President Bush's sober address Monday night showed an encouraging hint of restraint cloaked in tough declarations about the United States' new role in the post-9/11 world. As he took his case for confronting Saddam Hussein directly to the American people, Bush also acknowledged that questions about going to war were legitimate, rather than anti-American. Perhaps most important, Bush emphasized again that he would go through the United Nations first and that any war would be waged "with allies," presumably meaning more than Britain alone.
Bush emphasized that war was not the first resort of a powerful democracy, even as he warned that waiting too long was "the riskiest of all options." If Hussein fully complies with whatever demands emerge from a new U.N. Security Council resolution, Bush promised, Iraq can avoid war. Or, he all but said out loud, Iraqis can just deal with Hussein and expect plenty of American help afterward.
The president did not offer any shocking revelations -- or even new revelations -- about Iraq's attempts to acquire biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. He did state that Iraq was attempting to rebuild its nuclear weapons program and that weapons could be funneled to terrorists or aimed directly at the United States. Bush conceded that the United States simply did not know how close Hussein was to building a bomb but contended that after 9/11, no U.S. president could afford to wait for a gathering storm from abroad to strike at home. He also seemed to acknowledge that the United States should not go to war alone.
Bush went beyond earlier speeches in declaring the United States "a friend to the people of Iraq" and stating that "our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us." His language echoed his delineations between the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan. He did not lay out any specific plans for a post-Saddam Iraq, which he must eventually do. "The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi'a, Sunnis and others will be lifted," he said. Perhaps, but how would he then prevent this freedom from turning into civil war?
The president painted big, confident pictures of America's role in the world. But with Congress apparently ready to offer him a strong Iraq resolution, he also seemed rightly concerned about assuring Americans he wouldn't start a war alone. That is promising, closer-to-the-middle ground to stand on.
-- Los Angeles Times
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