Missteps on charm offensive

When President-elect Bush proclaimed in December that he would "project our strength and purpose with humility," we did not expect that this would turn into confusion and defeat in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is now out of the box the senior President Bush put him into at the end of the Gulf War 10 years ago.

A series of missteps and misjudgments, many of them on the American side, left the United Nations without effective control on weapons development since 1998 and without the "smart sanctions" - controls on weapons and dual-use technology - that Secretary of State Colin Powell wants to install.

Iraq was successful in manipulating the flow of oil and trade for maximum pressure against sanctions. Huge oil supplies flowed through Turkey and Jordan. France salivated for Iraqi manufacturing orders. But the most serious judgment made was about Russia and China.

In February, a US-British air strike was launched against fiber optics cables reportedly being installed by Chinese workers to improve air defenses in Iraq against overflying allied planes. Beijing insisted it was only improving civilian communications and protested against what it called a provocation reminiscent of the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

When the time came last month to ask for China's UN Security Council vote for sanctions against Iraq, the Bush administration offered a sweetener. It would release more than $80 million in frozen business deals, including an Iraqi contract with the same Chinese contractor who had been installing cable for the antiaircraft missile batteries.

What was weird was that Russia had served notice all along that it intended to exercise its veto against the Anglo-American resolution tightening controls on oil and weapons smuggling. Perhaps President Bush believed that his charm offensive would sway President Vladimir Putin. But Mr. Putin never swayed.

So the US and Britain abandoned their effort to draw up a more viable sanctions policy. Iraq gleefully announced it was resuming oil exports, suspended for a month. And President Bush may have learned a little bit more about humility.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for National Public Radio. He recently published his memoir, 'Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism' (Pocket).

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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