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Double Speak

Across town at the United Nations, however, Rice's vision of "great power cooperation" was not exactly on display. The last week has been disastrous for the Bush effort to secure a U.N. imprimatur for its Iraq policy. For the second week in a row the United States delayed the formal release of its new resolution on Iraq because three great powers on the Security Council--France, Russia, and China--remained opposed. Meanwhile, in Vienna, Iraq accelerated the process by which the old, weak weapons inspectors would return. And, less noticed, Iraqi diplomats in the Middle East continued to tour the region, chipping away at Arab support for the U.S. plan. In Ankara, for instance, Saddam's henchman Tariq Aziz pressed the Turks to oppose U.S. war plans.

The dynamic in Washington

The congressional resolution supported by Bush cites as reasons to attack Iraq, among other things, Saddam's attempted assassination of Bush's father, Iraq's repression of its civilians, and Saddam's failure to return property wrongfully seized from Kuwait. Biden and Lugar pared down their resolution so Iraq's WMD's would be the only reason for war. And when Colin Powell appeared before Biden's committee last week he seemed to endorse this approach. Semi-mockingly, John Kerry asked, "Are you telling me we're going to go to war because they haven't returned all the stolen property?" In reply, Powell conceded the Democrat's point: "Iraq has to be disarmed. That is the major problem." Biden and Lugar noted Powell's support in a press release Monday, saying their "thinking was sharpened" by his testimony.

Biden, who knows his resolution won't pass, is also registering his objections to Bush's attempt to enshrine preemption as formal U.S. policy. That's why he and his allies don't want any mention of regime change. "If the resolution goes for regime change, it is in violation of international law, and it would endorse preemption," says one Biden aide. Again, Powell seemed to back them up. At the same hearing last Thursday he came as close as any Bush official has to saying that disarmament would obviate the need for regime change: "If Iraq was disarmed as a result of an inspection regime that gave us and the Security Council confidence that it had been disarmed, I think it unlikely that we would find a casus belli." The hawks gnashed their teeth.

At the U.N. this week, the objections were the same as those in the Senate. The United States is telling the Security Council it wants disarmament, but France, Russia, and China can't get past America's talk of preemption and regime change. In an article in Le Monde on Monday, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin wrote, "France is not indulgent toward Iraq, but any action aiming for regime change would contradict the rules of international law."

To reassure the French, Bush has been curtailing public talk of toppling Saddam--"I'm willing to give peace a chance," he said for the first time on September 27--and stressing disarmament instead. At the U.N., U.S. diplomats are trying to triangulate off the administration's hawks. "They refer you to Powell's statement the other day saying President Bush has made no decision on military action and is willing to let diplomacy work," says one Security Council diplomat. "They acknowledge that there are hawks who don't like that, but they say that's in Washington, this is New York."

The other strategy is again to use the British, who don't advocate regime change. British diplomats stress that the one-resolution approach, which automatically triggers the use of force after any Iraqi violation, is the only way to avert war. They argue that Saddam may disarm if presented with the stark alternative of his regime's destruction. "The point of this resolution is not to bang the drums for war," says a British diplomat. "The 'all means necessary' language is not there because we want to use it, it's there because otherwise Saddam Hussein won't listen to the other part of the resolution."

But France, Russia, and China don't believe that Bush wants anything more than a predicate for war. So France remains adamant about its two-resolution approach, one that would toughen the inspections regime and the second to authorize force if Iraq fails to comply. "This initiative is the only way to ensure control at each step of the crisis," wrote de Villepin. That kind of control is exactly what some Bush officials wanted to avoid. "The bigger the role for the Security Council, the worse it is," says a senior administration official. "Once you get down in the weeds you never get out." Arguably, the Bush administration is in the weeds already.

Ryan Lizza is a senior editor at The New Republic

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By Ryan Lizza