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Confronting Iraq:
Analysis: Bush's Address

With Stephen Zunes
Associate Professor of Politics, University of San Francisco

Tuesday, March 18, 2003; 1 p.m. ET

President Bush addressed the nation about taking military action against Iraq. He gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq or face military invasion. The U.S., Britain and Spain ended diplomatic efforts for U.N. approval and U.N. weapons inspectors have been advised to leave Baghdad as war in Iraq appears to be imminent.

Stephen Zunes, associate professor of politics at the University of San Francisco,, was online Tuesday, March 18 at 1 p.m. ET, discusses Bush's address to the nation on the war against Iraq.

Below is the transcript.

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.

Stephen Zunes: My name is Stephen Zunes, an associate professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco, Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project and author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism This is my first time on washingtonpost.com and I'm looking forward to the challenge...

Washington, D.C.: Professor Dunes,
I watched a recent Charlie Rose interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski. ZB is against the US invasion of Iraq because he believes the result will backfire against the U.S., specifically concerning our relations with the E.U., the U.N., and the Middle East.
ZB is no dove, so I took his remarks seriously.
What are your thoughts?

Stephen Zunes: I have never seen so much dissent on a major foreign policy initiative from so many people in the national security establishment as I have around the incipient invasion of Iraq. In addition to Brzezinski, former Bush Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, former generals Norman Schwartzkopf, Wesley Clark, Anthony Zinni and Brent Scowcroft, and quite a few others have also come out against the war. The concern, about which I concur, is that that a Western power invading and occupying the Arab heartland is bound to encourage extremist elements. Rightly or wrongly, this is seen as an imperialist war since the official rationales for the invasion are so weak. If the message is that no nation-state can counter U.S. hegemony, there will be a pull to support non-state actors and assymetrical warfare, such as terrorism. Unlike a government, deterrence will not work...

Orono, Maine: While I was generally unimpressed with what the president had to say, one line stood out. Addressing the Iraqi people, the President said "the day of your liberation is near."

I couldn't help hearing an echo of Gen. Eisenhower's D-Day proclamation to the citizens of occupied Europe.

In your view, is there a connection? Was the president trying to use some of the rhetoric of earlier -- some might say more noble -- wars as way to give his Iraq adventure more credibility?

Stephen Zunes: The problem is that, while most Iraqis would love to get rid of Saddam Hussein, they will not necessarily welcome an invading Western army and the military governor we install. This use of language regarding liberation is designed both for American consumption (to put an idealist spin to it) and for Iraqi consumption (i.e., we're not just after your oil). Whether the neo-conservatives and oilmen in the Bush White House will be as committed to such idealist values as the New Deal liberals that helped rebuild Europe after WWII remains to be seen.

East Lansing, Mich.: I believe the reasons for war are complex and not as "two-dimensional" on Bush's part (e.g. revenge) as some would suggest.

What does disturb me about GWB's approach is that there doesn't appear to be any "angst" or "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach to this very divisive war.

Moreover, what ever happened to the virtue of humility towards foreign policy he cited in his inaugural address?

Your thoughts?

Stephen Zunes: The reasons for war are indeed not as simplistic as critics suggest nor as noble as its defenders claim. Iraq is the only Arab country to combine oil wealth, a sizable educated population and adequate water resources to maintain an independent foreign and domestic policy, which is not tolerable in this era where -- according to recent policy makers my the major architects of the current policy and their allies -- the world's remaining superpower must crush any challenge to this hegemonic role. Indeed, these neo-conservatives have essentially embraced a role for the U.S. in the world that was once exclusively a perjorative term of the left: America as empire.
If one sees this role for the United States in idealistic terms -- even quasi-religious terms for our fundamentalist president -- things really can take on a good vs. evil kind of perspective where the complexities of Iraqi politics, the Middle East, and the international community are largely ignored. This is indeed a shift from then-Governor Bush's rhetoric during the 2000 presidential campaign, which has alienated not just liberals, pacifists and leftists, but liberatarian conservatives like Rep. Ron Paul and paleo-conservatives like Patrick Buchanan. And there are some real dangers in taking such a dogmatic world view.

Bethesda, Md.: For those of us who remain doubtful about this war, one reason is a lack of convincing evidence to the public that Iraq still possesses WMDs (and the embarrassing collapse of Colin Powell's case that Saddam had an on-going nuclear program). Two questions: (1) If the US invading force now claims to find stashes of chemical or biological weapons, how skeptical should we be about the claim? (2) How damaging will it be to Bush, in the US and the world, if our troops fail to come up with evidence of WMDs?

Stephen Zunes: The failure of the Bush Administration to produce any clear evidence of WMDs and the fact that a number of their key claims have been contradicted by UNMOVIC, journalists and independent strategic analysts does raise serious credibility issues. My guess is that Saddam probably does have some proscribed material squirrelled away somewhere, but not enough to be any kind of realistic offensive threat. I doubt the Bush Administration would totally fabricate uncovering such weapons, but I could easily see them greatly exaggerating the significance of what they did find. Unless there are independent observers, such as UNMOVIC officials, involved in the process, I personally will be rather skeptical of such claims given the Bush Administration's record thus far.

