Earlier today, I tried to watch the UN webcast... Boy, was the site busy! I kept losing my feed, but I did see a few things that were interesting that the AP article verifies.
Specifically, I thought I saw Colin Powell lose it and Jack Straw, Britain's Foreign Secretary, blink.
"A visibly exasperated Secretary of State Colin Powell, setting aside his prepared remarks, warned that the world should not be taken in by "tricks that are being played on us." But only Spain and Britain spoke up for the U.S. position in the 15-member council, and even Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw held out hope for a peaceful solution if Iraq dramatically accelerates its cooperation."
Exactly. Colin Powell was exasperated and even a bit shrill... you could sense the mood of the room shifting. And Jack Straw not only held out hope for a peaceful solution, he also started framing the situation as a success for the Blair government -- the credible threat of force was starting to pay off. In other words, Blair's government may already be planning their exit strategy, and if they do come up with a public statement supporting further inspections, they very well might leave Bush high and dry.
"The day belonged to French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, whose impassioned speech seeking more time for inspections elicited rare and loud applause from diplomats in the chamber. By contrast, ambassadors and dignitaries greeted Powell's remarks with silence."
I just watched Villepin's speech. It was not only very clear about the initial stated intent of the original resolution (which, incidentally, was designed by the French, not the U.S...), it also stressed the importance of acting through the UN with full support, giving inspections a chance either until they have succeeded or there is a mandate that inspections have reached a deadend and that war was necessary. At the end of his speech, he not only remembered the debt that France owes to "freedom fighters that came from America and elsewhere", but also touched upon why the UN was created in the first place, and its role as "a guardian of an ideal, a guardian of a conscience," to work together to make war unnecessary. "France believes in our ability to build together, a better world." Strong words of hope. No wonder he got all the applause.
France, together with Germany and Russia, are the start of a strong counterbalance to a UN that has been, for all intensive purposes, in US' pocket since the Korean war. What France has done in breaking from the US isn't only diplomatically brave, it is extremely important in establishing Europe as a major diplomatic force that can counterbalance the US and bring parity and even democracy to the world order. What we are witnessing are the first signs of a new power base and a clear move towards a more united Europe. Obviously, many of the smaller nations of Europe can sense the appeal, or they would have spoken up in the US' defence. Odds are, Blair and Britain can sense that appeal too. As much as they might fear isolation from the US, they probably fear isolation from the rest of Europe significantly more.
If the Blair government does pull out of the deal, the nightmare situation for the Bush administration would be that they would do so with *very* little warning... which may be exactly what they do. Think of this as an international game of hot potato. If Blair and Bush arrange to back down at the same time and give inspections additional time to work, it would help Bush save face, but it might not save the Blair government, which is in serious trouble. If, however, Blair either unilaterally states its intent to support continued inspections, or goes in on the deal with nations such as Australia or Italy, Bush will look like an isolated tyrant, and Blair will look like he just grew a spine. His popularity might even bounce back into positive territory again...
So the question remains -- what will Blair do?! The longer he delays before signaling his intention to allow inspections to continue, the more it will hurt him. If Italy, Australia, etc. support continued inspections first, it will also hurt him. Under what circumstances would Blair sell Bush's government down the river, and who's to say that Blair hasn't thought of this option the whole time? After all, what does a Labour prime minister owe a Republican president?
If Bush is left twisting in the wind, could he really retaliate against any one nation in particular, or will he be seen as diplomatically impotent -- maybe even a bit irrelevant?! There must be some pretty scared chickenhawks in Washington this evening...