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Robert G. Kaiser
Robert G. Kaiser
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Instant Analysis:
President Bush's Speech

With Robert G. Kaiser
Washington Post Associate Editor

Monday, March 17, 2003; 8:15 p.m. ET

President Bush is scheduled to talk to the American people Monday night about military action in Iraq. The White House said that all diplomatic efforts had been exhausted and failed. War against Saddam Hussein appears imminent.

Did the president lay out his case? What will happen next? Washington Post Associate Editor Robert G. Kaiser was online immediately following Bush's speech for Instant Analysis of the address and the road ahead.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Robert G. Kaiser: Good evening, and welcome to a discussion of President Bush's speech to the nation, and the world, tonight. I will answer as many questions as I can over the next hour or so, and post as many comments from all of you as I can too.

Washington, D.C.: How likely is it that Saddam Hussein will consent to exile?

Robert G. Kaiser: I am not going to pretend I have the slightest ability to read Saddam's mind. This is a moment he must have thought about many times over the years. Now he faces it. I have been intrigued for months by the obvious fact that there are hundreds of guys with mustaches shaving in Baghdad every morning, and Saddam and his sons are only three of them, who have to be thinking, every morning, if the Americans come, I am done for. How does that thought go down for all of them? Are they comfortable with it? Are they willing to die for Saddam? Will he or any of them DO anything now that Bush has, indeed, put down the gauntlet? I have no idea, but I will get up early tomorrow to find out what has happened overnight.

Atlanta, Ga.: President Bush completely avoided talking about mideast allies which are dictatorships while mentioning about the prospects of a "democratic Iraq." Why?

Robert G. Kaiser: What do you want him to say -- hey Hosni, Egypt is next? No, I don't think so. What were you hoping for, exactly?

Melbourne, Australia: If Resolution 1441 allowed for the use of force, why has so much time been spent on getting a new resolution?

Why not act earlier?

Robert G. Kaiser: I've already got a lot of questions about international law, which is a hazy subject on many points. I always read 1441 as ambiguous on purpose, to win the 15 votes that did support it. On the other hand, the French tried and failed, when it was passed, to win approval of the idea that there had to be a second resolution before a war. That idea was considered and rejected. So that leaves room for the administration's interpretation that they have some sort of authority.

But we all know the facts: only a handful of governments agree with Bush that a war is necessary NOW. He may claim ambiguous legal authority, but he cannot claim international political authority. I was struck tonight when he said there would be a "broad" coalition fighting against Iraq. I don't think that's so.

The failure to act earlier was a reflection of the complex politics that we all know about, and especially the desire of Bush's key ally, Tony Blair, for a more deliberate course of action before war was declared.

Leesburg, Va.: Is it reasonable to assume that any of the Iraqi forces will ever hear the president's request to not resist the Allied forces and to not damage the infrastructure/oil wells?

Robert G. Kaiser: According to stories in The Post as recently as today, Iraqis are hearing the many new radio signals being beamed at them by the U.S. I suspect the word will get around in the next 48 hours. But I'm guessing.

Alexandria, Va.: Given the long build-up to this point, was there anything in the president's message that surprised you?

Robert G. Kaiser: No.

Boulder, Colo.: Why have people accepted that the U.S. was being diplomatic about Iraq for the past months, when the Bush administration had no other objective than to make war and bring along as much diplomacy as they can?

The administration has failed to estimate the political standings of other countries, like France and Russia, is it as likely for the administration to underestimate the resistance of Iraqi soldiers to U.S. troops?

Robert G. Kaiser: Your first question is really a comment. Your second is intriguing. How good is our intelligence about Iraq? We're about to find out.

washingtonpost.com: U.S. Lacks Specifics on Banned Arms (Post, March 16, 2003)

Morehead City, N.C.: Do you think any of this would be taking place now if it were not for Bush's father's failure to get rid of Hussein?

Robert G. Kaiser: Did Bush I "fail" to get rid of Saddam? He says not, and I think not. He decided not to get rid of Saddam, for reasons he has defended as recently as two weeks ago.

I think you are implying an explanation of these events that seems radically oversimplified to me.