Washington, D.C.: Dr. Zunes:

Is there any precedent in the history of the world for launching a military campaign with the specific and limited goal of regime change? I cannot think of one, and it makes me wonder about the psychology of the President -- his speech last night indicated that he would accept Hussein's ouster as a satisfactory end that would avoid war, whereas all prior rhetoric placed disarmament first and even allowed for the possiblity that Hussein could remain in power of a disarmed Iraq.

Stephen Zunes: The demand for Saddam's departure goes far beyond the United Nations Security Council mandate and raises questions as to whether disarmament and enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions ever really was the goal. Even if disarmament is the ulimate goal, it still sets a dangerous precedent: it is saying that a country has a right to invade another country and replace its leader because they might be producing weapons that might be given to someone who might someday use them against us. You could have a lot of countries invading each other on those grounds.
Though most people would agree that it would be a very good thing if Saddam Hussein was out of power, he is not unique: Morocco, Israel and Turkey are each in violation of more UN Security Council resolutions than is Iraq; Pakistan, Israel and India have nuclear weapons and several other states in the region are believed to have chemical weapons; our allies the Saudis have far closer links to Al-Qaeda and other terrorists than does Iraq; and there are plenty of other nasty dictators in that part of the world.
This is what has led to uncharitable speculation regarding the actual motivation for an invasion. While I believe it is more than simply oil, this obsession with Saddam Hussein does raise some disturbing questions regarding the role of the United States as global cop, or -- perhaps more accurately, given the lack of a legal mandate and the highly selective nature of enforcement -- global vigilante.

San Diego, Calif.:
There are serious doubts as to the legality of this war which has not been authorized by the Security Council. Is it feasible that the US could face sanctions for violating international law?

Stephen Zunes: Only the Security Council as a whole has the mandate to authorize the use of force to enforce its resolutions. Despite President Bush's claims to the contrary UNSC res. 678 was only in reference to Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and became moot when the sheikdom was liberated in 1991; UNSC res. 687 specified no military enforcement mechanism; UNSC res. 1441, while warning Iraq of severe consequences for noncompliance, specifically reiteratd that the Security Council as a whole remain "seized of the matter" and that it is not up to any single member to go to war in the name of enforcing UNSC resolutions.
While the Secretary General and most of the United Nations recognizes this, sanctions are unlikely because the United States could veto such a resolution. However, there could be informal sanctions, such as a global consumer boycott of American products, OPEC could switch from the dollar to the Euro in pricing its oil, etc.

New York, NY: Could you explain who will be paying for:
1- the war costs
2- the reconstruction costs of Iraq

Is there ANY CHANCE the Bush Administration will get the new Iraqui government to fund either of these costs (in which case we will be being paid essentially in oil)? Or will the Bush administration keep its hands ENTIRELY off Iraqui wealth and fund this out of the Treasuries of teh coalition of the willing?

Stephen Zunes: This represents a real dillemma. The war will likely cost as much as $100 billion in the best-case scenario and several times more in a worst-case scenario. On the one hand, given the growing deficit and cutbacks in education, health care, tranportation, housing, environemental cleanup, etc., it would be politically difficult to insist that the taxpayer pay the tab for what may be an unpopular war. On the other hand, if the United States, the wealthiest country in the world, takes advantage of its post-war occupation to take money from a war-devastated Iraq, it would look like some kind of crass imperialism that would be politically damaging internationally.
The U.S. could somewhat more legitimately use the country's oil revenues for reconstruction, but even here, if the damage to the civilian infrastructure from the bombing is seen as excessive, it also raises the moral questions regarding U.S. responsibility, i.e. if you destroyed it, you should pay for it.
At this point, it does not look like there will be that many other coalition partners to chip in a whole lot. The Saudis largely bankrolled the previous war but certainly cannot be counted on to bail us out this time....

Derwood, Md.: Will Europe become irrelevant after failing to stand up to Saddam? How did European foreign policy help the situations during the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge, or the genocide in Rwanda? Europe seems to play the role of the ordinary

German civiliain after WWII who said "We did not know what was happening to the Jews."

Stephen Zunes: Europe did stand up to Saddam, with active involvement in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, by supporting the strictest international sanctions in world history, and (yes, even France) explicitly stating a willingness to go to war against Iraq if the inspectors were not allowed to do their job.
The real appeasement took place in the 1980s during Saddam's genocidal Anfal campaign, where the British, Russians, Germans and French were supporting the regime. Unfortunately, so was the United States, even to the point of covering up for the Halabja massacre by falsely claiming it was the Iranians -- then the preferred enemy -- who were responsible. Fortunately, while Saddam is as evil as ever, thanks to autonomy in the Kurdish areas, the dismantling of much of his military infrastructure through UN-mandated disarmament and sanctions, etc. he can do a lot less damage than he used to.
The Europeans did not reapond as they should have to the Rwandan genocide - the French were particularly irresponsible -- butthe United States, unfortunately, also largely stood by. When the Vietnamese did their own act of regime change by invading Cambodia and ousting the genocidal Khmer Rouge in 1979, the U.S. condemned the action, led the effort to place sanctions on Vietnam, and continued to insist that the UN recognize the Khmer Rouge as the country's legitimate government rather than the far more moderate communist leadership installed by the Vietnamese.
In short, both the Europeans and the United States have failed to live up to their international obligations to prevent genocide.

