President Bush’s news conference tonight emphasized a few key points. They are as follows:
- Bush hasn’t made up his mind and “hopes” that this whole thing can get worked out peacefully;
- Exile for Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is explicitly an option (!), the first time the president has said this so firmly and publicly;
- Iraq and Sept. 11 are linked;
- This war is a choice of Saddam, not the United States;
- Disarmament must happen, and the only way to get it is via regime change;
- The conquest of Iraq will be the start of “trickle-down democracy” in the region.
Let’s look at these in more detail, shall we?
Bush is still undecided on war and hopes that this all we’ll all look back on this and have a good laugh about it
I don’t know what Bush hopes. No doubt he’s hoping this turns out well, and I don’t think he hopes for war, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t expect this to work out peacefully. Numerous times in the speech, he said that Saddam was flouting the will of the United Nations Security Council. “Great Britain, Spain and the United States have introduced a new resolution saying that Iraq has failed to meet the requirements of 1441,” Bush said. “Saddam Hussein is not disarming. That is a fact and it cannot be denied.”
In response to a question as to why, if allies of the United States have access to the same intelligence the U.S. does, are countries such as France and Germany so reluctant to back America, Bush again said he has no expectations of Saddam cooperating. “This is the last phase of diplomacy,” he said. “A little bit more time? Saddam Hussein has had 12 years to disarm. He is deceiving people. This is important for our fellow citizens to realize that if he really intended to disarm like the world has asked him to do, the world would know about it. He’s trying to buy time.”
So while Bush talks about hoping to find a peaceful solution, he fully expects and knows that there will be none forthcoming.
Exile for Saddam is definitely on the table
This might be the most significant comment of the evening, because while other administration officials have off-handedly mused that it might be nice if Saddam said, “To hell with this, I’m going to Morocco,” tonight was the first time the President of the United States offered it as an acceptable option. “That’d be fine with me, just so long as Iraq disarms after he’s exiled.”
That’s huge, because Arab countries have been looking for an exile solution but without any explicit support from the United States, they’ve been unwilling to go too far out on a limb to make serious offers to Saddam. I don’t think exile is a very viable option for Saddam, however, since he would be a target for score-settlers and he would lose his place in history — at least in his mind. Still, it’s significant that Bush put that card on the table. And with his innumerable references to his hopes to find a peaceful solution, he’s practically daring the Iraqi leader to turn it down. I think Saddam will.
Iraq and Sept. 11 are linked
This was one of the sneakier aspects of the news conference. Bush attempted many times in the opening statements and the responses to reporters’ questions to tie Iraq to Sept. 11, not through logical or evidential ties, but by using the rhetorical trick to mention the two in the same sentence, strongly implying that Iraq was behind 9/11 but not actually coming out and saying it. For instance:
Saddam Hussein is a threat to our nation. Sept. 11 changed the strategic thinking, at least as far as I was concerned, for how to protect our country. My job is to protect the American people. Used to be, we thought you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his kind of terror. Sept. 11 should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization could be deployed here at home. So therefore, i think the threat is real, and so do a lot of other people in my government.
Notice how he moves from “Saddam is a threat” to “Sept. 11 …” And also, “We thought you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his kind of terror.” Then he follows it up with, “Sept. 11 should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.”
Notice that Bush just said that the attacks on Sept. 11 were “his kind of terror,” which is demonstrably not true. It is true that America is a now a battlefield, but regarding al Qa’ida, not Iraq. Bush’s false tying is a sneaky trick to try to pull, and I hope people see through it.
It’s Saddam’s fault!
Bush also said, “If war is upon us because Saddam Hussein has made that choice…” So Saddam is calling the shots now? Bush is trying to say that all Saddam has to do is disarm, but he is not adding, “and we’ll go home.” Bush has not given any signal that Saddam’s disarmament is enough to avert war, and in fact, Ari Fleischer said that disarmament and regime change were the only way to avoid war.
Q Ari, two questions on Iraq. In response to an earlier question, you said the President still hopes to avoid war, and that Saddam Hussein could avoid it by completely and totally disarming, and by going into exile. I’m wondering, are you — is that now the standard? Previously, you’ve obviously said disarmament. But is it now the combination of disarmament and exile?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President made it perfectly plain yesterday in the Oval Office and he has said this repeatedly, it’s disarmament and regime change.
Q So even though the United Nations would sign on to the first part of that, and not to the second, when the President thinks about launching military action, he’s going to think about the combination?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made that plain.
This is actually shameful. It’s one thing to say we were attacked and so we had war thrust upon us, which I believe happened regarding al Qa’ida. But it’s quite another to say, “Hm, there’s a bit of unfinished business in the desert over there. You! do what we say or else we’ll invade. No? Ah, now you’ve made us do something we don’t want to do…”
Make no mistake, this is a war of choice, and it’s not one that Saddam Hussein chose. This is a choice by the United States government; the very words used so often by the White House — “preventive” — show that. If he believes so strongly that this mission is just, say so. Don’t try to shift the responsibility from the shoulders of the United States by implying that Iraq provoked America.
Iraq must be disarmed; therefore, invasion and regime change are the only options
Are they? From 1991-1998, inspectors, with only nominal cooperation from Baghdad, managed to destroy more WMD and their production facilities than the military campaign of Desert Storm did. This, obviously, is the crux of the dispute between the U.K., the U.S., and, well, basically everyone else — but especially France, Germany, Russia and China. Inspections worked in the past. They did. Why won’t they work now? Hawks have never given a satisfactory answer to this, instead saying inspectors aren’t detectives — they’re more like auditors. They require full cooperation, otherwise they are Saddam’s “useful idiots.” Well, who says? Why can’t inspectors be detectives? Who’s to say a strengthened inspection regime backed up by U.N. troops and targeted air strikes on suspected sites if the Iraqis don’t play ball wouldn’t accomplish disarmament without a massive invasion and huge loss of life? George over at Warblogging a while back made a good case for a treating Iraq like a hostile witness and using a strong inspection regime that can be summarized as follows (I’d link to the article, but I can’t find the exact one I want. Sorry, George!):
- UN inspectors select site for inspection.
- Inspectors dispatch Predator UAVs to watch site for any movement, particularly the ingress or egress of people or material.
- Inspectors call Iraqi liaison to inspections team and notify them that any movement in or out of the selected site will constitute noncompliance. Noncompliance will result in punitive military action (i.e. destruction of three presidential palaces) and a report of noncompliance to the United Nations Security Council.
- Inspectors lift off in helicopters from an air base within an hour?s flight time of the site to be inspected.
- Inspectors inspect every inch of the site they’re interested in. Any non-cooperative Iraqi personnel are immediately arrested and shipped out of the country for interrogation, and punitive military action is taken in response. If necessary military forces descend on site and open any “locked” doors and such.
Some other key points of strong inspections include:
- At all times at least one American Marine Expeditionary Force and carrier battle group are stationed around Iraq in order to take proper punitive military action against Iraq in the case of non-compliance
- The Security Council meets biweekly to assess Iraqi compliance and decide whether compliance merits the lifting of some sanctions provisions or punitive military action. The Council can, at any time, decide to authorize the invasion and occupation of Iraq — and the United States will carry out such a sentence.
Many war supporters like to frame the only options available are “doing nothing” and going to war. “The risk of doing nothing, the risk of hoping that Saddam Hussein changes his mind and becomes a gentle soul, the risk that somehow inaction will make the world safer, is a risk I’m not willing to take for the American people,” said Bush.
George’s ideas, as well as proposals floated by France, Germany and most recently Canada, shows that “nothing” and war is a false choice.
Bush has started to speak in positively Wilsonian terms lately, of spreading peace and democracy to the Middle East. That would be lovely, if only it were true.
I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat — is a threat to the American people. He’s a threat to people in his neighborhood. He’s also a threat to the Iraqi people.
One of the things we love in America is freedom. If I may, I’d like to remind you what I said at the State of the Union: Liberty is not America’s gift to the world; it is God’s gift to each and every person. And that’s what I believe.
I believe that when we see totalitarianism, that we must deal with it. We don’t have to do it always militarily.
But this is a unique circumstance because of 12 years of denial and defiance, because of terrorist connections, because of past history.
I’m convinced that a liberated Iraq will be important for that troubled part of the world. The Iraqi people are plenty capable of governing themselves. Iraq’s a sophisticated society. Iraq’s got money. Iraq will provide a place where people can see that the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds can get along in a federation. Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change — positive change.
So there’s a lot more at stake than just American security and the security of people close by Saddam Hussein. Freedom is at stake, as well. And I take that very seriously.
If only he did take it seriously. America’s track record ain’t good. Afghanistan, with the exception of Kabul, is still made up of fiefdoms ruled by gangsters, Taliban holdouts and warlords. It’s arguably in worse shape than it was a year ago, what with opium again being one of its biggest crops and a spring offensive by al Qa’ida and the Taliban in the works. U.S. troops are engaged in the heaviest fighting since Operation Anaconda. That war isn’t finished and Bush is ready to start another one.
In a quick run-down, South Korea was a military dictatorship for decades after the Korean War. We kicked out a democratically elected leader in Chile in 1973 ushering in Pinochet. The Shah of Iran ran a wicked police state from the time the CIA installed him in 1954 until his overthrow by the Iranian revolution of 1979. Noriega was our strongman in Panama until we grew tired of his drug running. The list could be a lot longer.
However, there have been successful democractic interventions. Bosnia and Kosovo come to mind, fragile democracies though they are. But there is a strong multinational coalition running the show in both cases, something that it doesn’t look like the United States is going to get in Iraq. And anyway, democracy, powdered wigs and all, doesn’t jibe with the United States’ interests in Iraq.
All in all, I will give Bush this: He was measured, somber and didn’t flub up much. The only time the frat-boy glibness showed up was when discussed the massive protests of Feb. 15. “I’ve seen all kinds of protests since i’ve been the president,” he said and then shrugged. “I recognize there are people who don’t like war. I don’t like war.” He might as well have added, “Whatever.” Honestly, this was one of his better performance. I suspect tonight will go a long way toward convincing some fence-sitters in America that this is the route to take, and I’ll go out on a limb and predict a 5-7 point shift in favor of war in the next few days. Millions of Americans can’t be wrong can they?
Unfortunately, yes, they can.