Bush claims moral high ground on Iraq

31 January 2003
In an impassioned appeal to the American public, President Bush used his State of the Union address on 28 January to lay out the moral case for leading a war against Iraq. Despite his repeated emphasis that Baghdad was engaged in the manufacture of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, Bush did not present any new evidence to back up his allegations. That task, he said, would be left to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is scheduled to address a meeting of the UN Security Council on 5 February. The presentation is expected to highlight previously unreleased intelligence reports on the Iraqi weapons programme (see page 8).

Bush dedicated much of his speech to demonising Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, saying it was the duty of Americans to 'confound the designs of evil men'. The portions of the address dealing with foreign policy navigate a clear moral landscape. The US is allotted the moral high ground, presented as 'a blessed country . dedicated . to the cause of human dignity, the rights of every person and the possibilities of every life'. At the other end stands the 'man-made evil of international terrorism'.

Besides the allegations that Iraq is deliberately concealing weapons of mass destruction, two key charges laid at Baghdad's door are alleged obstruction of the UN weapons inspections programme and active sponsorship of terrorism, including support and protection for members of Al-Qaeda. Washington considers these actions a breach of UN Security Council resolution 1441 and sufficient cause for military action.

While the State of the Union address is largely designed for domestic consumption, there were pointed references to the 'great alliances' between the US and its European allies that had frustrated 'the ambitions of Hitlerism, militarism and communism' in the past. Public opinion polls indicate the majority of Americans would not support a unilateral US attack on Iraq, and there were mixed reactions to the speech from the US' potential military allies.

While the UK 'endorsed wholeheartedly' Bush's message on Iraq, permanent Security Council members France and Russia warned that they would not support unilateral military action and would require further evidence to endorse a new UN resolution authorising an attack. 'You can only succeed in the fight against international terrorism by strengthening the anti-terrorist coalition,' Russian Foreign Minster Igor Ivanov said on 29 January.

In an apparent rebuff to the anti-war camp, the UK mustered the leaders of seven other European states to issue on 30 January a joint declaration of solidarity with the US. The leaders of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Denmark and the Czech Republic declared that the Iraqi leader was a 'clear threat to world security' and the UN should ensure that the regime in Baghdad was disarmed. 'The solidarity, cohesion and determination of the international community are our best hope of achieving this peacefully,' the open letter stated. 'Our strength lies in unity.'

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