Monday, March 17, 2003

There were two things genuinely surreal about the Azores conclave on Sunday. The first was that Monday would be, as Bush put it, a "moment of truth" for the world. The second was the Bush administration's view of the centrality of regime change in Iraq, which jarred with British and Spanish priorities--even if there was no way to know that from the staged Azores press conference.

The "moment of truth" line actually meant nothing at all, since either way war is happening: if a resolution is passed today, the U.S. will only approve of it if it authorizes war; and if no resolution is passed, which is likely, war is coming anyway. So what was Bush on about? Obviously, he was thinking about a last-minute exit by Saddam Hussein, as this Washington Post article confirms.

What was more intriguing, however, was how studiously Tony Blair and Jose-Maria Aznar (by the way whatever happened to that other confederate of the willing Silvio Berlusconi?) sidestepped any discussion of regime-change, though Blair had previously made clear that this was not at all a British condition for avoiding a war. Instead, what the Brits did was speak out of both sides of their mouth: on Sunday Foreign Secretary Jack Straw again invited Saddam to go into exile, even as he implied (as did Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown) that a peaceful diplomatic solution was still possible.

So, there was Blair effectively shutting up in the Azores on his own earlier claim that regime-change was not a British condition; there was Straw lending credence to the new U.S. focus on regime-change; and there were Straw and Brown collaborating to pretend that a peaceful solution was still possible, when both knew very well that the Bush administration's regime change priority probably made any of their diplomatic efforts at the UN entirely useless. If that is what trans-Atlantic solidarity means, then maybe we shouldn't be surprised if the French remain so hostile.

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