Powell's stand for traditional diplomacy fails, a blow to moderating influence

Monday, March 17th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State Colin Powell's insistence on traditional diplomacy while confronting Iraq prevailed against hard-liners in the Bush administration, but it failed in the end to win U.N. support for force to disarm Saddam Hussein.

As a result, the United States stands ready to go to war without the backing of a new resolution, and Powell's commitment to moderation in the administration has sustained a blow.

While Bush administration strategists are convinced the United States will win the war with its “coalition of the willing,” the impact of not getting the resolution could force a shift in battle tactics.

Turkey and several other countries had said they were willing to support the United States, but needed the backing of the resolution. Others, like Saudi Arabia, quietly have offered to provide air bases and overflights without it.

Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private research group, said Monday, “If we had not tried moderation things might have been much worse. There is no way we will ever know.”

And, he said, “when the war is over we are still going to need allies.”

But Cordesman said in an interview the administration's diplomatic failure had nothing to do with its approach to the United Nations but with “the fact we wasted nearly a year after the decision to go to war without any clear public diplomacy, without persuading everyone that the threat was real.”

“What you had is probably the most dismal exercise of public diplomacy in history,” he said.

In Paris, Laurent Cohen-Tanugi, a French lawyer who has written extensively about trans-Atlantic relations, credited the French with persuading the administration to go through the United Nations.

“I still think the U.S. can now say they have played the multilateral game and that it didn't work,” Cohen-Tanugi said in an interview. “At the end of the day the U.S. is better off having done this than if it hadn't.”

As for the French, he said they are totally dependent on the U.S. military “so it's a little hypocritical” to oppose the Bush administration in the United Nations.

Powell, at a news conference, said, “You can always look and say you should have done this, you should have done that.”

But he said the Bush administration won unanimous approval last November to use force to disarm Iraq and he had no regrets how he went about trying, unsuccessfully, to secure a second resolution.

The failure, in the end, could confirm the view of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that turning to the United Nations would only produce a stalemate and delay disarming Iraq.

Powell prevailed last fall in his advice to President Bush, although the president questioned U.N. relevance as he kicked off the diplomatic campaign in a speech in September.

Powell then took the ball and ran with it. He made extensive use of telephone diplomacy _ on Monday, the final day of diplomacy, he spoke to two-dozen foreign ministers _ went to the United Nations four times, provided what he said was exhaustive evidence that Iraq was hiding thousands of weapons of mass destruction and lying about it.

But he could not overcome France's objection to war and the view France shared with several other members of the Security Council that U.N. weapons inspections were working and should be extended.

The decision to withdraw the resolution meant France didn't have to exercise its veto. But Powell said there was another reason for the decision. Mindful of the impending war and then the likely need for post-war reconstruction of Iraq, he said Monday, “This was not the time to have further division within the council by taking this to a vote.”

Powell telephoned Lord Robertson, the NATO secretary-general, late Monday to reaffirm U.S. ties with the allies. And France, Germany and other opponents of the administration's resort to force will be asked to play a role in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq.