President Bush began his remarks on October 7 by saying, "Tonight I want to take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat to peace, and America's determination to lead the world in confronting that threat." This speech, however, was targeted primarily at an American audience and revealed quite nothing principally new, either about the Iraqi regime in general or Saddam Hussein personally.
What is interesting about Mr. Bush's position--most of all for his potential coalition partners--is his resolute determination (despite all the accusations of acting without advise and consent on the international arena as the only superpower) to secure a kind of a broad international coalition. Despite all the accusations that have been levied against him and his administration, of acting without the "advice and consent" of other states in the international arena, the President is anxious to marshal diplomatic support for his case against Saddam. The President does not wish to appear to be acting "unilaterally"; in his speech, he declared, "Many nations are joining us in insisting that Saddam Hussein's regime be held accountable. They are committed to defending the international security that protects the lives of both our citizens and theirs. And that's why America is challenging all nations to take the resolutions of the UN Security Council seriously." At minimum, Mr. Bush seeks to convince other partners to remain neutral in any clash between the United States and Iraq. After all, under current conditions, staying neutral is tantamount to reluctantly adhering to the American position.
I believe that Mr. Bush, so far, has been successful in mastering that type of international coalition--one that passively acquiesces to American action. However, this is not due to his propagandistic efforts. The speech revealed no new facts about Saddam Hussein's weapons program that were previously unknown to the international community (these programs are in fact no secret despite even the absence of clear UN-proven evidence). Instead, this coalition has formed due to the growing understanding around the world that there is probably no other way to preserve the existing international order other than to allow the only superpower (which is also the world's most powerful economic driving force) to strike against those "badly-behaving regimes" who don't find it acceptable to obey the "commonly-accepted" rules of international behavior.
What Mr. Bush is doing now is trying to use a military action to compensate for the lack of any new principles governing international affairs, principles that have become badly needed since 9/11 in order to address--and reassess--new international realities. Unfortunately, real dialogue about the contours of a new international order has not yet even begun, and the doctrines have yet to be drafted, whether in the halls of the United Nations, the summits of the G-8, or even in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Russia.
Georgy Bovt is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Russian newspaper Izvestia.
A Smoke Screen on the Ohio?
Most Europeans have made up their mind about George W. Bush and his intentions regarding Iraq. The President wants to go to war; most of his advisers want a war; and the majority of the American public will willingly acquiesce to this--even if only out of patriotic duty.
Once again, the Europeans might be proven wrong. Even though President Bush's address in Cincinnati, Ohio, was intended mainly for domestic consumption--designed to beef up public opinion in favor of war in the wake of the congressional vote and the looming midterm elections--there is a lot to draw from his words. Take the part where the President told the world that disarmament of Iraq would amount to "regime change." What a nice, if backhanded, way to admit that tough inspections could do the work: If Saddam Hussein disarms, then his regime will be changed and Washington would have achieved its goals without firing a single shot.
The President desires international approval; he has decided that he cannot go it alone. American voters wouldn't appreciate that at all. For this he needs a coalition. The speech in Ohio helped by laying down the smoke screen behind which the mechanism of bringing Iraq down to her knees can be hammered out. As Bush rightly said: He hasn't decided on going to war--yet.
Forget about Congress, forget about the panicky Democrats desperately trying to get out of the patriotism trap. "Showtime" won't be this week when all of Washington watches the formal debates and voting on the Hill. The fate of Iraq and the probability that there will be war will be decided within the next ten days or so behind closed doors--ironically enough for those assumingly unilateral "Bushies"--at the United Nations.
Stefan Kornelius is the editorial page editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung.
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).
Bush's Speech on Iraq: A Chinese Scholar's View
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.