San Francisco, Calif.: Do you think that there is much chance of multi-national cooperative aid in re-building Iraq after the war itself is over? Or is it likely that their refusal to fight will also become refusal to rebuild?

Robert G. Kaiser: This is a good and important question, and I think the answer will depend in considerable measure on what the war is like. If it is quick, successful, causes relatively few civilian casualties, and produces evidence that Saddam was indeed hiding vast stocks of chemical and biological weapons, then I expect a lot of countries to jump eagerly to get behind the U.S. and help with the rebuilding. But if the war goes badly, and the post-war is messy, we will be lonelier, I think.

Bethesda, Md.: What kind of a spanner can the U.N., or democratic countries opposing the war, throw in the way of U,S, plans to invade Iraq? And what impact, if any would that have on the immediate, and long term, task at hand?

Robert G. Kaiser: Literally, I can't answer the question of what others CAN do. But I'm confident in saying I don't think they WILL do much now to try to stop a war. And I could be wrong, of course.

San Francisco, Calif.: President Bush's signing off with "May God continue to bless America" scares me. It's as if his speech writers are trying to convince the public that the U.S. is a land with special dispensation from the Almighty. It's not a request so much as an order. President Bush did something similar in response to the loss of the Space Shuttle. Here's my question: Aren't a majority of Americans uncomfortable with being addressed by a president who sounds like a lay preacher? We are so diverse in our varieties of religion or lack thereof.

Robert G. Kaiser: I can't answer for "a majority of Americans," but I can point out that Ronald Reagan began using that line at the end of speeches more than 20 years ago, and every president since has used it regularly. Of course we are a diverse country, but ever since the Declaration of Independence, our leaders have been referring to the creator, God, and such very regularly.

Glendale, Ariz.: If Saddam Hussein and his sons were to leave in Iraq as the United States has demanded, where would they go? Are there any countries that would be willing to accept them as exiles?

Robert G. Kaiser: Club Med? I don't know. I suspect the Saudis would have them, as they still have Idi Amin of Uganda. The Russians might too. But I will be surprised if they go anywhere at all.

Chicago, Ill.: Our president and Anthony Blair have shown extraordinary courage and resolve to rid the world of a vicious murderer at the expense of their own political careers. How dare Daschle say that our president failed at diplomacy? He and Blair have gone the extra mile.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for your comment. Daschle is far from alone in saying the administration's diplomacy has been unsuccessful. I have personally heard this assessment from dozens of past officials in Washington, both Republicans and Democrats. I don't think it's likely that history will record this episode as a diplomatic success for Bush and Blair.

Friday Harbor, Wash.: Do you believe the American public will accept the explanation given by the president that the reason for not pursuing the second resolution was solely based on the promised veto of the French? Or will they believe that the majority of the council would have voted no?

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't know, but you have the facts right. The administration failed to get even one of the six "undecided" security council members to express support for anything like the resolution the British were proposing. And this includes Mexico. Personally I have found it fascinating that so many close American allies resisted Bush on this issue.

Tulsa, Okla.: Do you believe France and other nations against the war will attempt to humiliate the U.S. by passing a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the U.S. policy or by other means?

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't expect that.

Walpole, N.H.: How can The Post justify its support of a foreign policy which can only be described as "my way or the highway," in which everybody (i.e., the U.N.) but us is out of step, in which world opinion be damned, and in which the most preposterous assertion that Iraq, a third-rate power, is a direct threat to the security of the U.S. is made, apparently, with a straight face?

Robert G. Kaiser: I am happy to take this opportunity to repeat, once more, with feeling, that my colleagues and I in the news department of The Post have nothing, zero, nada to do with editorial policy of the paper. Nor do we pay attention to the editorial positions that are taken by Fred Hiatt, editor of the editorial page, and his colleagues, a staff of about 8-10 editorial writers who constitute, with Don Graham, our owner, the editorial board.

Their editorials do not affect the news coverage of The Washington Post, and I would not dream of trying to answer a question like this about their decisions and preferences.

Hartford, Conn.: Once American troops enter, and finally occupy Baghdad, how can the American people be certain our government is truthful in reporting the amount of weapons of mass destruction that is found?

Robert G. Kaiser: We're hopeful that there will be good American journalists on the scene to verify or challenge any claims made.

Bloomington, Ind.: If the U.S. is successful in ending Saddam's reign, will it mean a garrison of Iraq by the U.S. and if so, for how long?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes it will. Duration is unpredictable. I'm confident it will be a year or more, and it could be a lot more.

Morgantown, W.Va.: Does the resignation of Robin Cook (head of Commons for Blair) have any effect on the coalition? What will happen if the Labor Government fails?

Robert G. Kaiser: The Labor Government in Britain will not fall, because it has a huge majority, and because the opposition Tories will support Blair on the Iraq issue.

Nevertheless, I suspect Cook's resignation is a powerful symbol in Britain of the fact that Blair is a lonely figure in his own party on Iraq. His cabinet, with perhaps one more exception, has remained loyal, but the Labor Party broadly is unhappy, as are the British people. British opinion is very similar to the public opinion right across Europe, from Portugal and Ireland to Bulgaria and Romania. Most Europeans oppose a war now on the terms Bush pursues one.

And this is politically significant, even if we cannot today foresee just how.

And if the war is quick and easy and produces a lot of terrifying weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the situation will change quickly, and radically.

Austin, Tex.: How can Tom Daschle speak from both sides and criticize Bush's diplomacy and yet say he'll support our military? Doesn't this hurt the Democratic Party?

Robert G. Kaiser: Cannot answer your question, but thanks for the comment.

Lund, Sweden: What do you think the long term consequences are going to be in the U.S.-European relationship?

Even if an Iraq war meets President Bush's objectives and introduces democracy into Iraq, public opinion here seems so violently against him that there would have to be a response.

Robert G. Kaiser: You're probably in a better position to answer your question than I am. My conversations with Europeans in recent days lead me to believe that Bush personally is unlikely ever to outgrow the image he has acquired in Europe before tonight. I don't applaud this; indeed, much of the European commentary on Bush, dismissing him as a kind of wild cowboy, seems to be an abdication of serious analysis. But a great many Europeans take comfort in dismissing this American president as a fool, obviously. This will not actually help them UNDERSTAND him, however.

Salt Lake City, Utah: While the resistance of the Iraqi military is likely to be weak, has the danger posed to U.S. troops during a protracted occupation been understated?

Robert G. Kaiser: You know, I haven't heard many statements from officials about the long-term dangers, have you? I think this subject has been avoided. And I think it's a very serious issue. Our men and women in Iraq after a war will be very juicy targets for terrorism.

Westerville, Ohio: Will the cost of invading and occupying Iraq, with its resulting cost to our federal budget, make us less fiscally flexible to deal with a future crisis?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes.

Washington, D.C.: Do you believe the war will actually wind up being as short as most say?

Robert G. Kaiser: As a military contest, this one is hopelessly one-sided. It ought not last very long. But I am fully prepared to be surprised. I urge everyone to read the brilliant article Rick ATkinson and Tom Ricks published in Sunday's Post -- maybe washingtonpost.com can put a link to it here -- on the military risks inherent in this war. It's a scary story.

washingtonpost.com: Story: Audacious Mission, Awesome Risks (Post, March 16, 2003)

Sydney, Australia: It appears here that the majority of Aussies don't support John Howard’s decision to officially commit our troops. How do the American people feel about Australia's inclusion?

Robert G. Kaiser: I am not happy in these moments when I have to tell a foreigner that Americans are paying very little attention to their country's behavior, but I fear that is the case here. I'd be curious how many Americans even know Australia is sending troops. But I do expect the Bush administration to make MORE Americans aware of this in the days ahead.

Arlington, Va.: Mr. Kaiser, do you know of another president, who in warning the nation that war was near, offered a catalogue of fears, i.e., don't set the oil fields on fire, don't launch weapons of mass destruction, don't attack U.S. troops as they move toward cities? What was going on here?

Robert G. Kaiser: I didn't take that list as a catalogue of fears, but rather as an attempt to get through to Iraqi officers and soldiers. Saddam is not a popular leader. We have good reason to expect many Iraqis to be delighted with his demise, including some in the military. With the prospect of American occupation looming before them, don't you think some Iraqis might respond to the president's plea?

Charlottesville, Va.: Why did Bush mention that Iraqis should not destroy oil wells? Isn't this just a blatant admission of the U.S. thirst for oil in this conflict?

Robert G. Kaiser: I certainly don't think so. The "oil is the real reason" conspiracy theories have never appealed to me. Doesn't the U.S. already have access to vast quantities of oil from many providers? How exactly will conquering Saddam alter the world energy situation? And why isn't it reasonable to think the U.S. wants to preserve Iraq's capacity to pump oil as a way to help stabilize post-Saddam Iraq?

I don't want to sound like an apologist here, but I think this is a bum argument. Or perhaps I should use Ray and Tom's term -- bogus.

Arlington, Va.: Bob, your point about what Americans are paying attention to is a good one. Australia, for one, always sends troops in U.S. conflicts -- Australia had troops in Afghanistan right by our side. We forget how steadfast some of our allies are.

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes we do.

Woodbridge, Va.: I just wanted to let the writer from Australia know that I'm aware of his country's support for the U.S. in the form of troops and I am eternally grateful. Thank you to all Australians for your support.

My question: Is this the beginning of the end of the UN?

Robert G. Kaiser: He/she will be grateful.

No I don't think so. The U.N. has never been perfect; it has rarely taken a bold position; yet the world depends on it in so many ways that I don't think it can live without a U.N.

Menlo Park, Calif.: Historically, is it at all common for U.S. presidents to play on the raw emotions and ignorance of a large portion of the country to build support for action he can't or won't prove is relevant, yet making the connection repeatedly himself?

Robert G. Kaiser: If I may twist your question slightly, go back and read Lyndon Johnson's Tonkin Gulf speech, then look up some of the history of what really happened before Congress voted nearly unanimously to give LBJ a blank check for Vietnam. This is not a radical departure for an American president.

Kaohsiung, Taiwan: Do you think there will be a reward system set up with the Iraqi military leadership exchanging cooperation now for power later?

Robert G. Kaiser: Good question. Don't know the answer.

Lake Jackson, Tex.: At one point the president said that France had given its assurances that it would veto any resolution to use force to disarm Saddam Hussein. Is that true? Any resolution?

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't think the French would agree with this characterization, but I did hear Foreign Minister Villepin say, weeks ago, that there were no circumstances that could justify war, or something very close to that.

Washington, D.C.: I can't escape the deep suspicion that Hussein is being baited, in the hope that he might attack first. The aim would be to sidestep the ignominy of having initiated an era of preemptive war.


Robert G. Kaiser: We'll see...

Bethesda, Md.: You sort of dodged the question from San Francisco re: Bush II referencing God in the speech by implying that, since Ronald Reagan started the reference, it's OK for it to have continued for 20 years. Don't you think that this continued reference to God vs. Islam makes religion itself an integral part of this conflict?

Robert G. Kaiser: I actually don't think religion is important at all in the minds of those in the Bush administration pushing for war against Iraq. Of course in the Arab world it will look quite different.

Bush's own religiosity is an interesting subject. As an unreligious person myself, I am not comfortable judging its impact on Americans generally. Obviously, a great many Americans are pleased to hear their president using religious references and demonstrating his own faith, and a great many others find this distasteful. Polls suggest there are more of the former than the latter.

For the oil skeptics: Wait a minute. We can buy oil on the open market. We don't even import that much of what we use from Iraq -- we get more from Canada by far. Couldn't it simply be that both fighting an army and fighting fires is more than we want to handle? Not to mention the truly hideous environmental damage. I'm no Bush fan, but I just think the "blood for oil" argument is naive.

Robert G. Kaiser: As far as I know, this is NOT from one of my cousins...

Grand Lake, Colo.: Never hurts to try a few questions. Does the Australian support start a flood of others to our side? Winners, seem to draw the multitudes? Does Turkey come through? Does Canada reconsider? I do believe that all though many oppose this war, that as it now looks like there is NO choice. Will the support come in droves?

Robert G. Kaiser: Not now, I don't think. Maybe later, as I've suggested above.

Washington, D.C.: Bob, how much does it bother you, as both a citizen and a journalist, that the president appears to have precious little dissent in his inner circle? Yes, you want supporters, but I'd want someone making me answer the tough questions every step of the way when I was putting lives at stake.

Robert G. Kaiser: I can't think of a president in my four decades as a journalist who deliberately put dissenters in his inner circle. But most administrations have produced internal dissent naturally, as this one has. And Bush hears plenty of dissent from outside his circle, though of course we don't know how, or if, he processes it.

Personally, I'm with you -- if I had these responsibilities, I'd want someone second guessing me at every step. But I don't have a politician's ego, and from the looks of you, neither do you.

Binghamton, N.Y.: It sounded as if you were comparing the president's argument for war in Iraq with President Johnson's deception regarding the gulf of Tonkin. Is this a correct understanding of your assessment?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes, in the sense that I think Bush is drawing a much starker picture than facts known to me justifies, as Johnson did. But no in the sense that Johnson was, we now know, just lying about the Tonkin Gulf. I can't say I know Bush is just lying about Saddam.

New York, N.Y.: Where do the Saudis stand?

Robert G. Kaiser: The Saudis have decided to stand with us. After a lot of uncertainty earlier, they have invited us to use our command center in Saudi Arabia to run the air war, and we will use it for that purpose. We will fly missions out of Saudi Arabia, and use Saudi airspace for cruise missile attacks. The Saudis are not talking about this cooperation at home, but they are providing it.

Burlington, Vt.: What do you think the consequences would be if no or militarily insignificant quantities of weapons of mass destruction were found upon the successful liberation of Iraq?

Do you find it interesting that nobody has asked whether the recently captured al Qaeda operations chief's address books and computers contain any reference to Iraq?

Robert G. Kaiser: 2 good questions.

1) Big problem for Bush. I think this is something to keep an eye on. Walter Pincus had a terrific and important story in Sunday's Post (I hope there can be a link to it here) making clear that the CIA really doesn't have hard information about current Iraqi stocks of biological and chemical weapons. If, as you suggest, there aren't many, or any, Bush will have a really serious political problem. However, I don't expect this to be the case myself.

2) We've asked, others have asked I'm sure, but there has been no hint of an answer yet.

washingtonpost.com: Pincus's story: U.S. Lacks Specifics on Banned Arms (Post, March 16, 2003)

Charlottesville, Va.: So far, the Bush administration has given nobody any solid facts of the existence of any chemical or biological weapons, a nuclear weapons program, or ties to terrorist networks. In his presentation to the U.N., Colin Powell provided little substantive information. Without evidence, how can this war be justified?

And regarding an earlier response of yours, wouldn't the delivering of a rebuilding contract to a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company formerly chaired by Dick Cheney, both constitute a serious conflict of interests and show that we are seriously concerned for our own oil interests in the region?

Robert G. Kaiser: Just commented on your first point. I think the answer to your second question is no.

Honolulu, Hawaii: Do you feel Iraq is intended to be an example to the world, or just the first country to be invaded under Bush's vision of a New American Century? If the latter, which countries might be on the A-list for U.S., aside from the two other countries in the "axis of evil."

Robert G. Kaiser: This of course is The Big Question. If indeed the plan is to go on to conquer Iran and North Korea, we face a very different situation than if the administration hopes to make an example of Iraq and stop here. I haven't a clue what the real answer is.

Charlotte, Mich.: Understanding that you have no inside information, what do you think will come of Saddam? Does the U.S. leadership prefer his death or prefer his capture?

Robert G. Kaiser: I would guess his death would be simplest, and I don't expect him to fall into American hands alive.

Clarksville, Tenn. (home of the 101st): Do you think Chirac's hardened position enabled Bush to move to the end game now? And do you think he has gained anything for France by taking such a stance. Do you think France and Germany underestimated the resolve of Mr. Bush?

Robert G. Kaiser: Dana Milbank of The Post had a good piece in Saturday's paper about the pressures on Bush to go to war now, not later -- many of them domestic political pressures. I hope we can give you a link here. I found it persuasive. I think the timetable has been pretty firmly set for a long time.

Which is along way of saying I don't think Chirac affected the timing significantly.

From my exposure to both Frenchmen and Germans during this period, I'd say they did NOT underestimate Bush, just hoped he would prove more susceptible to their views than he did.

washingtonpost.com: Bush's Political Future Hinges on Quick War (Post, March 15, 2003)

Anaheim, Calif.: How will this war affect our economy, which is already in bad shape and unemployment which is around 6 percent? Many of my friends are unemployed from a long time and they ask the same question.

Robert G. Kaiser: This is a question Washington hasn't paid much attention to, but I'm sure you are not alone in your anxieties. The administration clearly hopes that today's and Friday's booming stock markets are an omen of things to come. They are hoping a war will remove the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economy and help provoke a revival. Some economists endorse this view, others think it's silly.

New York, N.Y.: It's true that if you look at, say, the international Gallup polls -- which have not been reported in the United States, but they're very instructive -- they do show overwhelming opposition throughout Europe, Asia, Latin America particularly, all of Europe, in fact. And they do apparently show greater support in the United States and other English-speaking countries, higher in the United States than elsewhere.

But those figures are pretty misleading. Because there's another difference between the United States and the rest of the world. And one has to take that into account. Saddam Hussein is despised throughout the world, including the region. And everyone would like to see him disappear from the face of the earth. But there is only one country in which he's feared. And that's the United States. And that's, incidentally, since September. If you take a look at polls since the drumbeat of propaganda about Saddam being a threat to our existence it began in September. Since then on the order of two-thirds of the public in the United States does genuinely believe that if we don't stop him today he is going to kill us tomorrow.

Do you think this is the case?

Robert G. Kaiser: This is a very insightful comment. I agree that American psychology since Sept. 11 is distinctive, and may well explain what has gone on in public opinion. And I am very struck by the polls that show about half of Americans believing Saddam was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, when there is absolutely no evidence of that.

Istanbul, Turkey: Why would the majority of the people of the world fall for a "conspiracy theory" which says "oil is the basic motive of this war" and how come only people like Mr. Bush and you know "the real truth"?

Robert G. Kaiser: Hmmm. Why would "the majority of the people of the world" be convinced that this is about oil, when a much simpler explanation -- the one President Bush keeps giving -- is readily available?

In my opinion, and this does not constitute an endorsement of his analysis, the President is absolutely convinced that attacking Iraq is an appropriate and desirable response to the attacks on this country of Sept. 11. He says this all the time. He said it repeatedly at his news conference the other night. I know that people who disagree with him about this think he must be kidding. I don't.

Paris, France: I'm sorry to ask, as a French [person] I don't understand why are americans (from what I see in the medias) calling us cowards and traitors because we "try" the diplomatic way. And why treat us as "enemies"? France is the oldest ally of the U.S. I know France would support a war against any country that would attack the U.S. I'm just sorry for the UN failure and for the French-American relationship. Why doesn't the media explain that we (the French) are pro-American?

Robert G. Kaiser: In fact our media has been able to report the complexity of the French position, and the sympathy of many Frenchmen for America. My colleague Keith Richburg, our Paris correspondent, has done this particularly well. It's our politicians and radio talk show hosts who make sport of the French, and make fun of their position.

College Park, Md.: Does the president and his military staff really believe this is going to be a short war? Won't going to Bagdad be very dangerous for military as each and every Iraqi has been armed for this conflict. I fear another Somalia.

Robert G. Kaiser: Again, see the Atkinson-Ricks piece of yesterday.

As to every Iraqi being armed, we have reported a lot of evidence that bullets were not issued along with the rifles given to the peoples' militia. There's reason to believe Saddam fears his own people too.

London UK: Do you think this is really the fruition of the Wolfowitz plan drawn up so many years ago?

Robert G. Kaiser: You're referring to a strategy document drawn up by Paul Wolfowitz and others in the first Bush administration but never embraced then as official policy. The U.S. strategy issued last September does echo the paper in may respects. But I'd say it was a stretch to see this as the fruit of that effort. The world changed a lot since that paper was written, and dramatically so after 9/11.

Brighton, Mich.: What are the chances that when we attack Iraq there will be a simultaneous attack upon the nuclear facilities in Iran?

Robert G. Kaiser: very small, I'd say. Nil, actually.

Palmyra, Va.: Bush spoke strongly about liberation for the Iraqi people tonight, and about creating post-war democracy. In other situations where oppressive tyrants are facing the end of their rule the people have risen up to speed the ouster. Is there any sentiment among Iraqis to participate -- even to lead -- their own revolution and liberation? With the sites focused on Hussein, might they do this at the eleventh hour?

Also, in Kuwait women can't vote. In Saudi Arabia there is no religious freedom. In Egypt there is an autocratic regime. Can a war on Iraq spark region-wide democratic sentiment and action in those conditions?

Robert G. Kaiser: We do know how unpopular Saddam has been with many elements in Iraq. I have no idea what to expect in these next 48 hours.

Your second point just indicates how big an ambition it is to talk of democratizing the Middle East. I'm entirely in favor of this goal, and very uncertain how it can be achieved, or whether it is in our power to make it happen.

Madrid, Spain: Why are you ignoring the impact on Iraqi civilians?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yours is the first question on the subject I have seen, and it isn't really a question on the subject. Civilians will be killed in the enormous initial bombardment planned by the U.S., probably quite a lot of them. This is an inevitable consequence of war.

Durant, Okla.: Have you heard any whisperings on how many of the nations that refused to support the now withdrawn resolution did so out of fear that their countries would be the next target of terrorism?

Robert G. Kaiser: I've herd none, and I doubt that's an explanation. I think Americans need to hear the complaints of others who find our behavior in this episode self-centered, bullying and willfully indifferent to their concerns. We will not do well in the world from here on, in my opinion, if we let this sense of the United States take hold around the world.

Richmond, Va.: What does George Herbert Walker Bush think of his son's Iraq venture?

Robert G. Kaiser: I'd pay a nickel to know. A dime, even.

Baton Rouge, La.: How can Bush promise a democratic Iraq -- which if defined by one man one vote principle -- will lead to a Shia (and possibly with Iranian sympathies) as the "democratically" elected leader of Iraq?

Robert G. Kaiser: This is an under-appreciated question. There is good reason to believe that a truly democratically elected government in Iraq would be hostile to U.S. interests.

Binghamton, N.Y.: A follow up if you will permit it? Do you personally think that the president's willingness to imply a greater link between Iraq and al Qaeda than the evidence seems to support is based upon intelligence too sensitive to be publicly or even privately (meaning to neutral governments) released without risking lives or do you believe that he is making this connection without solid evidentiary basis? In other words, do you give him the benefit of the doubt?

Robert G. Kaiser: I have always doubted the argument that "the president knows things he can't tell us," though history demonstrates that there have been a few such cases. In this instance I'd be very surprised if they have intelligence they never shared with anyone.

Important note to Paris: Please realize that most Americans are not anti-French. The politicians and radio hosts that are attacking your country and renaming their pommes frites are doing it for cheap publicity and because it's easier than doing real analysis, and the publicity they have succeeded in getting makes it look to you as if we're all against you. We're not, and we're embarrassed by the behavior of these absurd "opinion leaders."

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment.

Union City, N.J.: Does Bush need Congress's approval before he starts a war abroad?

Robert G. Kaiser: He got Congress's approval for this one last summer. Where were you?

Robert G. Kaiser: That's it for tonight. The president seems to have gotten the world's attention tonight; we had hundreds and hundreds of questions, and I couldn't answer them all. I'm sorry. But I'm grateful to all who took part. As the war unfolds, I'll be back regularly to try to answer questions and field comments. I'll also be writing a regular diary on Washington At War. I look forward to hearing from many of you in the days ahead.


That wraps up tonight's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

Tuned in to Live Online tomorrow:
Peter Howard, Ph.D., of American University's School of International Service, on U.S.-European relations , 10 a.m. ET
PBS "Frontline" filmmaker Michael Kirk on "The Long Road to War," 11 a.m. ET
Post correspondent Susan Glasser from Kuwait City, 11 a.m. ET
Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward on Bush at war, Noon ET
Stephen Zunes, politics professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, on Bush's address, 1 p.m. ET

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