President Bush's Monday night speech on Iraq was a forceful and persuasive explanation of why the United States must resolutely confront Iraq's "murderous tyrant." Like a skilled prosecutor summing up the case against a criminal, Bush reviewed Saddam Hussein's crimes, detailed why the United States must take action to stop them, and explained why American action must come sooner rather than later.
Bush noted that the fundamental problem in Iraq is the nature of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. Given its long record of using terrorism against its own people as well as its neighbors, the United States cannot afford to allow it to obtain the word's most dangerous weapons - particularly a nuclear weapon. Saddam's growing "arsenal of terror" and his proclivity for terrorism, including cooperation with Al Qaeda, means that "the threat from Iraq stands alone."
Bush rejected the false argument that a war with Iraq would distract the U.S. from the war against terrorism: "To the contrary, confronting Iraq is crucial to the war on terror." Because Iraq is one of the foremost state sponsors of terrorism, the President correctly has reasoned that any war against terrorism that leaves Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in power will be judged a failure.
Moreover, Iraq's decade-long contacts with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist group, including training terrorists in the use of bombs and chemical weapons, make Saddam's outlaw regime and bin Laden's terrorists "different faces of the same danger."
Iraq poses a much greater threat to U.S. national security than does Osama bin Laden. Its clandestine programs to build nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction have proceeded without outside interference since the 1998 expulsion of United Nations weapons inspectors. President Bush noted that if it can obtain the necessary fissile material, Iraq could have a nuclear weapon within a year.
And once Iraq has such a weapon, it could pass it on to its terrorist allies. This is one reason Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld repeatedly has said: "Time is not on our side."
To prevent Iraq from crossing the nuclear threshold and becoming an even more dangerous terrorist state, President Bush clearly has thrown down the gauntlet. Congress now must do its part and vote to approve a resolution supporting the use of force to disarm Iraq if Baghdad continues to violate its obligation to disarm itself, under the ceasefire agreement that ended the 1991 Gulf War.
Such a congressional vote would strengthen U.S. diplomacy at the United Nations Security Council, which is considering how to force Iraq to live up to its past agreements on destroying its weapons of mass destruction.
The Security Council, if it is to be effective, must adopt a tough new resolution that authorizes the use of force if Iraq fails to accept a stronger and more extensive inspections regime that can negate Iraqi deception and duplicity. President Bush made a strong case for allowing U.N. inspectors to interview Iraqis outside of Iraq, to minimize Saddam's ability to intimidate Iraqis knowledgeable about his prohibited weapons programs.
The previous U.N. inspection process failed to uproot Iraq's prohibited weapons programs in seven years of inspections between 1991 and 1998. There is no reason to believe that similar inspections now will be any different.
Bush's strong speech therefore has put additional pressure on the United Nations Security Council to realistically address the growing threat posed by Iraq. If the U.N. fails to devise an acceptable means of disarming Iraq, then Bush has warned that the United States will do so itself, with the help of a coalition of the willing.
James Phillipsis a Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.