Bush steps up anti-Iraq rhetoric
President George W. Bush addressed the nation from Cinnicinati yesterday, calling for support of a possible war against Iraq and opening a week of debate in Congress over resolutions that would give the president power to call for military action in Iraq.
Bush dubbed Saddam Hussein a "murderous tyrant" but presented no significant new evidence of Iraqi transgression during his speech. And while he said war was not "immainent," Bush made it clear that he expects war.
"The Iraqi regime has the opportunity to avoid conflict, and America hopes the regime will make that choice. Unfortunately we have little reason to expect it," he said.
The president's speech garnered both praise and apprehension from Dartmouth experts on foreign affairs.
Religion professor Ronald M. Green -- who is organizing a debate next Monday on the subject of war with Iraq -- said that he was concerned that the current evidence about Iraq has not "justified such an urgent and overwhelming unilateral response."
But Ronald Edsforth, the coordinator of the war and peace studies program, said he believes that "if Iraq doesn't cooperate with the UN resolution for disarmament, military action would be justified."
Iraq -- among other nations posing threats to the United States -- should be an immediate target, Bush argued, because it harbors a wide variety of dangers that have compounded into a serious and immediate threat. He said Iraq has large stores of biological and chemical weapons and is developing unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to deliver them.
"By its past and present actions, by its technological capabilities, by the merciless nature of its regime, Iraq is unique," Bush said. He called for unobstructed access to Iraqi weapons sites for UN inspectors in order to achieve complete disarmament, but said he doubted this would be achieved with the current regime.
"Saddam is a homicidal dictator, who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction," Bush said, referring to the "nature of the regime" as the fundamental problem.
He alluded to Iraq's connections with terrorists groups as a central factor contributing to the urgency of the situation. "Iraq and Al Qaeda share a common enemy: the United States of America," Bush said, adding, "Alliances with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints."
Another question on the minds of members of Congress, UN leaders and the American people may have been, 'Why now?' Bush addressed this query, painting a picture of Iraq as an immediate threat to U.S. security.
Though conceding that it would be impossible to know exactly when Iraq will succeed in developing nuclear weapons, Bush said that it could be less than a year U.S. intelligence agencies, however, placed the timeframe around 2010 in a report issued on Friday.
"We cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud," he said.
Bush stressed that the United States would not hesitate to use military intervention. "The longer we wait, the stronger and bolder Saddam will become, so waiting is not an option," he said, adding that inaction would cause an unsure future.
Bush said that America would lead a coalition with allies in the event of military action. Currently, however, other members of the UN have not expressed supported for a war on Iraq. Bush's adamant declarations about America's unwillingness to wait implied to some that he would authorize military action in Iraq even without the support of the UN.
Ignoring the international community "is a very dangerous precedent to set," Green said. "I would personally urge the president to cool down and work strenuously with our allies in the UN to bring Iraq into conformity with UN resolutions, but not by threatening unilaterally."
Government Professor Samer Alatout agreed that the United States should not act without UN support. He noted that although the United States would win the war in the short term, long term implications could be detrimental, setting up an oppositional "us versus them" mentality.
"Going to war, we'll win of course, but what [the administration] is doing is showing their power, but they are not showing any kind of strength," he said, defining "strength" as the ability to have a longer vision of politics, involving dialogue and strong foreign relations.
The administration's willingness to go to war is the result of "a new political culture ... They have gotten the lesson from Sept. 11 that we have to be hawkish, always fight," Alatout said, predicting that Congress would vote in favor of granting Bush military authority.
But Edsforth predicted that the U.S. would gain UN support.
"If Iraq is trying to thwart UN efforts to disarm them, the UN will give the U.S. the authorization to use force, and we will have allies at that point that we don't have now," he said. "The war will be much more justifiable than it is now."
Green speculated that Bush may hope to put the Iraq situation on center stage, providing a distraction from other issues, such as the lagging economy or the situation in Afganistan.
Recent polls show that since September, the public's support of Bush's stance has declined from 57 percent to 53 percent. Although 54 percent of Americans think that Congress should maintain decision-making authority regarding military action in Iraq, 74 percent would support Bush if he decides to go to war.