There was nothing particularly objectionable in UN Secretary General's speech to the General Assembly of the UN today, it struck all the right notes - the desirablity of the 'rule of law' being the soundest policy to adhere to in the conduct of international relations. He delivered what some are choosing to interpret as a 'rap on the knuckles' to various of those present and listening to him, and in particular to the US Administration led by President Bush. In reality his most stinging criticisms were directed at some other countries, notably the government of Sudan.
President Bush is being interpreted by some, in the light of his speech, which came a little after Annan's, as striking a 'conciliatory' tone.
My interpretation of today's event was somewhat different. First, I simply do not accept that the decision by the US, the UK and a number of other countries, to invade Iraq with the aim of removing Saddam Hussein, was 'illegal'. I am tired of repeating what I have written many times before - the justification was not the supposed presence of weapons of mass destruction, rather it was the wilful disobedience by Saddam Hussein in the face of numerous UN resolutions.
The notion of the 'rule of law', as espoused by Kofi Annan, is a noble one and, in an ideal world, is one that most of us would wish to live by. However, we do not live in an ideal world; we must deal with some people who may pay lip-service to notions of common decency and civilised behaviour. Saddam Hussein could, by no stretch of the imagination, be said to have even done that. The notion that a few more months of investigation by the UN weapons inspectors would have altered in any fundamental way the long-standing despotic rule of Saddam Hussein or his policy of wilful disregard of the will of the UN is, to put it mildly and with as much restraint as I can muster, not entirely certain.
The US and its coalition allies, which of course include the UK, have indeed made some errors, most notably what seems to have been an incomplete strategy for how to deal with Iraq once the removal of the pre-exisitng regime had been accomplished. But the decision to remove that regime was, and remains, a sound one. No one, not the French or the Germans or the Spanish under new leader Zapatero, and most certainly not Kofi Annan, will ever convince me that it was anything other than a marveloous and noble deed to rid Iraq of the rule of Saddam Hussein.
There are many areas where I take extreme objection to President Bush's policies, notably his continuing desire to pass the "Federal Marriage Amendment", or his continuing desire to outlaw stem cell research, and his (as I see it) pandering to the worst elements of far-right Christian bigotry, but removing Saddam Hussein from power, or the Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan, are completely different cases. In the long run I have little doubt that a world in which Anglo-Saxon, or American, notions of what democracy is all about, prevail, will be a much healthier place - and a world in which idealists such as Kofi Annan and (I hesitate to include them here because of their often-times pusillanimity) the French may safely follow in relative peace and tranqility their notions of democracy.
Bush's refusal to accept the false notion that non-western, and non-Christian, cultures are to be held to lesser standards than western and nominally Christian cultures is sound, just as it is patronising to assume that differences in culture can justify non-adherence to the highest democratic standards. It is always striking to me how it is some of the more despotic rulers on the planet who whine about 'interference' (Saddam Hussein, Kim il-Sung, Robert Mugabe, Mahathir Mohamed, etc etc) when it is only their repression, to varying degrees, of the genuine 'rule of law' in the countries where they represent supreme authority that allows them to remain in power. I'm afraid there is a line to be drawn when claims of this kind are in reality the most complete 'humbug'.
Today President Bush, in one of the better speeches I have heard him make, made the world take a reality check on what the 'rule of law' and 'democracy' are about - the advancement of freedom and prosperity across the whole world, without distinctions based on superficial factors such as race, religion or culture.