BY WALTER CRONKITE
Americans are going on a diet of crow while President Bush goes to the United Nations to beg for help in settling the Iraqi mess, a move that has long been urged by foreign-policy experts both in and out of the Bush administration.
The president will be appealing to the U.N. Security Council, the same body that a year ago he asked to endorse, support and cooperate in the Iraq invasion. He personally spoke to the council and made what at the time seemed like an excellent case for eliminating what he depicted as Saddam Hussein's threat to world peace with his presumed stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.
The president, however, concluded that speech by belittling the United Nations. He said that it didn't really matter whether the Security Council went along with us or not. If it didn't, he proclaimed, we would go it alone.
This example of American hubris did not, of course, sit well with other major nations that, despite our alliances and their oft-expressed friendship, always have been envious of American economic and military dominance. France, which in its own exaggerated self-esteem is perhaps the most sensitive of the other nations, led the forces that defeated the American proposal in the Security Council. And, of course, we invaded Iraq with only one major nation at our side, Great Britain.
Now it is turning out that we bit off a lot more than we can chew. The Iraqis are not as universally delighted with our presence as the administration had expected, and we are enmeshed in a guerrilla war against unknown numbers of angry and fanatic Arabs, and with recurring losses of American soldiers.
President Bush, clearly worried about the rising tide of public and congressional concern over the course of events, went on television Sunday night to try to defend his policies and rally support for them. He made a strong pitch that Iraq was the front line in the war against terrorism and that the United States could not cut and run from that battle.
To do the job, though, he said he would be asking the United Nations for troops to help relieve our weary and insufficient forces. He'll also be seeking financial help to meet the staggering $87 billion he estimates he'll need this year for fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan and rebuilding those countries -- a budget drain so great it is seriously affecting our government's ability to supply the services our own people expect.
As he makes this new appeal to the United Nations, there is not the slightest admission on his part that he might have been wrong in insisting on our unilateral action. Instead, our government expects the Security Council, and the rest of us, to believe that this is not a change of strategy at all. Indeed, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that this has been the administration plan all along. We are expected to believe that the United States, from the beginning of the war, planned to someday ask for the United Nations' help. If that really was the original intention, it might have been diplomatic to tell the Security Council that in the beginning. Instead, the administration rejected or played down every suggestion that the United Nations should have any substantial role in the postwar governing, policing or rebuilding of Iraq.
We are in trouble, and the world knows it. We are going hat in hand as we seek means to cut our losses in the Iraq debacle. We are pleading for help now from those very same Security Council nations that we belittled before by claiming we didn't need their help anyway.
No matter what they do with our new request, those nations are going to wear a wry, "I told you so" smile as they listen to our appeal. This might be about as embarrassing a position as this nation has ever suffered in international affairs.
No matter how glorious President Bush paints our Iraq invasion as a mission to save the world from terrorism, there is no disguising the fact that in our desperate bid for help, we are dining on a massive helping of crow.
Write to Walter Cronkite c/o King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
(c) 2003 Walter Cronkite
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