It has become a rite of autumn: Every September, President Bush speaks to the United Nations here and receives polite applause -- then each entity spends the rest of the year thwarting and disparaging the other.
In September 2002, Bush began his effort to win U.N. backing for the use of force in Iraq, and the Security Council ultimately turned him down. In 2003, he came to New York seeking more international contributions of troops and money to Iraq but received little of either.
This year looks no more auspicious. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan last week set the tone when he said the U.S.-led Iraq war was "illegal" and that Iraqi elections scheduled for January might not be credible. And Bush's reelection campaign has been mocking the world body on a near daily basis, with Vice President Cheney saying often that the United States requires no "permission slip" to use its military and refusing to "outsource our national security" to Paris and Berlin.
As a result, supporters and opponents of Bush agree, the president has no hopes of a substantive breakthrough as he prepares to address the General Assembly on Tuesday morning.
"In essence, he believes the U.N. is an organization where the vast majority of members don't share America's values and want to use the U.N. to constrain America from what it must do," said Ivo H. Daalder, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution who worked in the Clinton administration's National Security Council. Daalder called Bush's appearance before the General Assembly purely "ritualistic."
The significance of Tuesday's speech, not surprisingly, is in the presidential election, just six weeks away. Bush will discuss a range of noncontroversial issues -- including funds to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, hunger and illiteracy -- and use the appearance here to debunk the accusation by Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry that Bush has been trigger-happy and acted alone.
"It's a great visual for domestic purposes," said Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan administration arms-control official who is close to many top Bush aides. "It undercuts Kerry's argument against Bush that he doesn't get along with other countries. They won't be booing him. They'll be politely applauding because they're well-mannered folks."
Adelman said Bush's appearance would also reassure Americans "that a second term is going to be less venturesome and traumatic than a first term," which brought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "The body language and the real message is the two wars in the first term aren't going to be followed by two wars in a second term."
Kerry, speaking in New York on Monday, sought to make the case that Bush has not won enough support for Iraq from the United Nations. Kerry said Bush should hold a "summit meeting" in New York this week and offer larger roles to countries that would contribute troops. "After insulting allies and shredding alliances, this president may not have the trust and confidence to bring others to our side in Iraq," Kerry said. "But we cannot hope to succeed unless we rebuild and lead strong alliances so that other nations share the burden with us."
By his own calculus, Bush should regard the United Nations as a lost cause. Before the Security Council failed to authorize force in Iraq in 2003, Bush said that "unless the United Nations shows some backbone and courage, it could render the Security Council irrelevant."
Bush does not call the organization irrelevant, but at a fundraiser here Monday night he implicitly scolded the United Nations, saying, "When an international body speaks, they must mean what they say."
At the GOP convention last month, the keynote speaker, Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), referring to a newspaper interview Kerry gave more than 30 years ago, said: "Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations. Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending."
Kerry has said the United States should act alone when necessary. But the political value of such accusations is clear. While most Americans believe the United Nations should have a role in peacekeeping, overwhelming majorities say the organization should not be able to veto the use of force.
Bush's speech on Tuesday is expected to deal lightly with Iraq, tying it to the more broadly supported war against terrorists. Instead, Bush will offer "proposals to expand prosperity and accelerate the march of freedom," as he put it during a radio address Saturday. "Never in the history of the United Nations have we faced so many opportunities to create a safer world by building a better world."