Friday 13 September 2002

The mantra that means this time it's serious

by Robert Fisk

How small he looked in the high-backed chair. You had to sit in the auditorium of the UN General Assembly yesterday to realise that George Bush Jnr – threatening war in what was built as a house of peace – could appear such a little man. But then again Julius Caesar was a little man and so was Napoleon Bonaparte. So were other more modern, less mentionable world leaders. Come to think of it so was General Douglas MacArthur, who had his own axis of evil, which took him all the way to the Yalu river.

But yesterday, two-thirds of the way through his virtual declaration of war, there came a little, dangerous, telltale code, which suggested that President Bush really does intend to send his tanks across the Tigris river. "The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people,'' he said. In the press gallery, nobody stirred. Below us, not a diplomat shifted in his seat. The speech had already rambled on for 20 minutes but the speechwriters must have known what this meant when they cobbled it together.

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