Washington D.C.: Perhaps you should introduce yourself a little more. We need to make those participating more aware that your views are coming from one who is active in the Anti-War movement. I fear that since no mention of this was made in the WP introduction that people won't get the correct perspective of your comments.

Stephen Zunes: I am not active in the anti-war movement. Anti-war activists have reprinted and circulated some of my writings and I have been asked to speak at some rallies and forums sponsored by some of the more moderate anti-war groups, but I am not myself a political organizer, but an academic.

Richmond, VA: What would you say to your child/young adult if they wanted to move to Washington, DC to start a career and a life. Do you condsider it a safe city now that we are at war?

Stephen Zunes: Even with the increased risk of terrorism as a result of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, I would guess that one is more likely to be killed by a mugger than a terrorist. Washington's a great city and I would not want to discourage a civically-minded young person from going there and trying to make a difference.

Silver Spring, Md.: Dr. Zunes:

There has been a great deal made of the fact that the US is not going it alone -- Britain and Israel and Spain to some degree are with the US. GWB's speech made little or no reference to these countries, yet they stand to lose as much, if not more. Can you please comment?

Stephen Zunes: As columnist Maureen Dowd observed, after having driven most of our allies form the school yard, the Bush Admninistration has resorted to using imaginary friends.

At my last count, the U.S. will be supplying at least 90% of the soldiers. Operation Desert Storm was not only legitimated by the UN, it had far greater international participation.

This is not your father's coalition...

Regarding the impact on the minor participants, each allied government I am familiar with is doing so in opposition of most of their population, even Britain. Tony Blair has a real battle on his hands; there were more cabinet resignations today. If his government falls, the U.S. will be even more alone.

Still, the U.S. will be footing the vast majority of the bill and suffering the vast majority of the casualties, which could certainly have serious political consequences down the road if the war does not go as well as planned.

Cincinnati, Ohio: I had always learned that a president must get approval from Congress to declare war... but I haven't heard anything about Congress on the current issue. Have they already approved a war? When does Bush plan on going to them for approval?

Stephen Zunes: A sizable bipartisan majority in Congress did grant the president authority to use force back in October, though one could argue that -- according to Article V, Section 8 of the Constitution -- Congress cannot legally give a president such open-ended authority, particularly for an offensive war. (That is why the right to declare war was given exclusively to Congress.) President Bush does not intend to return to Congress for such a formal declaration.

Since the UN Charter allows for the use of force only in the event of armed attack or when the Security Council explicitly authorizes it, and since -- according to Article VI of the Constitution -- such international treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory are "supreme law," this raises questions as to the legality of the October resolution as well.

Lanham, Md: What do you think will happen if the United States is defeated in the upcoming war?

Stephen Zunes: I do not think the U.S. will be defeated, but it will probably be a much nastier war than Americans have been used to in recent years. There is no equivalent of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance to do most of the ground combat for us and this will not be the flat open desert of the 1991 Gulf War where the we could take advantage of its supeiority in technology and firepower. If it comes to house-to-house fighting in Baghdad -- a city of five million -- we could seen hundreds of Black Hawk Down-type situations. Hopefully, this will not be the case, but logistically this will certainly be a challenging operation.

The bigger question is what happens afterwards, both in Iraq and elsewhere. All our brave soldiers, brilliant military strategists and high-tech weapons will do us little good if there are millions of people in that part of the world who hate us. As I argue in my book Tinderbox, the more the U.S. has militarized the Middle East, the less secure we have become. If the U.S. had a policy based more on human rights, international law and sustainable development, and less on arms transfers, support for dictatorships and threats of invasion, it would not only be more consistent with our values, we would also be a lot safer.

Washington, D.C.: If Iraq is known to have aided terrorists that participated in the September 11 attacks against the US, why isn't that enough to justify going to war? Wasn't that the first strike and declaring war is self-defense?

Stephen Zunes: Every claim the administration has made about alleged ties between the secular Iraqi regime and the Islamist Al-Qaeda network, upon scrutiny, has proved to be unfounded. CIA and FBI reports, as well as the State Department's annual Patterns of Global Terrorism, have found no such connection. Investigations by "60 Minutes" and other independent journalists and strategic analysts have also found no such connection and have raised serious questions about the administration's credibility on this subject. The last known Iraqi-backed terrorist attack against U.S. interests was the alleged assassination attempt against former president Bush during his 1993 visit to Kuwait. The U.S. bombed Baghdad as a result and that seemed to be enough a deterrent for future action.

Iraq's support for terrorism peaked in the 1980s (when the U.S. was supporting Saddam's regime) but these were largely secular nationalist groups, like the now-defunct Abu Nidal faction. Bin Laden has called Saddam an apostate and infidel and has called for his overthrow. Saddam, meanwhile, has been responsible for the murder of hundreds of Islamist activists in Iraq.

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