Annotated Critique of President George W. Bush's March 17 Address Preparing the
Nation for War
to Alternative Reader Index
Note: Below is a transcript of President George W. Bush's address to the
nation on Monday, March 17, announcing his readiness to order a U.S. invasion of
Iraq followed by an analysis highlighting some of the lies and misleading
statements in the speech. Such an overview is necessary since the Democratic
Party leadership in Congress, which has pledged to support the president in the
event of war, declined to take their traditional opportunity to offer a formal
response. The Green Party, which opposes the war, was not given the opportunity
by the networks to respond.)
fellow citizens, events in Iraq have now reached the final days of decision. For
more than a decade, the United States and other nations have pursued patient and
honorable efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime without war."
is patently false.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton successfully pressured UNSCOM director Richard
Butler to withdraw inspectors without authorization from the Secretary General
or the Security Council--before their mission was complete--in order to engage
in a four-day heavy bombing campaign against Iraq. As predicted at the time,
this illegal use of military force--combined with revelations that the United
States had abused the inspections process for espionage purposes--resulted in
the Iraqi government barring the inspectors' return until a reorganized
inspections commission known as UNMOVIC commenced inspections last year. UNMOVIC
chairman Hans Blix and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan explicitly called upon
the United States and the international community to give the inspectors more
time to do their job, noting that it would take a number of months before their
mission could be completed.
regime pledged to reveal and destroy all its weapons of mass destruction as a
condition for ending the Persian Gulf War in 1991."
was presented with this demand as part of UN Security Council resolution 687,
which mandated Iraqi disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction and related
delivery systems. This was a unilateral decree from the Security Council
which--while nominally part of the ceasefire agreement--was void of any explicit
threat to continue prosecuting the war if Iraq did not agree to the
disarmament provisions. It is noteworthy that the demand for Iraqi disarmament
in the resolution was put forward within the context of a call for regional
disarmament. The United States has refused to encourage any regional disarmament
initiative, however, and remains a strong supporter of the Israeli and Pakistani
governments, which have advanced nuclear arsenals among other weapons of mass
then, the world has engaged in 12 years of diplomacy. We have passed more than a
dozen resolutions in the United Nations Security Council. We have sent hundreds
of weapons inspectors to oversee the disarmament of Iraq. Our good faith has not
been returned. The Iraqi regime has used diplomacy as a ploy to gain time and
advantage. It has uniformly defied Security Council resolutions demanding full
cooperation has indeed been less than total, but most independent reports--even
during UNSCOM's inspections regime between 1991 and 1998--conclude that
cooperation was close to 90%. According to UNMOVIC, Iraq's cooperation since
inspections resumed last year has been far better.
the years, UN weapon inspectors have been threatened by Iraqi officials,
electronically bugged, and systematically deceived."
was not an uncommon practice during the UNSCOM era,
but there have been no reports from UNMOVIC of such harassment subsequently.
efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime have failed again and again--because we are
not dealing with peaceful men."
efforts at disarming Iraq have succeeded in eliminating somewhere between 95%
and 100% of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
and related materiel and delivery systems as a result of UN Security Council
resolution 687 and subsequent resolutions. The determination to go to war
despite such success raises serious questions as to whether the United States is
governed by peaceful men.
gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime
continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever
the United States really has evidence that the Iraqi government continues to
possess and conceal weapons of mass destruction, why has the Bush
administration refused to make such evidence public or pass such intelligence on
to United Nations inspectors, who have the authority to destroy them?
regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq's neighbors and
against Iraq's people."
did use chemical weapons against Iranian troops and Kurdish civilians back in
the 1980s when Saddam Hussein's regime was being supported by the United States.
The Reagan administration covered up for the Halabja massacre and similar
attacks against Kurdish civilians by falsely claiming that it was the
Iranians--then the preferred enemy--who were responsible. In addition, the U.S.
Defense Intelligence Agency provided Iraq with U.S. satellite data to help
Saddam Hussein's forces locate Iranian troop concentrations in the full
knowledge that they were using chemical weapons. Many of the key components
of Iraq's chemical weapons program came from the United States, ostensibly
for pesticides as part of taxpayer-funded agricultural subsidies, despite
evidence that these U.S.-manufactured chemicals were probably being diverted for
use in illegal chemical weapons.
regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East."
is true, though Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980 was quietly supported by the
and ambivalent signals by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq immediately prior to the
Iraqi invasion of Kuwait may have emboldened Saddam Hussein to conquer the
sheikdom in 1990. Now, with Iraq's offensive military capability just a fraction
of what is was during that period and an unambiguous resolve by the
international community to thwart such future aggression, there is little chance
of Iraq invading another country again.
has a deep hatred of America and our friends."
willingly accepted U.S. support during the 1980s.
