Bush’s U.N. speech offered no new reasons to invade

UBy Sean Misko

uNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (U-WIRE) – In a rare moment of rhetorical strength, President George W. Bush delivered a strong message to the U.N. General Assembly and the world last week. Labeling Iraq’s continued pursuit and accumulation of weapons of mass destruction a threat to stability in the Gulf region, Bush called on the world, and specifically the U.N. Security Council, to hold Saddam Hussein accountable to the pledges that he made in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

But aside from his diplomatic gestures, Bush made it clear that war with Iraq remains the most likely resolution to dealing with Baghdad’s continued recalcitrance. Such a realization marks no shift in policy on Bush’s part. However, despite this grim reality, certain members of Congress and a majority of the American public have accepted the president’s U.N. speech as reason enough to declare war.

Despite Bush’s speech, the reality remains that a war with Iraq could be potentially costly in terms of American lives and U.S. prestige around the world. Supporters of a war, in their rush to battle, would be ill-advised to bypass discussion of the White House’s plans. Indeed, one speech at the United Nations is not a substitute for an intense public debate of the issues confronting Washington.

The president does deserve credit for speaking openly and honestly about Iraq’s flagrant violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions. In doing so, Bush not only brought moral clarity to the matter, he also raised serious questions regarding the future relevancy of the United Nations.

If the Security Council is to be taken seriously, its resolutions most certainly must be enforced, and Iraq must be made to comply with its previous agreements. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice framed this issue most effectively: “The United Nations must now determine whether or not it will become the League of Nations.” But by continuing to beat the drums of war, the United States risks possibly pushing the United Nations closer to irrelevancy.

While Bush called for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney made it clear in remarks two weeks ago he and the rest of the hawks in Washington believe a new round of weapons inspections will likely be ineffective.

To the Bush policy team, the important part of any proposed U.N. resolution will be authorization for nations to respond against Iraq if it fails to comply with the return of inspectors. Such wording would provide the political and legal support necessary for a pre-emptive attack by the United States

Bush, however, also made it clear that the United States will act even without a U.N. resolution. Basically, the president told the world body, “Do as I dictate, or you will become irrelevant.” Whether the Security Council will comply remains to be seen, but it’s a good bet that a resolution mentioning the use of force will likely not endorse Bush’s policy of regime change. It’s beyond wishful thinking to think the United Nation, an organization dedicated to preserving international norms, will officially endorse political assassination.

But even without U.N. authorization, there can be no doubt: Barring a successful round of weapons inspections, the United States will probably strike Iraq and remove Saddam from power. Since January, the Department of Defense has been transporting troops and equipment to the Gulf, and this summer, an expansion of an air base in Qatar was completed. Further confirming the White House’s decision to go to war is its request that, before Congress recesses, it pass a resolution authorizing the use of force against Saddam.

As Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., sarcastically pointed out after Bush’s speech, “If the president of the United States … has not made up his mind as to what option he would use, it is premature to come to Congress and tell us what we should be doing when he doesn’t know what he’s doing.” Clearly, the White House has chosen war, and it has done so while attempting to bypass the requisite public debate necessary for action.

As a result of the lack of public debate on the matter, the Americans don’t seem to understand the gravity of what Bush is proposing the United States do. Never in its history has the country launched a pre-emptive military attack against another nation. Bush hasn’t even proved that there is a clear and present danger of Iraq using its weapons of mass destruction.

If the United States is justified in attacking Iraq because the other country may one day use its weapons of mass of destruction, then the American people must ask why we aren’t planning to attack North Korea or Iran or any other state that could one day use its weapons. Indeed, attacking Iraq could set a dangerous precedent for future U.S. military action.

Beyond historical precedent, the American people must also ask what the consequences are. The United States has failed (so far) to capture Osama bin Laden. Who says the United States is likely to find Saddam? In the process of the war, he could attempt to launch his stash of chemical and biological weapons at advancing U.S. forces – or perhaps in an act of desperation and revenge – at Israel. In turn, Israel would likely enter the conflict, possibly launching a retaliatory strike with nuclear weapons.

While Iraqi forces may surrender in large numbers, they may also fight to the bitter end, engaging U.S. forces in urban settings. Based on war games staged this summer, U.S. forces would incur significant casualties if forced to engage in urban combat. Are these costs the American public is willing to accept? Without a public debate of the issues, Bush and Congress will never know.

Even after assuming there will be a swift victory and international support for U.S. military action, the question of what to do with Iraq after Saddam remains unanswered. Bush was recently brash enough to declare it wasn’t the United States’ responsibility to decide who would replace Saddam.

To simply believe the Iraqi people will wake up the morning after an invasion and instinctively embrace democracy is shortsighted. A long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq, in addition to international political and financial support, will be necessary to rebuild Iraq and establish a government.

Not outlining what that new Iraqi government will look like is bad policy and a pathetic strategy. As Afghanistan has shown, nation-building is not a task to be taken lightly. If the White House is so intent on going to war, it must first present to the world its plan for the day after the war is over.

The American people and Congress need to demand that the White House further outline and explain its strategy and rationale for an attack. Bush’s speech at the United Nations was a fine first step toward addressing the problems that Saddam’s obsession with weapons of mass destruction poses to peace and stability in the Gulf. But, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said, the speech “was not conclusive.” Congress and the American people shouldn’t treat it as such.