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JOE KLEIN: The Poker Player in Chief
Sun Mar 09 2003 09:07:47 ET

President George W. Bush has violated the rules "that govern the etiquette of complex international relations�the rules of diplomacy," writes TIME columnist Joe Klein.

"This is a breathtaking gamble, and the question arises: Is it witting or not? Is the Administration�s disdain for diplomatic precedent a strategy�a conscious effort to challenge the institutions and arrangements of the past 50 years�or merely a matter of presidential pique?"

"His challenge to the U.N. over Iraq�s intransigence is a good thing; it is what Bill Clinton should have done when Saddam Hussein thwarted inspections in 1998. And in the short run, Bush will have his way�in Iraq, certainly; rolling up al-Qaeda, probably; perhaps with Turkey and at the Security Council as well. But he has been extremely careless in the process, and there are bound to be consequences.

"The consequences in postwar Iraq are unknowable. The consequences in North Korea�the production and sale of plutonium, or a military effort to thwart such sales�could be cataclysmic. The transatlantic consequences may become more apparent after the war is over: the French, no doubt, have enjoyed their leading role in the current melodrama and may seek to make it permanent. They may attempt to organize a new alliance�a loose one, no doubt�to thwart American power. The portents are clear: it will be harder and harder for America to have its way, diplomatically, in the world."

Klein's column in Monday's TIME is headlined "The Poker Player in Chief." At his Thursday press conference, Klein writes, "A poker metaphor escaped from his Inner Cowboy. 'It�s time for people to show their cards,' he said, as if he actually enjoyed the prospect of a confrontation with France, Russia and the others. The tactic was unexpected; the belligerence, revealing. The President is ticked off, but he is confident, and he is calling France�s bluff. Win or lose in the Security Council, he will prove America�s power or the U.N.�s irrelevance."


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