The more belligerent posture of recent years is largely a result of the U.S.
destruction of much of the country's military and civilian infrastructure in the
1991 Gulf War, which was supported by a number of other Middle Eastern states
with which Iraq had also once collaborated and been on friendly terms.
Subsequent U.S.-led sanctions, periodic bombing raids, and invasion threats have
resulted in widespread suffering of the population that has intensified
anti-American sentiment. Had the United States adopted a more enlightened
policy, such deep hatred would likely have not developed.
it has aided, trained, and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda."
independent investigation of every Bush administration claim of a connection
between the secular Iraqi government and the Islamist al Qaeda network has found
no evidence of any Iraqi aid, training, or harboring of al Qaeda terrorists.
According to both published U.S. government reports and independent analyses,
Iraq's support for international terrorism--which has always been restricted to
secular nationalists like the radical Palestinian Abu Nidal faction--peaked in
danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons,
obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated
ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our
country, or any other. The United States and other nations did nothing to
deserve or invite this threat. But we will do everything to defeat it. Instead
of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety. Before the
day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be
Bush administration has failed to present any evidence that Iraq has the
intention to pass on weapons of mass destruction to terrorists,
an act that would inevitably lead to a U.S.-led invasion, only in this case with
the support of the international community. This is the essence of deterrence,
which protected the United States and its allies from Josef Stalin, Mao Zedung,
and other leaders as tyrannical and far more powerful militarily than Saddam
Hussein. And no country has the right to invade another on some far-fetched
scenario that they might do something someday. Ironically, as the CIA has noted
in a report released this past October, Saddam Hussein would not likely use WMDs
as a first strike, but in the case of a U.S. invasion--with nothing to lose and
the logic of deterrence no longer in effect--would be far more likely to use
whatever WMDs he may possess. In other words, a U.S. invasion, rather than
preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction, would be the most likely--and
the only realistic--scenario that such horrible weapons would be utilized.
United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring
its own national security. That duty falls to me, as Commander-in-Chief, by the
oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep."
oath of office also demands that the president uphold and defend the
Constitution of the United States, which forbids such an illegal use of force. Virtually
no international legal authority recognizes such an invasion as an act of
assuring legitimate national security interests.
the threat to our country, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly last
year to support the use of force against Iraq."
U.S. Congress--with the support of both the Republican and Democratic
leadership--did authorize the use of force against Iraq. However, the resolution
violates Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution which does not allow
Congress to grant such open-ended warmaking authority to the president for an
offensive military action. Only a formal declaration of war in such a
situation can be considered legitimate. Furthermore, Article VI of the
Constitution declares that international treaties to which the United States is
a party are to be treated as supreme law, thereby proscribing Congress from
passing any resolution that violates the UN Charter, such as supporting an
invasion of a sovereign nation. As a result, this resolution is unconstitutional
and thereby invalid.
tried to work with the United Nations to address this threat because we wanted
to resolve the issue peacefully. We believe in the mission of the United
why is the United States violating the UN Charter, which forbids the use of
military force unless a country finds itself under armed attack or it is
explicitly authorized by the UN Security Council? The mission of the United
Nations is to preserve international peace and security, not to approve the
invasion of one country by another.
reason the UN was founded after the Second World War was to confront aggressive
dictators, actively and early, before they can attack the innocent and destroy
United States refused to confront Saddam Hussein active and early when he was
committing acts of aggression against Iranians and Kurds and opposed decisive
action by the United Nations. Iraq's ability to attack the innocent and
destroy the peace has already been reduced dramatically through a series of
actions by the United Nations, including authorizing the use of force to
remove Iraqi occupation forces from Kuwait, placing strict military sanctions
against the dictatorship, and overseeing the most aggressive unilateral
disarmament effort and inspections regime in history.
the case of Iraq, the Security Council did act, in the early 1990s. Under
Resolutions 678 and 687--both still in effect--the United States and our allies
are authorized to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. This
is not a question of authority, it is a question of will."
assertion that resolutions 678 and 687 give the United States the right to
invade Iraq is patently false.
Resolution 678 authorized the use of force to enforce prior UN Security Council
resolutions demanding that Iraq remove its occupation forces from Kuwait. Once
that was accomplished in late February 1991, the resolution became moot.
Resolution 687 called for Iraqi disarmament of weapons of mass destruction and
related delivery systems, but--even though it was the most detailed resolution
in the history of the United Nations--no enforcement mechanism was specified.
According to United Nations Charter, such resolutions can be enforced militarily
only if the Security Council as a whole recognizes that a country is in material
breach, determines that all non-military means have been exhausted, and
specifically authorizes the use of force. The Security Council has not done so
subsequent to the passage of resolution 678 in late November 1990.
September, I went to the UN General Assembly and urged the nations of the world
to unite and bring an end to this danger. On November 8th, the Security Council
unanimously passed Resolution 1441, finding Iraq in material breach of its
obligations, and vowing serious consequences if Iraq did not fully and
but it did not authorize the use of force.
Article 14 of that resolution specifically noted that the Security Council would
"remain seized of the matter," reiterating that only the Security
Council as a whole--not any one member state--has the power to determine whether
military force can be legitimately utilized to enforce its resolution.
no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed."
actually are some nations that believe that Iraq has disarmed under the
resolutions. Though this is not likely the case, the Bush administration has
been unable to present clear evidence to the contrary.
it will not disarm so long as Saddam Hussein holds power."
is sheer speculation. As a dictator who has proven his desire to ruthlessly
hold on to power at all costs, he very well could disarm to save his regime.
However, the Bush administration has made clear its intention to invade anyway,
thereby providing little incentive for Saddam Hussein to do so.
the last four-and-a-half months, the United States and our allies have worked
within the Security Council to enforce that Council's long-standing demands.
Yet, some permanent members of the Security Council have publicly announced they
will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq. These governments
share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it."
most Security Council members do not believe that Iraq is the imminent threat
that the United States claims it to be,
though, if convincing evidence were presented that Iraq indeed posed a threat to
international peace and security, a clear majority of the Security
Council--including France--have indicated their willingness to authorize the use
of force. A veto of the proposed U.S.-sponsored resolution by France, Russia,
and China would probably not have been necessary since the United States was
unable--despite enormous pressure, including promises of increased foreign aid,
trade preferences, and other incentives--to convince a simple majority of
nations on the Council that it was necessary to take the unprecedented step of
authorizing the United States to invade Iraq, overthrow the government, and
replace it with one more to its liking.
nations, however, do have the resolve and fortitude to act against this threat
to peace, and a broad coalition is now gathering to enforce the just demands of
is nothing close to the broad coalition such as that which joined the United
States in ridding Iraqi occupation forces from Kuwait in 1991, when Iraq clearly
did constitute a threat to peace. As of this writing, only one major power
(Great Britain) and two minor powers (Spain and Australia) have offered to send
troops. All three of these governments are doing so contrary to the
sentiments of the vast majority of their population and their combined
participation still leaves the United States contributing at least 85% of combat
forces. As columnist Maureen Dowd noted, since the Bush administration has
driven virtually everyone from the schoolyard, it now has to rely on imaginary
United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we
will rise to ours."
reality, the United Nations Security Council has gone to extraordinary efforts
to minimize any threat to peace from Iraq, including authorizing the use of
force in 1990 to enforce resolutions requiring an Iraqi withdrawal from occupied
Kuwait, the imposition of strict sanctions against Iraq, and the creation of an
inspections regime that has been largely--if not 100%--effective. By contrast, it
is not the responsibility of the United States or any country to invade a
sovereign nation when it feels like it.
recent days, some governments in the Middle East have been doing their part.
They have delivered public and private messages urging the dictator to leave
Iraq, so that disarmament can proceed peacefully. He has thus far refused. All
the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end. Saddam Hussein and
his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in
military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing. For their own safety,
all foreign nationals--including journalists and inspectors--should leave Iraq
Bush has no authorization to demand that United Nations inspectors or foreign
nationals leave Iraq. Nor does he have the right to demand that Saddam Hussein
and his sons leave their country. No Security Council resolutions require that
Saddam Hussein resign or that he and any other member of his family go into
exile. And neither the United States nor any other country has the right to
commence an invasion of another country at the time of its choosing.
Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message
for them. If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the
lawless men who rule your country and not against you."
is highly likely that a major U.S. military campaign--particularly one with such
a heavy reliance on air power and the determination to seize by force a capital
city of over five million people--will result in the deaths of thousands of
innocent Iraqi civilians.
our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver the food and medicine you
large part as a result of the U.S.-led sanctions, there are already severe
shortages of food and medicines in Iraq.
Strict and mostly equitable rationing have left few Iraqi families with more
than a couple of days' worth of food in storage. It is unlikely that the United
States will be able to supply most Iraqis with the food and medicine they need
in any timely manner.
will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq
that is prosperous and free. In a free Iraq, there will be no more wars of
aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions
of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms."
fact that the United States has supported scores of regimes--including a number
in the Middle East--that have tortured, raped, and murdered dissidents raises
serious questions as to whether the Bush administration really supports a free
The Bush administration's ongoing support of Moroccan occupation forces in
Western Sahara, Turkish occupation forces in northern Cyprus, and Israeli
occupation forces in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights raises
serious questions as to whether the United States is actually bothered by
countries that commit acts of aggression against neighbors. The United States
also supports a number of Middle Eastern countries that are believed to have
developed chemical weapons, similarly raising questions as to whether the Bush
administration is really worried about "poison factories."
tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near."
Iraqis would certainly welcome the end of Saddam Hussein's regime. But it is
highly questionable whether a Western nation that has already wrought enormous
suffering for the Iraqi people, invades the country, and installs one of its own
generals as a provisional military governor will be seen as an act of
liberation or a foreign occupation.
is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain in power. It is not too late for the
Iraqi military to act with honor and protect your country by permitting the
peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass
it is hard to imagine any national army--even under the most ruthless of
dictators--that would not resist a foreign invasion. Second, if the United
States knows where these alleged weapons of mass destruction are located, why
haven't U.S. government officials informed UNMOVIC inspectors, who have the
authority to destroy them?
forces will give Iraqi military units clear instructions on actions they can
take to avoid being attacked and destroyed. I urge every member of the Iraqi
military and intelligence services, if war comes, do not fight for a dying
regime that is not worth your own life. And all Iraqi military and civilian
personnel should listen carefully to this warning. In any conflict, your fate
will depend on your action. Do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that
belongs to the Iraqi people. Do not obey any command to use weapons of mass
destruction against anyone, including the Iraqi people. War crimes will be
prosecuted. War criminals will be punished. And it will be no defense to say,
"I was just following orders"."
United States has actively undermined and refused to participate in the
International Criminal Court, which was designed to try and punish war criminals
like Saddam Hussein. As a result, any such trials will likely be under the
tutelage of an occupying American army, which will be seen by the vast majority
of the international community as illegitimate. For a foreign occupation
army to try and punish leaders of an internationally recognized
government--however reprehensible they may be--is in itself a war crime and
would make these thugs martyrs in the eyes of much of the world.
Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every
measure has been taken to avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win
an illegitimate order by a foreign government to surrender power is not choosing
confrontation. And, clearly, the Bush administration has not taken
"every measure to avoid war."
understand the costs of conflict because we have paid them in the past. War has
no certainty, except the certainty of sacrifice. Yet, the only way to reduce the
harm and duration of war is to apply the full force and might of our military,
and we are prepared to do so. If Saddam Hussein attempts to cling to power, he
will remain a deadly foe until the end. In desperation, he and terrorists groups
might try to conduct terrorist operations against the American people and our
friends. These attacks are not inevitable. They are, however, possible."
why prosecute and unnecessary and illegal war?
this very fact underscores the reason we cannot live under the threat of
blackmail. The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the
moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed."
to the CIA and other estimates, Iraq has not engaged in any anti-American
terrorism since the alleged 1993 assassination attempt against former President
George Bush and has already dramatically reduced his support for international
terrorism since the 1980s, when the United States was supporting his government.
By contrast, most intelligence analyses predict an increase in the terrorist
threat to America and its allies should the United States invade Iraq.
government is on heightened watch against these dangers. Just as we are
preparing to ensure victory in Iraq, we are taking further actions to protect
our homeland. In recent days, American authorities have expelled from the
country certain individuals with ties to Iraqi intelligence services. Among
other measures, I have directed additional security of our airports, and
increased Coast Guard patrols of major seaports. The Department of Homeland
Security is working closely with the nation's governors to increase armed
security at critical facilities across America. Should enemies strike our
country, they would be attempting to shift our attention with panic and weaken
our morale with fear. In this, they would fail. No act of theirs can alter the
course or shake the resolve of this country. We are a peaceful people--yet we're
not a fragile people, and we will not be intimidated by thugs and killers. If
our enemies dare to strike us, they and all who have aided them, will face
chances of the United States being attacked will be greatly increased if the
U.S. attacks first. Indeed, if there was any logic behind the madness of 9/11,
it was Osama bin Laden's hope that the United States would react in such a way
that would only increase the popularity of anti-American extremists. History
has shown that the more the United States has militarized the Middle East, the
less secure we have become.
are now acting 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. With these capabilities, Saddam Hussein and his
terrorist allies could choose the moment of deadly conflict when they are
strongest. We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can
appear suddenly in our skies and cities."
has never threatened to attack the United States nor does it have the ability to
attack the United States.
That country became a formidable military threat back in the 1980s as a result
of support from industrialized nations like the U.S., Great Britain, France,
Germany, and Russia. With a strict military embargo imposed upon the country
since 1990, it will be extremely difficult for Iraq to become a military threat
to the United States or any other country.
cause of peace requires all free nations to recognize new and undeniable
realities. In the 20th century, some chose to appease murderous dictators, whose
threats were allowed to grow into genocide and global war. In this century, when
evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement
could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth."
analogy with Hitler's Germany and other Axis powers is spurious.
Germany was the most powerful industrialized country in the world in the 1930s.
Iraq, by contrast, is a poor, third-world country that has had most of its
military infrastructure destroyed and has been under the strictest military and
economic sanctions in world history. The current UN policy of inspections,
sanctions, and the threat of UN-sanctioned war if Iraq again threatens its
neighbors can hardly be considered "appeasement." None of the Axis
powers of the 1930s were ever subjected to such international pressure until
they had invaded and occupied dozens of nations in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Iraq has not invaded and occupied any countries since its six-month occupation
of Kuwait in 1990-91.
and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice, in formal
declarations--and responding to such enemies only after they have struck first
is not self-defense, it is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming
Saddam Hussein now."
President Bush is saying that a country has the right to invade and occupy
another country without any evidence that the targeted country has the
intention, willingness, or ability to strike first. This would give virtually
any country the right to invade any other. Most of Iraq's neighbors do not
consider Iraq to be a threat, either now or in the perceivable future.
we enforce the just demands of the world, we will also honor the deepest
commitments of our country."
the U.S. Constitution and international legal covenants to which the U.S.
government is legally bound is, in reality, a dishonor to the deepest
commitments of the United States.
Saddam Hussein, we believe the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human
liberty. And when the dictator has departed, they can set an example to all the
Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation."
the United States really believes the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of
human liberty, then why did the U.S. support Saddam Hussein during the height of
his terror? And why are the leading candidates the United States hopes to
install in Baghdad to replace the current dictatorship lacking anything remotely
resembling democratic credentials?
United States, with other countries, will work to advance liberty and peace in
why does the United States support dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman,
Kuwait, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and other autocratic regimes? And why does the
United States support Moroccan, Israeli, and Turkish occupation forces? Such
policies belie any claim of support for liberty and peace.
goal will not be achieved overnight, but it can come over time. The power and
appeal of human liberty is felt in every life and every land. And the greatest
power of freedom is to overcome hatred and violence, and turn the creative gifts
of men and women to the pursuits of peace."
unleash bombs and missiles on cities, to engage in war-mongering, and to lie to
the American people and the world in order to rationalize such an invasion is
itself a form of hatred and violence.
is the future we choose. Free nations have a duty to defend our people by
uniting against the violent. And tonight, as we have done before, America and
our allies accept that responsibility. Good night, and may God continue to bless
may God forgive President Bush and the congressional leaders of both parties who
are responsible for unleashing such horrific violence against the people of Iraq.
is an associate professor of politics and chair of the Peace & Justice
Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He is Middle East editor for
the Foreign Policy in Focus Project (online at www.fpif.org)
and author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism
(Common Courage: 2002), which can be ordered from FPIF at the Interhemispheric
Resource Center (IRC, online at www.irc-online.org).
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