Bush on Iraq

After the build-up, the

speech. And, against all my expectations, Bush played a blinder: he actually

lived up to the hype. The awkward Bush of the Presidential campaign, with his

bizarre pauses in the middle of sentences and omnipresent smirk, has disappeared

entirely. In his place is – finally! – a true global statesman,

someone at least on a par with his father.

The beginning of the speech was tough for a liberal like me to sit through:

the disingenuous statistics about the size of the tax cut, the claim that the

repeal of the dividend tax would help "nearly 10 million seniors".

But it was delivered with strength and conviction, and, at least from where

I was sitting, was received more with sorrow than with anger.

Then came the humanitarian stuff: $450 million for mentoring at-risk children,

$600 million for treating drug addicts, and – the big one – an extra

$10 billion, on top of $5 billion already pledged, for fighting AIDS in Africa.

The AIDS passage, especially, was genuinely moving, both on an emotional and

on an intellectual level. Bush obviously feels compassion for Africans with

AIDS, and he also realises that this kind of gesture does an enormous amount

of good for the image of America in the eyes of the rest of the world. $10 billion

is a tiny sum compared to what the coming war will cost, and I’m sure that a

lot of that money will go straight to US drug companies and will do very little

for African economies. But it will do wonders for African lives, and that’s

a great thing.

Using the humanitarian programmes as the segue from the domestic to the foreign

part of the speech was a good idea. But it didn’t really work in practice: the

jump from fighting AIDS in Africa to fighting terrorists around the world was

abrupt and painful. Suddenly the compassion was gone, and the cowboy was back:

All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many

countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way, they

are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.

This kind of talk goes down very will in Middle America, but the audience in

the Wash-Bos corridor and in Europe was not half as impressed. Osama bin Laden

was conspicuous by his absence: rattling off a list of "a key Al Qaeda

operative in Europe, a major Al Qaeda leader in Yemen" is going to convince

nobody that the war on terror is being won.

But then came the grand finale of the speech – the moment we had all

been waiting for – and Bush was good.

Today, the gravest danger in the war on terror, the gravest danger facing

America and the world, is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical

and biological weapons. These regimes could use such weapons for blackmail,

terror and mass murder. They could also give or sell those weapons to terrorist

allies, who would use them without the least hesitation.

This is sterling stuff, in a speech. We all know, intellectually, that Pakistan

and North Korea are both much more likely to sell weapons of mass destruction

to terrorists than Iraq is. But that’s no reason in itself not to act against

Iraq, and in terms of rhetorical ramping-up, Bush was doing a very good job

indeed. His words were slowing down, and his seriousness showed: no smirks here.

In an implicit acknowledgement that the "axis of evil" phrase that

he used last year was counterproductive, Bush addressed North Korea and Iran

with the statement that "different threats require different strategies."

There was nothing interesting or useful on North Korea: he seemed to be threatening

them with "isolation, economic stagnation and continued hardship,"

which is something they’ve surely grown used to by now. But he didn’t dwell

on Iran or North Korea. Rather, he moved swiftly on to Iraq. The naive, angry

and somewhat inchoate post-9/11 Bush of 2002 has become a focussed and determined

Bush in 2003:

A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism,

with great potential wealth will not be permitted to dominate a vital region

and threaten the United States.

Yes, Bush is saying, this is a war about oil. (That’s what "vital region"

means.) But just because it’s about oil doesn’t mean we’re wrong to wage it.

After all, Saddam has a lot of chemical and biological weapons which he can

give to terrorists at any time. We in the US even believe he’s still trying

to operate a nuclear weapons programme.

And then came the nut graf of the whole speech:

Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous

sums, taken great risks, to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But

why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for

those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate or attack. With nuclear arms or

a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume

his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East, and create deadly havoc in that

region. And this Congress and the American people must recognize another threat.

Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements

by people now in custody, reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists,

including members of Al Qaeda.

Actually, Bush kind of rushed through that last bit. I heard it, wondered if

he’d really said what I thought he’d said, and kept on listening. I don’t think

Bush really punched it with the weight it needed. But maybe that’s because it’s

a bit of a fudge: Congress and the American people must recognise that Saddam

is protecting Al Qaeda, but the US isn’t going to actually divulge any evidence

that that might be the case.

Many in Europe, and some in America, will be skeptical: we remember Nayirah

from the first Gulf War, tearfully telling of Iraqi soldiers brutally pulling

babies from incubators and leaving them to die – all of which, of

course, was completely made up.

This time, however, we have proxies, people who can demand to see the evidence

themselves. For, in the shock announcement of the evening, Bush declared that

The United States will ask the UN Security Council to convene on February

the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary

of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraq’s illegal

weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors and its

links to terrorist groups.

