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Bush Shows Chutzpah in Dealings With the U.N.

The bombing of the United Nations’ headquarters in Iraq opens up a new chapter in the strained relationship between the United States and the U.N.

It began with the charge of the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein was violating a provision under a U.N. agreement that forbade his (Hussein’s) building weapons of mass destruction. The U.N. Security Council responded by calling for a stepped-up investigation by U.N. inspectors to determine whether the charge about weapons was valid.

President Bush brushed the requirement aside and went to war against Iraq on the theory that someday he would discover weapons of mass destruction — the equivalent of sentencing a man to death for committing a murder because the accuser knows that someday he will.

On May 1, our president proclaimed that the war was over, and that we would begin to reconstruct Iraq. The U.N., letting bygones be bygones, offered to help in the reconstruction. If Bush had accepted, some of the cost of reconstruction would be carried by the U.N. and its members — like France and Germany — and Bush could ultimately get out of the Iraqi morass by placing more and more of the responsibility for postwar reconstruction on the shoulders of the U.N. — an organization that has multiple agencies with decades of experience in dealing with human suffering in the fields of healthcare, housing, education, childcare, medicine, financial assistance, etc.

But, alas, Bush said “no thank you” to the U.N. — Uncle Sam would be in charge of Iraq’s future and no partners were welcome. Then came the attack on the U.N. headquarters in Iraq. The U.N. now had a compelling reason to take action in Iraq. Apparently, the American operation was unable to provide protection for the U.N. This was a moment for the U.N. to join with the United States and Britain to provide both military and humanitarian aid in Iraq.

Bush responded that he would welcome the U.N.’s cooperation. He proposed that the U.N. Security Council call upon its member nations to make troops available — troops that would operate under American command. But the U.N. per se would not be in the picture.

Imagine what this means. The U.N. would call upon its members to provide troops to serve under the command of the United States. On the U.N. Security Council issuing such a call would be France and Germany and Russia, among others. They opposed American entry into the war in Iraq. They believed the American action was a gross mistake and was a slap in the U.N.’s face. Can we expect these nations now to reverse their judgment and make their boys available to serve under American command?

What word, one wonders, is appropriate to describe Bush’s conduct? Some suggest words like “unilateralism,” “hubris” or “arrogance.” May we suggest a popular English word drawn from the Yiddish lexicon. It is “chutzpah,” a word easier to describe than define. For instance, as one story goes, a young man was found guilty of murdering his parents. The young man pleads for clemency. When the judge asks why, he replies: “Please remember, your honor, I am now an orphan.” That is chutzpah!

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