies with the announcement the United States was privy to the contents of communication from Public Enemy Number One, Osama Bin Laden, Powell tried valiantly to make the connection between this vile and despicable man with his alleged soul-mate in Baghdad.

Unfortunately, once the rest of the world was able to read the statement for themselves, this connection was, once again, less than advertised. Although Bin Laden did call upon the Iraqi people to resist the American led assault with their lives, he did not include Hussein as an ally in the cause. On the contrary, he dismissed Hussein as an infidel: a traitor to Islam.

While the reverberations of this bombshell were still echoing through the halls of power, as well as the nation's living rooms, the scene shifted back to the august chambers of the U N. The heads of the two UN agencies which have been seeking to verify Iraqi compliance to UN Resolution 1441 gave a detailed report of their findings to date. As expected, they did not report full and unconditional Iraqi compliance. While this was greeted as good news in Washington, their report also went on to state that Iraq was being somewhat cooperative and even more harmful, that they had discovered no evidence of any nuclear development or any stores of biological or chemical weaponry. While it has long been the contention of the Administration that, as Donald Rumsfeld so eloquently put it, "the absence of evidence should not be considered evidence of absence," the UN inspectors refuse to toe that line of reasoning.

(As a backdrop to all of this, a rift erupted in NATO over wether or not the alliance should make prewar preparations to defend Turkey from possible Iraqi reprisals in the event of Turkish participation in any military action against Iraq. And to make matters even worse, the Turks themselves developed a case of cold feet as to whether or not American forces could use Turkish bases as the launching point to attack Iraq from the north. It seems that it will take tens of billions of dollars in American largesse to warm them back up.)

To top off the week's fireworks came the now infamous comments by the French Ambassador. In a stinging response -- his reference to Rumsfeld's dismissive labeling of France for being part and parcel of "old Europe" was particularly biting -- to Powell's earlier presentation, the ambassador made clear that France did not support any use of military means to force Iraqi compliance until such a time that the efforts of the inspectors had been thoroughly exhausted. Much to the consternation of Team Bush, his comments evoked a spontaneous outburst of applause amongst the other diplomats in attendance.

Although recalcitrant behavior on the past of the French is seen by many as de rigueur, additional trouble was afoot even in what was deemed the safest of harbors.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has long been rightfully considered a key to the success of any American led initiative toward Iraq. While it is universally accepted as a statement of fact that the United States has more than sufficient means to handle any military contingencies without the assistance of allied support, the same cannot be said from a public relations perspective. Even within the inner circles of the most hard line of war advocates, it is understood that if the United States were to act unilaterally in this matter that it would open itself to untold resistance from both friend and foe alike. That Mr. Blair has given repeated assurances that he is a stalwart and reliable ally has been invaluable to the Bush Administrations plans. Unfortunately for those plans, Mr. Blair has also made it very plain that he regards the need of an additional UN resolution declaring the Iraqis in material breach of the previous resolutions, and thereby subject to any mean necessary to force their compliance, before he will sign off on the order to attack.

His insistence on this seal of approval from the UN was very easy to understand when, in the midst of the largest antiwar protests in the history of Europe, close to a million British citizens marched through London demanding that he do so.

Although none of the hundred-plus demonstrations that simultaneously took place in the United States, ranging from the largest of American cities to much smaller ones in the heartland, approached the size of the European ones, the overall effect of the outpouring of sentiment expressed by hundreds of thousands of everyday Americans, was the most telling development of all. While the Administration would never say so on record, clearly the images of such a mass showing of peaceful civic resistance were impossible to ignore. With these demonstrations the fallacy that Mr. Bush had the unconditional support of his own citizenry was laid wide open.

In spite of all his troubles, Mr. Bush retains control of the ship of state. He is still in the position to steer that ship as he so chooses. However, when he first set sail on this present course he did so believing that he would have smooth seas in front of him and gentle breezes at his back. But that's the funny thing about the weather, one minute the sun's shining and the next, the winds are howling and the waves are crashing.

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