Politics & Policy

48 Hours

A presidential-address scorecard.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr.

The hallmarks of George W. Bush’s prime-time address to the nation last night were his thoughtful vision, moral clarity, and grim determination. The president made explicit the reluctance Americans feel about going to war, yet left no doubt that we will shortly have to do so.

Particularly gratifying were the portions of the president’s remarks that established the mandate under which we will act to liberate Iraq. In the end, it derives not from the United Nations. Rather, it is a product of the necessary exercise of America’s sovereign right to self-defense, undertaken in the face of the U.N.’s Franco/Russian-enforced irresolution. Mr. Bush put the point succinctly: “This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will.”

The only problem with this momentous presidential address was its bottom line: Saddam Hussein has been given 48 more hours. While Mr. Bush would have him use that time to relinquish power and flee, Saddam is more likely to use it to finalize an ecological, economic, and societal gotterdammerung for his enslaved people. He may also seek to unleash deadly, preemptive attacks on U.S. forces, allies, and interests — or perhaps the American people here at home.

Last night, Mr. Bush correctly established that the jig is up for Saddam. Time should be as well.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is currently president of the Center for Security Policy and a contributing editor to NRO.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev

A week of fruitless international diplomacy has clearly taken its toll on George W. Bush. A fatigued president has decided that the time for debate is over. “Intelligence gathered by us and other governments” confirms that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction and has aided international terrorism; our “patient and humble efforts” to secure peaceful disarmament of Iraq have failed; the United States possesses the “sovereign authority” to act not only in its own self-defense but for the good of the entire world. It no longer matters to the president whether his domestic political opponents or other world leaders dispute or disagree with these assessments. In his mind (and that of his administration), the facts are settled; all that remains is the final disposition of the case, through the use of military force if Saddam Hussein and sons choose not to go into exile.

I was struck by the fact that the president’s speechwriters made no reference to what would appear to be the most relevant precedent for the United States taking military action against another state without either the traditional declaration of war or the sanction of the United Nations — the 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia. (If for nothing else, the Kosovo precedent confounds those politicians who supported that action yet now claim that the United States cannot act against Iraq without the explicit approval of the U.N. Security Council.) But one lesson from that experience needs to be learned. Then, as now, other major powers disagreed with our assessment of the threat and the means we used to counter it. This time, however, we cannot afford any significant or long-term rupture in our relationships with France, Germany, Russia, and China because of Iraq. Continued cooperation in the war against international terrorism; ensuring the stability of Europe and West Africa; facilitating new energy partnerships and reaching a consensus on dealing with North Korea are all critical issues.

The president’s speech made it clear: Diplomacy in the Iraq matter has run its course. Secretary Powell now has new tasks to attend to.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest.

Michael Ledeen

One of his best; one could almost sense the combination of relief — he got us there despite the best efforts of half the world to stop him — and concern that the price will be higher than it should have been.

I liked the direct warnings to the Iraqis, and the promise that crimes will be punished. That’s what the whole thing is all about isn’t it?

My only complaint, which is my ongoing complaint, is that the context has become blurred with the passage of time. This is not a one-off event, it is another battle in a long war, and he would have done well to remind us of that.

And finally, if I am right, we are going to come under attack — in Iraq — from Iranian-and Syrian-sponsored terrorist groups, and if we understand what is going on we will find ourselves in a regional conflict. Meanwhile, at the other end of the Axis of Evil, the rulers of the Hermit Kingdom fester and scheme.

I’d have been grateful to hear some of that, too.

But it’s churlish to dwell on these minor points when the man’s delivered a fine address with a brave message and we should all be grateful for his tenacity and his amazingly good instincts.

— Michael Ledeen an NRO contributing editor, is author of The War Against the Terror Masters and Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

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