President Bush Addresses the UN General Assembly
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KWAME HOLMAN: During his annual visit to the United Nations today, President Bush included a lunchtime salute to Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But the pleasantries did not obscure fundamental disagreements between the two men on Iraq. Earlier in the day, Annan, who last week called the war in Iraq illegal, told the gathering of international diplomats and other leaders that the rule of law is at risk around the world.
KOFI ANNAN: Every nation that proclaims a rule of law at home must respect it abroad. And every nation that insists on it abroad must enforce it at home. Yes, the rule of law starts at home. But in too many places, it remains elusive. Hatred, corruption, violence, and exclusion go without redress. The vulnerable lack effective recourse and the powerful manipulate laws to retain power and accumulate wealth. At times even the necessary fight against terrorism is allowed to encroach unnecessarily on civil liberties.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush, in contrast, defended his decision to go to war despite the objections of many U.N. members, and he scolded U.N. Security Council members, who he said hesitated to confront Saddam Hussein.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The Security Council promised serious consequences for his defiance. And the commitments we make must have meaning; when we say “serious consequences” for the sake of peace, there must be serious consequences. So a coalition of nations enforced the just demands of the world.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president also linked terrorists acts in Russia, Spain and elsewhere as proof his policy is the correct one.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: As we’ve seen in other countries, one of the main terrorist goals is to undermine, disrupt and influence election outcomes. We can expect terrorist attacks to escalate as Afghanistan and Iraq approach national elections. The work ahead is demanding. But these difficulties will not shake our conviction that the future of Afghanistan and Iraq is a future of liberty. The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat; it is to prevail.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Bush urged U.N. members to support Iraq’s new interim government and promised the U.S. would continue to back its allies in Iraq and in Afghanistan. He proposed that the U.N. could help reach his goal of spreading democracy in the Mid East and elsewhere by creating a democracy fund. And he urged more help for poor nations, particularly those hit by the AIDS pandemic. Campaigning in Florida today, Democratic nominee John Kerry reacted to the president’s U.N. speech, saying Mr. Bush had lectured rather than led.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: The president failed to level with the world’s leaders. Moments after Kofi Annan, the secretary-general, talked about the difficulties in Iraq, the president of the United States stood before a stony faced body and barely talked about the realities at all of Iraq. After lecturing them, instead of leading them, to understand how we are all together with a stake in the outcome of Iraq. I believe the president missed an opportunity of enormous importance for our nation and for the world. He does not have the credibility to lead the world, and he did not and will not offer the leadership in order to do what we need to do to protect our troops, to be successful and win the war on terror in an effective way.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sen. Kerry also said President Bush’s management of the war and its aftermath had been arrogant and incompetent.
GWEN IFILL: Now, two views on President Bush and the world. William Harrop is a retired career Foreign Service officer and ambassador to five countries. He is a founding member of Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, a group opposing the president’s reelection. Kenneth Adelman served in the Pentagon and State Department during the Ford and Reagan administrations. He is now a member of the Defense Policy Board that advises Secretary Rumsfeld. Welcome to you both, gentlemen.
Ambassador Harrop, you listened to the president’s speech today. Let’s go through it point by point. What was your take on what he had to say about Iraq, for instance?
WILLIAM HARROP: Well, I thought on Iraq it was pretty much the same sort of speech he’s been giving in the campaign; that is to say, a Pollyanna view, a very positive outlook, not really acknowledging the tremendous difficulties that are taking place there in the insurgency, the opposition to American occupation, the loss of American forces, the doubtfulness of being able to get to an election in January. He did not really give any of that sense at all. It was all very positive and upbeat.
GWEN IFILL: And Mr. Adelman, what did you make of the president’s speech, specifically about what he had to say about Iraq and the justification for going to war there?
KENNETH ADELMAN: Well, I thought it was a very brave speech of President Bush’s. But I think Bush is a brave foreign policy leader, in the sense of trying something very new. Pushing this democracy in the world, especially in the Arab world, is something that distinguishes this presidency from every president that has been in the past, Democrat and Republican, and who Bill Harrop and others served so well and capably. The fact is that this president really believes that democracy is the way to push the Arab countries in order to diminish the threat to terrorism of us all. And I think that is a big gamble in history, but I think it’s a gamble worth taking.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Harrop, is it a gamble worth taking?
WILLIAM HARROP: Well, you know, I think it shows a lack of understanding of the Arab world and of the culture that we’re dealing with there, the traditions, the history of that whole part of the globe. I think it’s most unlikely that anyone can bring about a move toward democracy by force of arms, by coming in and winning a war, deposing, getting rid of an evil leader, and then turning a country to democracy. I don’t think it will work, and I don’t think that Iraq will be a beacon for democracy in the region, as the president says that he hopes.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Adelman, is there any evidence that’s what’s happening?
