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LIGHT UNDER A BUSH

War or the prospect of war engenders tunnel vision among statesmen as well as among analysts and observers. Thus it is not surprising that what the president of the United States of America, Mr George W. Bush, has to say about Iraq and Mr Saddam Hussein, gets more attention than all his other pronouncements. Mr Bush identified the Iraqi president as somebody who is clearly defying the United Nations security council and he warned the UN that if it did not stop Mr Hussein, the US would do the job, alone if necessary. He expressed his impatience with any attempts to appease the ruling regime of Iraq which is a threat to peace and to civilization. It is easy for Bush-baiters to pigeonhole him as the cowboy from Texas who is fast on the draw but slow on matters cerebral. Such a judgment can only be an expression of tunnel vision and at the expense of all the other things that Mr Bush said in his speech to the UN.

In his speech, Mr Bush made a number of significant concessions and announced a few important initiatives. There was an evident shift in the US’s attitude to the UN. The US, Mr Bush announced, would join the reformed Unesco. The earlier hostility of the US to the UN and its affiliates is being abandoned. This could be an offering to the UN in the expectation of UN support to a US mission. Mr Bush referred also to an “independent and democratic Palestine”. This can only be read as a US preference for a two-nation solution to the problem that has haunted west Asia since 1948 and has become one of the major flashpoints of violence in the world. There was a gesture to Iran in the reference to Iran as the victimized neighbour of Iraq. To the people of Iraq, Mr Bush held out the promise of a “unified Iraq” after the departure of Mr Hussein.

These elements in Mr Bush’s speech, by no means trivial and irrelevant, reduce the conventional picture of him as a cowboy to a caricature of reality. Mr Bush has a strategy in mind. He was critical of the UN’s present arrangements to contain Mr Hussein, but he emphasized the need for greater cooperation between the US and the UN over the need to contain Iraq. At the same time, Mr Bush displayed a commitment to establishing a permanent peace in the region. Witness his references to Iran and the Israel-Palestine problem. His decision to support Unesco showed that the cowboy has a heart after all. Mr Bush’s hand may be on his Colt .45 but he is still willing to talk the language of peace and human welfare.

These are signs that Mr Bush is not the one-dimensional president that he was when he succeeded Mr Bill Clinton. In the current configuration of global politics, a president of the US has to be a little more than a president of the US because he is, willy-nilly, the guardian of world peace by virtue of being the president of the most powerful nation in the world. Mr Bush has dispelled fears that he was not big enough for the chair he occupies.

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