WASHINGTON -- When Colin Powell goes to the United Nations today to make his case for war with Saddam, the U.N. plans to throw a blue cover over Picasso's antiwar masterpiece, "Guernica."
Too much of a mixed message, diplomats say. As final preparations for the secretary's presentation were being made last night, a U.N. spokesman explained, "Tomorrow it will be covered and we will put the Security Council flags in front of it."
Mr. Powell can't very well seduce the world into bombing Iraq surrounded on camera by shrieking and mutilated women, men, children, bulls and horses.
Reporters and cameras will stake out the secretary of state at the entrance of the U.N. Security Council, where the tapestry reproduction of "Guernica," contributed by Nelson Rockefeller, hangs.
The U.N. began covering the tapestry last week after getting nervous that Hans Blix's head would end up on TV next to a screaming horse head.
(Maybe the U.N. was inspired by John Ashcroft's throwing a blue cover over the "Spirit of Justice" statue last year, after her naked marble breast hovered over his head during a televised terrorism briefing.)
Nelson Rockefeller himself started the tradition of covering up art donated by Nelson Rockefeller when he sandblasted Diego Rivera's mural in the RCA Building in 1933 because it included a portrait of Lenin. (Rivera later took his revenge, reproducing the mural for display in Mexico City, but adding to it a portrait of John D. Rockefeller Jr. drinking a martini with a group of "painted ladies.")
There has been too much sandblasting in Washington lately.
After leading the charge for months that there were ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chastised the media yesterday for expecting dramatic, explicit evidence from Mr. Powell. "The fixation on a smoking gun is fascinating to me," he said impatiently, adding: "You all . . . have been watching `L.A. Law' or something too much."
The administration's argument for war has shifted in a dizzying Cubist cascade over the last months. Last summer, Bush officials warned that Saddam was close to building nuclear bombs. Now, with intelligence on aluminum tubes, once deemed proof of an Iraqi nuclear program, in dispute, the administration's emphasis has tacked back to germ and chemical weapons. With no proof that Saddam has given weapons to terrorists, another once-crucial part of the case for going to war, Mr. Rumsfeld and others now frame their casus belli prospectively: that we must get rid of Saddam because he will soon become the gulf's leading weapons supplier to terrorists.
Secretary Powell was huddling on the evidence in New York yesterday with the C.I.A. director, George Tenet. Mr. Tenet was there to make sure nothing too sensitive was revealed at the U.N., but mainly to lend credibility to Mr. Powell's brief, since there have been many reports that the intelligence agency has been skeptical about some of the Pentagon and White House claims on Iraq. It was Mr. Tenet who warned Congress in a letter last fall that there was only one circumstance in which the U.S. need worry about Iraq sharing weapons with terrorists: if Washington attacked Saddam.
When Mr. Bush wanted to sway opinion on Iraq before his State of the Union speech last week, he invited columnists to the White House. But he invited only conservative columnists, who went from gushing about the president to gushing more about the president.
The columnists did not use Mr. Bush's name, writing about him as "a senior administration official," even though the White House had announced the meeting in advance.
They quoted "the official" about the president's determination on war. That's just silly.
Calling in only like-minded journalists is like campaigning for a war only in the red states that Mr. Bush won in 2000, and not the blue states won by Al Gore.
When France and Germany acted skeptical, Mr. Rumsfeld simply booted them out of modern Europe, creating a pro-Bush red part of the European map (led by Poland, Italy and Britain) and the left-behind blue of "old Europe."
When the evidence is not black and white, the president must persuade everyone. There is no red and blue. There is just red, white and blue.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company