KENNETH ADELMAN: Yeah, let met take that on, because I don’t think it’s right to say that of all the world community, only the Arab countries are not able to elect their own leaders or to have freedom of speech or to have freedom of religion or to have freedom of assembly or to have basic human rights. That’s a view that somehow the Arabs are different. Listen, today there are 22 members of the Arab League. Except for Iraq, every single one of them has an illegitimate, unelected government, okay? The last time an international organization like that existed was the Warsaw Pact, and that was under Soviet tutelage.
The fact is that the rest of the world is undergoing a democratic revolution, including in Africa, Asia for sure, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and South America, and only the Arab world is locked into this idea that they have totalitarian, authoritarian government, and somehow traditional diplomats say that’s acceptable. I don’t think in this day and age that is acceptable.
GWEN IFILL: Well, pardon me. There goes another point, Mr. Ambassador, that the president made in his speech today, which is this notion that democracy can be spread in the way that the United States is undertaking it in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Is that something which, given what’s been happening in places like Russia and Belarus, is that something which is correct?
WILLIAM HARROP: I don’t think that’s realistic. I think democracy must come from within. I think a people must begin to move toward democracy with internal political evolution. I don’t think it can be imposed from without, which is what we’re trying to do here. I also must take real exception to Ken’s remark that there… suggestion that there is democracy in Iraq, but not in the rest of the Arab world. We’re a long way from elected democracy in Iraq, a long, long way. And I would think that we’ll be very, very lucky, indeed, if elections are held and held successfully in January.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Adelman, what do you think about that? Will elections be held in January?
KENNETH ADELMAN: Let me make two points. Number one is that the Iraqis today have more freedom of press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of political organization than any Arabs in the world today. Second point I would make: Bill Harrop says, well, you can’t by military force impose democracy.
That’s not what we’re saying. What we’re saying is, and what the president is saying, is by military force you can remove the obstacles to democracy. There is no way that the people of Afghanistan are going to have a democratic government under the Taliban. There is no way that the Germans are going to have a democratic government under Hitler. There is no way that the Iraqis are going to have a democratic government or any movement towards democracy under Saddam Hussein.
So these wars eliminate these disastrous tyrants that they have, and allow the people the rights to then go and have a democratic system… now, listen, if Bill Harrop is saying it’s not a sure thing in Iraq, he’s absolutely right. It’s not a sure thing in Iraq. But was it a sure thing that there would be no democracy under Saddam Hussein? Yes. Was it a sure thing that there would be torture under Saddam Hussein? Yes.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s move on to another major point the president made in his speech today, Ambassador Harrop, which was this idea that terrorism around the world can be linked under the rubric, under the umbrella of what the president is trying to accomplish in the international stage. He talked about Afghanistan, and he immediately, seamlessly talked about Iraq, and he talked what happened in Russia as examples of warnings to international bodies of why terrorism should be the number-one issue on their plate. Was that a valid argument that you heard today?
WILLIAM HARROP: No, I don’t. I think it’s specious. You know, Iraq is really Mr. Bush’s war, and I think we should call it that, Mr. Bush’s war. It was not… there was no threat to the United States. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no linkage to al-Qaida or to the attacks upon America on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s Mr. Bush’s war, and I don’t think it is a war against terrorism in any way, or against terrorists. They were not there. In fact, in November of 2001, two months after 9/11, the State Department Web site gave a list of those countries in which al-Qaida was active or had relations, and Iraq was very specifically not included.
I think everyone knew that Iraq was not really involved with al-Qaida. I don’t think that these linkages exist. And I think we have to get a coalition of countries together, who are willing to work together against terrorism, against what nourishes terrorism. I don’t think that the United States under President Bush and the way he has alienated allies in the Muslim world alike, I don’t think he’s in a position to exert the kind of leadership which is required to oppose terrorism.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Adelman, your response?
KENNETH ADELMAN: I would say that there’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein was fronting terrorism. There’s no doubt about that. They were funding the Palestinians who blow up innocent Israeli children, where William Harrop served so wonderfully as ambassador. It’s for sure that the people who tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993 went to Iraq afterwards and were given sanctuary. It’s for sure that Abu Nidal, one of the worst terrorists in the world, lived for many years in Baghdad. It’s for sure that Saddam Hussein tried to assassinate the ex-president of the United States, President George Herbert Walker Bush. So he was involved in terrorism.
