London Calling: Trans-Atlantic Reaction to the President's Remarks
President Bush's speech on Monday evening reminded Europeans how different--and how much more advanced--the American debate is on what to do about Iraq. It confirmed, as if there was any need, that for "Team Bush" Iraq is the key strategic question of the moment. On the whole, it was a useful but not a great speech. Its main target audience was clearly domestic. By repeatedly highlighting the danger of Saddam's regime in vivid language, it aimed at shoring up support in Congress and among the American public for eventual military action. In this respect it may well have succeeded.
But it did not convince those Europeans who are skeptical about the rationale for a possible war against Baghdad. Because it did not contain any new arguments, it did not register high on the political Richter scale. Bush said that Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator. This is surely correct. But for Saddam to be a real threat to the West, Bush has to prove that Saddam is suicidal--not homicidal. (He knows that if he ever uses any of his weapons of mass destruction, he and his regime will be annihilated). Bush also invoked another possible justification for military action--what would the world do if Saddam hands some of his weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organizations? Hence the reference to the "nuclear mujahedeen". But this alleged connection between Saddam and Al-Qaeda has never stood up to careful scrutiny.(1)
There is a strong case for saying that the threat of force (and, eventually, perhaps the use of force) against Saddam may be justified. But it rests, as the Europeans have consistently argued, on Iraq's continued non-compliance with UN resolutions. Paradoxically, Bush may be undermining his case by using tough-sounding but imprecise and misleading rhetoric. This may play well back home--but it does not travel the Atlantic very well.
Steven Everts is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Reform (London).
President Bush's October 7 speech to the American public laying out the American position on the issue of Iraq took place within the following context: (1) UN weapon inspectors are poised to enter into Iraq at some time in the near future; (2) The United States is actively persuading the Security Council to pass a new resolution on Iraq drafted by the United States and sponsored by the United Kingdom; (3) The Congress of the United States is engaged in heated debate over the bill submitted by President Bush on the issue of Iraq; (4) Anti-war demonstrations are rising around the world including many American cities; and (5) a new round in the Palestine-Israel conflict has been set off.
Bush's intention is quite evident as he spoke at this juncture. First, he again wants to show American resolution to counter Iraq and "topple Saddam" as divergent voices are emerging in the international community on the issue of Iraq. Second, by underlining the threat posed by Iraq to the United States and the world, he wants to garner American public support and gain authorization from Congress to attack Iraq by military means. By this, he wants to demonstrate American unity and obtain legitimacy to take military action in the future. Third, he wants to put new pressure on Iraq, looking for the opportunity to use military force, but, at the same time, give himself some leeway if war appears unlikely as a viable option.
There is nothing new in President Bush's speech, especially in comparison with his previous speeches on Iraq. Nor does his speech provide any more convincing evidence on Iraq as a threat to the United States and the world at large. In sum, the rhetoric of "Saddam must disarm himself" and "I have asked the Congress to authorize the use of American military" does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable; however, it offers the Bush Administration more leeway to maneuver. In the period to come, the Bush Administration will continue to put pressure on Iraq, and at the same time seek support from the UN and the international community, and make a final decision according to the development of the situation.
Li Weijian is the Director of Department of Middle East Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.
After listening to President Bush's address, I believe it will have alarmed many people in Europe. There is no love lost between Europe and the Iraqi regime, of course, but Europe is currently very sensitive to the perceived "unilateralist" trend in Washington. This word "unilateralist" has almost become a cliché, I admit, but I did note some instances of it from the speech. Mr. Bush, for example, said, "I have asked Congress to authorize the use of America's military, if it proves necessary, to enforce UN Security Council demands." This will horrify people in Europe. Unfortunately, it is horror from a rather hypocritical perspective. Many policymakers in Europe are perfectly happy for the United States to be the world's policeman, but not to allow the United States to determine (by itself, alone) what it wishes to police.