On the Eve of War, a Stiff Drink at the U.N.

It was March 14, three days before “the last day of diplomacy at the U.N.,” and there were no drunken diplomats to be found at the U.N. Plaza Hotel bar on East 44th Street.

“Diplomats don’t hang out in bars,” said the bartender. “You wouldn’t be allowed to talk to them anyway.”

But then he suggested a place around the corner called Keats. It was like any other Irish bar on Second or Third (sports on TV, Springsteen and U2 on the jukebox), except that most of the patrons worked at the U.N.

The problem was, they didn’t want to talk about work. A female diplomat from South Africa laughed at the idea of an interview. Two beefy U.N. security guards looked at me funny before one said, “There’s nothing to say. Everyone’s waiting to see what happens Monday.” Another diplomat tucked his ID necklace into his shirt pocket real fast, pondered speaking anonymously, then consulted with the young woman he was dining with and said no way.

Then a waitress pointed out a regular who appeared to be working on his fifth or sixth beer. The man, who said he represented a country in South America, wouldn’t give his name. He, too, slipped his U.N. ID into his shirt pocket.

But he was happy to chat. He was wearing a pinstripe suit and a red tie. Not fat but well fed. His head looked like Napoleon’s a little. He said he was 48 and had been at the U.N. for two years.

“The United Nations is not going to do anything ,” he said. “It can’t ! It simply can’t, for the nature of the organization. When you have a group of countries which are so adamantly opposed or have such a fixed position on a subject, they just won’t compromise.”

The diplomat said that while his own country was “undecided,” he himself was “very centrist.” He said he admired George W. Bush and it was time for Saddam Hussein to “ante up.” He also blamed Israel for causing a lot of the mess.

“I do feel the United States has a just cause,” he continued. “I do. I think, overall, the U.S. is doing a great job in not only making people feel safe, but in showing the rest of the world that you cannot bow down to terrorism and sacrifice your life to live in fear.”

Still, the diplomat didn’t think the U.N. debate had been an exercise in futility. The U.N. was a forum for such disagreements, he said. But he admitted there was “a lot” of bullshit going on. He was disillusioned by the behavior of countries that, as he put it, “have a predisposition for a negative view against the United States and will always vote no.

” France , for example,” he said. But he didn’t feel comfortable naming the others.

“There are some countries that feel that the best way to maximize the amount of aid that they will get from the United States is to make the position tough so that the U.N. will come in and double it or triple it,” the diplomat said. “I won’t mention names. You know them; I know them. The countries that are putting their vote for sale. Africa. Latin America. Of course!

“It is cynical,” he continued. “Because you have to understand that we’re talking about the future of the world. We’re talking about the future of the U.N. as a whole, whether the U.N. is meaningful or not. The principles are plainly economic! That’s the thing.”

To escape the craziness of the U.N., he said, he goes to concerts at Carnegie Hall and Keats, but spends a lot of time just worrying.

“I fear about my family,” he said. “Can you imagine? The whole world is coming unglued. It’s ridiculous ! I feel afraid about the future of my daughters. For crying out loud! If the U.S. goes ahead and gets this guy and there’s an increase not in safety but in the level of attacks, what’s gonna happen in the world?”

How was he feeling about America?

“You know, America is a country that is the whole world condensed into one,” he said. “Because you cannot talk about a single ethnicity or a single country or a single anything. America is a combination of everything. America has the virtues and sins of the world. So, in a sense, America reflects all of us.”

The bartender leaned over the bar toward us. “C’mon, lighten up, please!” she said.

We ignored her. What was it about the French? I asked.

“They’re morons !” the diplomat howled. “They are apologists for a regime that is known throughout the world. I mean, their guy is rejecting a proposal even before Iraq does! This is ridiculous ! I think it is visceral envy against the United States.”

I went and got us some smokes. I asked the guy next to me at the bar for a light.

“Not until you stop talking to this asshole,” said the guy, who was not from the U.N.

The diplomat didn’t hear the insult and continued.

“Actually, I would like Mr. Saddam Hussein to come to the public, I think that would be the smartest move he will ever make,” he said. “Call CNN and say, ‘Listen, let’s give a mea culpa here. Let me admit in public that yes, I misled the international community, that we did wrong in invading Kuwait. We were wrong! I will admit my errors. I will pay for them, but my country will not. So we will admit U.N. peacekeepers. I will spare my country the plight of war, and the international community and the Arab community the needless pain of having an invasion from United States. I will disarm unconditionally!’”

And please don’t execute me now?

“On the contrary, he can say, ‘I will give myself up in the name of the Arab nation in order to bring justice to the Arab world and justice for Palestine.’”

The diplomat said that this will never happen, of course. But if he did ….

“His name will go down in history as the man that solved the Arab-Israeli conflict!” he said. “See what I mean? He’s gonna go anyway! His place in history will be best served by admitting what he did wrong-by preventing an invasion , by bringing a resolution of the thorniest problem in the world.”

But Hussein is like Hitler and Stalin, right?

“No, no, I don’t think you can confuse them. He may have some wrong in him, but he is not stupid.”

What about all the torture and atrocities?

“It happens. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,” the diplomat said. “Hussein can say, ‘Hey, I did this because I thought that was in the best interests of my country.’ Did anyone judge Stalin for the atrocities that he committed? Did history judge Stalin ?”

I let him continue. He was drinking pretty heavily.

“I think Hussein will go down as the savior if he just admits that he does wrong, admits to disarm. ‘You want democracy for Iraq, we will give democracy. I will step down!’”

He’d rather go down in a blaze of glory, I said.

“He’s not a reasonable man,” the diplomat said shaking my hand. “We’ve found a meeting of the minds. But the guy can save the entire world …. He will go down in history!”

Later on, after the diplomat got up to use the men’s room, the bartender came over and laughed.

“I knew if anyone wanted to talk to you, it was that guy,” she said.

-George Gurley

10 Best-Picture Predictions From 10 Guys Named Bob Anderson

Bob Anderson, Throgs Neck

” Chicago . It’s a good picture.”

Bob Anderson, Harlem

“I think Chicago will win. I can’t think of the others.”

Bob Anderson, Upper West Side

” The Hours , because I think it was a good movie. I liked it the best, and the story was well designed and the actresses are all the best.”

Bob Anderson, Upper East Side

” Gangs of New York . People are always talking about it.”

Bob Anderson, Rockaway Point

” Chicago . I think it’s a good film and it deserves it. I’ve seen three nominees, and it’s the best out of the three I saw.”

Bob Anderson, Flatbush

” Chicago . No particular reason.”

Bob Anderson, Macy Place, Bronx

” Chicago . It’s a good movie. It’s more detailed. It’s not so predictable.”

Bob Anderson, Kings Bridge, Bronx

“My money’s on Gangs of New York , even though I didn’t see it. I read the book a while ago and it had no plot, so if Scorsese could get a Best Picture nomination and get some money out of it, I’m all for it.”

Bob Anderson, Harlem

” Chicago . A couple of people that played in there I really liked, so I’d give them a chance.”

Bob Anderson, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

“I have no idea. I’m blind.”

-Alexandra Wolfe