U.S. President George W. Bush has given Saddam Hussein and his sons two days to leave Iraq of their own accord or face attack by 280,000 American and British troops stationed in the Gulf region.
In a 15-minute address to the American citizenry which was broadcast around the world, the U.S. president outlined his reasons for launching a pre-emptive strike on Iraq, a nation he said poses a grave threat to the security of the United States.
“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that this regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised,” Bush said. “We will do everything to defeat it. Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety.”
President Bush said 12 years of diplomacy had not succeeded in disarming Saddam Hussein and that all peaceful elements to disarm the Iraqi regime had failed: “The security of the world depends on disarming Saddam Hussein now.”
The decision to give the speech came quickly after the U.S., Britain and Spain withdrew a new United Nations Security Council draft resolution that would have authorized military action against Iraq. Despite intense diplomatic efforts, the resolution did not gain majority support in the council. Permanent members France and Russia had also threatened to veto the measure outright if it were brought to a vote.
While Bush said the United States believed in the U.N., he was critical of the international body. In response to countries such as France, Germany and Russia who claim the inspection process is working and Iraq is beginning to destroy its weapons, Bush countered: “No nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed and it won’t as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.”
Though not naming any countries outright, Bush mentioned the threat put forward by Security Council members France and Russia to veto any resolution to authorize war.
“The Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.”
Bush said the United States was gathering a “broad coalition” of allies willing to take action if Saddam failed to leave Iraq, and that the coalition had a right and duty to act. “This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will.”
Many U.S. officials say it is highly unlikely that Saddam will leave Iraq of his own volition, making war nearly inevitable.
Bush used part of his speech to defend the philosophy of pre-emptive action, in which a country can attack another if it feels a potential threat exists or could develop there.
“Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed,” Bush said. “The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security.”
Bush used the example of the 20th century, during which he said some governments and politicians had chosen to appease dictators. Those threats, he said, later grew into genocide and spawned world wars.
“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 earth.” Bush said. “We are now acting, because the risks of inaction would be far greater.”
At one point, the American president aimed his speech directly at the Iraqi people, saying that a military campaign would be addressed against the “lawless men” in the government, and not the Iraqi people themselves.
He said once the current regime is driven from power, coalition forces will deliver food and medicine and help build a “prosperous and free” Iraq.
Bush also had words for Iraqi military and intelligence services. He urged them not to fight on Saddam Hussein’s side should war come, but warned them not to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone. He said war crimes would be prosecuted in a post-war Iraq and “I was just following orders” would be no defense.