March 18, 2003 | WebMemo on Middle East
"The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours."
President George Bush's persuasive March 17 speech has set the stage for the disarming and liberation of Iraq. Bush soberly warned that this course is not without risks, including an increased risk of terrorism against Americans, but noted: "We are acting now because the risks of inaction would be far greater. In one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over."
The president repeated a theme he first introduced in his historic West Point speech last June: the need to preempt hostile regimes that possess weapons of mass destruction and a history of inflicting terrorism. Last night Bush reiterated: "...responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide." Therefore, "Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety."
Few doubt that the world will be a safer place without Saddam Hussein, who aggressively has menaced the Middle East region, invading three countries (Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia); launched missiles at four others (Iran, Israel, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia); and supported terrorism against an unknown number of innocent civilians, both inside Iraq and elsewhere.
But although there is considerable agreement that Saddam's dictatorship is a threat that should be disarmed, there recently has been considerable disagreement on how best to accomplish that goal. Bush was frank about the dismal prospects for disarmament through inspections: "Peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime have failed again and again - because we are not dealing with peaceful men." The simple fact is that U.N. inspectors can not disarm what they can not find. Given the fact that the Iraqis successfully have hidden huge amounts of nerve gas, anthrax, and other assorted weapons from the inspectors for the last twelve years, no American leader could complacently assume that the inspectors could suddenly carry out their mission now despite continued Iraqi defiance and deception.
Bush's speech appears to have had a galvanizing effect on the American people. According to a Washington Post-ABC poll taken immediately after the speech, Americans have rallied strongly around President Bush and accepted his call for war with Iraq as the only realistic means of disarming and removing Saddam Hussein from power. Bush's call for war is supported by 71 percent of Americans according to the poll. Nearly two in three (64 percent) approve of the way that Bush is handling the confrontation with Iraq, up from 55 percent last week.
Bush's speech also was aimed at Iraqis. Bush told the Iraqi people: "If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you." Moreover, he forcefully urged members of the Iraqi military and intelligence services "do not fight for a dying regime that is not worth your own life." And to deter the use of chemical or biological weapons, he warned Saddam's subordinates that: "War crimes will be prosecuted. War criminals will be punished." If Bush's speech is as persuasive for Iraqis as it was for Americans, then many casualties can be avoided, on both sides, in the coming war.