Center for American Progress

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: A Response to the President’s Speech

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: A Response to the President’s Speech




Part One

In London this morning, President Bush defended the administration’s policies on Iraq and the war on terrorism. While his speech deftly combined gravity and humor, a close examination shows that his actions fail to match his rhetoric:

“First, international organizations must be equal to the challenges facing our world, from lifting up failing states to opposing proliferation. Like 11 presidents before me, I believe in the international institutions and alliances that America helped to form and helps to lead.”

• President Bush says he believes in international institutions and alliances and yet he has gone out of his way to avoid using them to protect and advance our national interests. He launched his attack on Iraq without U.N. approval, despite the fact that a majority of Americans felt we should go to war only with U.N. sanction.

• The administration has also gutted the impact of international organizations aimed at “opposing proliferation” – backing off the Convention on Biological Weapons and not allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into Iraq to continue their search for nuclear weapons and materials. The administration should use alliances and international institutions because they ultimately benefit us and help ensure fewer American casualties and that the U.S. bears less of the economic burden of the reconstruction in Iraq.

“The second pillar of peace and security in our world is the willingness of free nations, when the last resort arrives, to retain aggression and evil by force…. The victims of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans… had few qualms when NATO applied force to help end those crimes. The women of Afghanistan… did not reproach us for routing the Taliban. Inhabitants of Iraq’s Baathist hell… do not miss their fugitive dictator; they rejoiced at his fall. In all these cases, military action was preceded by diplomatic initiatives and negotiations and ultimatums and final chances until the final moment.”

• The use of force as a last resort is necessary and justifiable in the protection of American security. The administration, however, did not exhaust all diplomatic avenues before resorting to the use of force against Iraq, and by doing so, alienated our European allies, costing us critically needed support and resources in the current period.

• While there are similarities in the “evil” encountered in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the U.S. responses to the three have been markedly different. In the Balkans, the Administration worked closely with its allies under a clear NATO mandate and in Afghanistan, the Administration allowed the United Nations to play a central role in establishing the Afghan interim authority. The International Security Assistance Force is largely multilateral, with German troops in the lead, authorized under a United Nations Security Council resolution. The go-it-alone approach has made Iraq susceptible to terrorists.

“The third pillar of security is our commitment to the global expansion of democracy and the hope and progress it brings as the alternative to instability and hatred and terror. We cannot rely exclusively on military power to assure our long-term security. Lasting peace is gained as justice and democracy advance.”

• The administration relied exclusively on military power to effect regime change while doing little to ensure that democracy takes root. Our long-term security can only be assured by using all of the weapons in our arsenal, including intelligence, strong diplomacy, public diplomacy, economic instruments, and military force.

• In consultation with countries throughout the region, the U.S. should articulate a strategy for promoting democracy which should include clear benchmarks and accountability mechanisms. According to Fareed Zakaria, “[The] Bush administration seems to like the idea of democracy if it can achieve it by killing a tyrant. The long hard slog of democracy, which is foreign aid, which is cultural exchange, which is legal reform, education reform, the whole process of modernizing societies, building institutions… that is much more boring, unsexy, and the kind of thing they usually criticize liberals for doing.”

“The failure of democracy in Iraq would throw its people back into misery and turn that country over to terrorists who wish to destroy us. Yet democracy will succeed in Iraq, because our will is firm, our word is good and the Iraqi people will not surrender their freedom… Since the liberation of Iraq, we have seen changes that could hardly have been imagined a year ago. A new Iraqi police force protects the people, instead of bullying them. Schools are open, with textbooks free of propaganda.”

• Department of Defense officials have admitted that the majority of the Iraqi police force has received little or no training. With the rapid acceleration of plans to field Iraqis, the vetting process has largely been circumvented, possibly allowing former Baathists and insurgents to infiltrate their ranks.

• Schools and markets may be open, but recent Gallup polls indicate that ninety-four percent of Baghdad residents say that their city is “a more dangerous place than it was before the invasion.” Eighty-eight percent are afraid to go outside of their home at night for safety reasons. As a result, news reports indicate that many parents in Baghdad are keeping their kids at home due to fear for their safety.

“This is substantial progress. And much of it has proceeded faster than similar efforts in Germany and Japan after World War II.”

• Throughout his speech, President Bush continued to compare the postwar reconstruction of Iraq with that of Germany and Japan after World War II. Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) has pointed out differences between the two efforts: “For one, the war in Iraq was not defensive. It was a preemptive attack. Secondly, we have alienated most of the international community in fighting the war. Third, the Germans and Japanese did not resist the U.S. occupation through sabotage, assassinations, and guerilla warfare… (and fourth), the reconstruction of Europe was undertaken in the context of spirit of internationalism, multilateralism, and collective security.”

“We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.”

• The administration had no qualms about charging hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq without a plan for the occupation of Baghdad or a strategy to deal with the growing insurgency. It repeatedly ignored reports by the State Department and the intelligence community and instead clung to rosy scenarios of being greeted as liberators instead of occupiers. A recently released after-action report by the Third Infantry Division describes the complete absence of high-level military and political planning to manage the aftermath of the war.

Click here for Part Two.




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