When former U.S. Ambassador Robert Flaten agreed to speak at the Rosenmeier Center's forum about Iraq he thought Congress still would be debating the use of force against the Middle Eastern nation.
But Congress recently gave President Bush the authority he wanted to use force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Flaten said one way to assess Congress' vote was as a tactical success.
"Saddam Hussein is a despicable leader, there's no question there," said Flaten, former ambassador to Rwanda and State Department official. "Clearly something was needed to get Saddam's attention, so a credible threat of massive force has been agreed to in Washington."
Thursday at Central Lakes College, Flaten spoke to about 100 people as part of the Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government forum series. He spoke on "Iraq, the U.N. and the Politics of Preemption."
The Bush administration's recent release of a preemptive document asserts America has the right to counter a possible attack on the nation, even if uncertainty remains, said Flaten.
"Some assert that American hegemony is good, not just because we have the power but because we're a peace-loving, democratic people," said Flaten.
The document and the president's strong showing in Congress has opened the way for him to press his case against Baghdad more forcefully at the U.N. Security Council and before the American public.
"It may have been the best and maybe the only way for Iraq to comply" to a new round of weapons inspectors, said Flaten.
However, Bush's assertion of America's right of preemption is the most recent example of the president's attempt to dismantle international treaties.
"And it would be a tragedy if we failed to reach an agreement with the U.N. and go it alone with Iraq," said Flaten, because an attack alone would be in violation of the U.N. charter. "I hope my first impression is correct, that our step will push U.N. members to pressure Iraq."
Several members of the audience spoke out against U.S. or U.N. use of force against Iraq.
Brainerd resident Kristen Blann questioned why the U.S. wants a show of force now against Hussein after decades of support for other "fairly undemocratic" regimes.
"I personally am extremely suspect this is just a tactical ploy to get Saddam to comply with a U.N. resolution," said Blann.
Larry Fisk, a Fort Ripley resident and member of the Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace, agreed with Blann, saying Iraq is a poor country already under U.N. sanctions.
"It's a very weakened nation," said Fisk.
Of all the questions asked of Flaten, most had the underlying theme of concern about the steps Bush has been taking with Iraq.
"How did things get so complicated?" asked Pine River resident Dan Frank. "It seems like we have to do things differently."
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