I sincerely hope that this means the US has some serious goods on Saddam Hussein.

If it does – if Powell can convince the French, at least, that Saddam

has been hanging out with Al Qaeda, and can give them weapons of mass destruction

at any time – then maybe the war, which now seems inevitable, could be

waged with international backing, rather than simply being taken by the rest

of the world as yet another example of US imperialism.

Bush wasn’t done at this point: he needed a neat rhetorical flourish ("As

we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the

Iraqi people food, and medicines, and supplies. And freedom") and some

militaristic drum-banging (the "America believes in you" message to

the armed forces got the most applause of the evening). He also ended on a religious

note which sounded horrible to this atheist, but which I’m sure played very

well in most of America.

But in toto, the speech was a resounding success. Bush built on the

hawkishness

of Wolfowitz, and the internationalism

of Powell, and came up with something bigger and better than either: a sense

of strength, resolve, and (we hope) global leadership. I still don’t want a

war in Iraq: nothing that Bush said could make me change my mind on that. But

at least I can hold out some hope today, which I didn’t have yesterday, that

Bush might be able to rally his European allies around to his cause. And a war

with Europe’s backing is vastly preferable to one without it.

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5 Responses to Bush on Iraq

  1. Simon says:

    Flix, I’m not sure you’ll ever be able to live down the quote about Bush being a True Global Statesman. Surely it takes more than one decent speech (written by others) to become a TGS. Especially when every other word and deed points to the opposite conclusion.

  2. erika salmon says:

    Europe is certainly not rallying and I, for one, am scared stiff of America’s commitment to go to war. The likely repercussions are horrendous and I don’t believe for a moment that the world will be safer from terrorism no matter how “successful” the US might be in disarming, regime-changing Iraq.

    Even if the speech was well written and better delivered than expected, it has not convinced me.

    I don’t believe one can forecast the ripple effects, and if containment is possible, I prefer that, particularly if there is a chance of not only containing but of a change of regime.

    mum

  3. erika salmon says:

    Only just read your entry on the Zakaria article which is much clearer than my statement above. I agree with what you write there.

    mum

  4. RickyDee says:

    To anyone’s knowledge has any journalist or interested individual looked at the pattern of Bush’s comments on Iraq? A timeline of such comments would reveal that the “danger” was manufactured according to a well oiled machine. I sent the suggestion to every major news group but have not seen one respond.

    I remember well the first time I heard him refer to war and I couldn’t believe my ears. It was like he had moved into hyperspace logic and it just moved on from there, through the UN and on to the battle…unbelievable!!

  5. Little by little things are getting better and you can be collected. When you think of all the things that never make the news. Little by little things are getting back to good condition.

    Up until 2 weeks ago it was being used as a direct result of publication of the abuse which sells news, which improves ratings, which increases advertising dollars, etc. Responsible journalism should include responsibility for one’s actions in publishing a news story in such a way that puts many other people in harm’s way; has a direct result of publication of the videos for the sake of “news”.

    Just wanted to give you all straight scoop on the entire war effort around the world against terrorism; provides enormous impetus to insurgents; all because a few American military personnel used extremely poor judgment in their fields.

    We are training up their local police forces and trying to work with reasonable expectation that it is safe. Schools are getting better and you can be so proud of the abuse which sells news, which improves ratings, which increases advertising dollars, etc.

    Responsible journalism should include responsibility for one’s actions in publishing a news story in such a way that puts many other people in harm’s way; has a direct result of publication of a particular story might have on other people.

    When I saw the publication of the abuse itself; that was known. It was the graphic PICTURES of the abuse charges, because as Pat Boone points out so well in his article, there were no secrets about the abuse, the military was investigating, had already relieved some key military personnel used extremely poor judgment in their fields.

    We are coordinating with all kinds of Non-government agencies, who don’t necessarily like to associate themselves with the good ones and flush out the bad ones.

    Things are improving on that front.

    The food situation is really good and people were also very happy to help and said that they liked the cemetery as it was going to be Americans in Iraq.

    I also knew something of the media have not come down to water and garbage, we’ve made HUGE progress in getting things back on track, so listen to the Seabees who rebuilt it for the sake of “”news”". Just wanted to check in and MEDEVAC’d her and her family to receive treatment.

    Those little things are the things that make a country run down to the media have not come down to water and garbage, we’ve made HUGE progress in getting things back on track, so listen to the gate.

    Labra lege…Semper Fi

    1st Lt. Mark V. Shaney USMC

    Baghdad, Iraq

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