Now, the links to al-Qaida, Bill Harrop is absolutely right. They are a lot more faint — if they exist at all — than we thought before. But you know, you have to judge a president not on what we know now, but what we were reasonably convinced was right at the time.
GWEN IFILL: The president…
KENNETH ADELMAN: And…
GWEN IFILL: I’m sorry. Finish, please.
KENNETH ADELMAN: At the time, there wasn’t anybody that I ever met that doubted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. There wasn’t anybody that I ever doubt that he absolutely hated the United States, and would stop at nothing to do harm to the United States.
GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Harrop, the president was very reasonably tough on the United Nations today, basically saying you’ve got to mean what you say. He said this before. He said it directly to them today, and certainly in the context of the fact that the United Nations did not support the decision to go to war in Iraq. Was he gearing his remarks, in your opinion, to an international audience or a domestic audience?
WILLIAM HARROP: I think the remarks were mainly to the United States and the campaign. It was also – it was also a speech internationally. But unfortunately, the United States is held now in such low esteem because of its unilateral activities, because of its invasion of Iraq before inspections had completed the job of concluding that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and before the Security Council could authorize that move, that he’s lost the support.
If you noticed in the speech today, there was a spattering of polite applause. It was not… there was no enthusiasm for President Bush in that room. And I think that it’s going to be very hard for him to provide the leadership that America, only America can provide, because we’re the only country with the strength to do that leading. And he can’t do it, I’m afraid, and the speech today really showed that.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Adelman, does it matter whether he gets polite applause, or even any kind of endorsement from the United Nations?
KENNETH ADELMAN: I spent two and a half years as one of Ronald Reagan’s ambassadors to the United Nations, and I don’t remember the place going crazy when Ronald Reagan addressed the general assembly. They certainly weren’t hanging from the rafters, and it didn’t remind me of a rock concert in any way. Reagan was not very popular in the world community. Reagan right now, we know, had a historic role, and proved to be a wonderful president.
You have to measure these things in, you know, historical framework. I think the number-one historical obligation that this presidency faces is to go and destroy the terrorist network and to wage a war on terrorism. And there’s a lot of mistakes along the way, but by God, it’s brave to try do that. And you don’t do that by empty U.N. resolutions. The president said today that there were 17 resolutions against Iraq, and Saddam Hussein broke 17. And the 17th one, by unanimous consent, said there will be serious consequences unless he conforms to these resolutions. Without serious consequences, the whole United Nations becomes a laughing stock.
GWEN IFILL: And finally…
WILLIAM HARROP: But Ken, really…
GWEN IFILL: Go ahead.
WILLIAM HARROP: Just a moment. I really have to answer that. The war on terrorism– Iraq was not part of a war on terrorism. It simply was not. It was not involved in international terrorism, and it was no threat to the United States. The first duty of a president of the United States is to keep his country out of war unless absolutely necessary, not to lose 1,050 of our young people, not to spend $200 billion that could be spent on other things. You know, that was not a war against terrorism. He manufactured terrorism by going to Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask you both to follow up on this, because obviously this is a political year, and there is a political impact in all of this. Mr. Adelman, John Kerry said today that he did not feel that the president in his speech to the United Nations leveled with the world’s leaders. What’s your response to that?
KENNETH ADELMAN: I don’t know anything in the speech that was not leveling. It could have been there was a lot of old things said again, but not leveling, I just don’t understand it. What was in the president’s speech that was wrong?
WILLIAM HARROP: He did not mention – he did not mention the situation in Iraq. He behaved as though everything was going perfectly in Iraq, as though democracy was on the way, everything was going to work out just fine. There was no acknowledgment of the daily losses, the daily losses of both Iraqi citizens and American forces. I think it was a pretense.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Adelman?
KENNETH ADELMAN: Okay, he did mention Iraq, Bill, so that’s not right to say he doesn’t mention Iraq. Number two is, I don’t think in a speech like this, you should give the latest news broadcast. And the news from Iraq has not been good. I agree with that. It has been bad.
But what you want to do is to get everybody to help the situation. We have an enormous stake in making that succeed. The world has an enormous stake in making that succeed. And for these other countries to sit on their hands and to say, well, you know, that it’s none of our business, it’s just wrong. It’s a fight from terrorism against civilization.
WILLIAM HARROP: Under proper leadership, the other countries would come along with the United States. They’ve not been offered the kind of leadership, provided it, which would bring them along. We have lost the respect of other countries by our unilateral behavior, and I think that’s a big part of the problem of not getting the support we need.
GWEN IFILL: And that will have to be the last word. Bill Harrop and Ken Adelman, thank you both very much.
KENNETH ADELMAN: You’re welcome.
WILLIAM HARROP: Thank you.