George W. Bush wants the American public to think of Saddam Hussein as the modern Adolf Hitler.
The president never actually invoked Hitler’s name Monday during his 15-minute speech. But he did compare the United States’ current dilemma to a situation it and European nations faced more than 60 years ago.
Bush pointed out that as Nazi Germany’s power increased, and as it committed numerous treaty violations by building its military and expanding its territory, other nations chose to appease it and its dictator instead of declaring war. Many historians have speculated that had a military solution come sooner, World War II may not have been the long and bloody conflict it became.
Bush, recalling that history, said Hussein should not be appeased in the same way.
“We choose to meet that threat now,” Bush said. “A policy of appeasement could bring (devastation) of the kind never seen on the face of the earth.”
Bush said if Hussein is allowed to build his power during the next five years, he could be able to unleash devastating military force. And, therefore, Bush wants Americans to believe that attacking now would keep history from repeating itself.
Bush’s apparent comparison of Hussein to Hitler was just one of several notable moments in a speech marked by strong language and strong promises.
Bush’s address was in many ways a departure from previous statements he’s made on a possible war with Iraq. Gone were the lengthy explanations as to the reason for a war and discussion about the U.N. and allied nations’ responses.
Bush now seemed resolved. Critics would say he is stubborn. If Hussein and his sons do not leave Iraq in the next 48 hours, he will order a war no matter the climate internationally or within the United States. Bush said he will not settle for anything less than the destruction of Hussein’s regime.
“All the decades of deceit and cruelty are at an end,” Bush said.
Bush said the United States has been “patient and honorable,” but that peaceful efforts have “failed again and again, because we are not dealing with peaceful men.” Therefore, he said, Hussein must be taken by force.
Bush also cited Hussein’s connections to terrorists. Some critics have attacked such conclusions, pointing out that Osama bin Laden believes Hussein is an unholy man and has little respect for him.
After Bush’s strong talk, a sobering reality now remains, one that many in America may not take seriously enough. There will now, unless Hussein shocks the world and gives up his reign and walks away, be a war. And it will not be the Nintendo war of a decade ago. Americans will fight in the streets of Baghdad, and some will probably die.
Bush spent several minutes of his speech addressing an Iraqi people not at all unfamiliar with war and its consequences. He promised the Iraqis that Hussein would soon be gone from their lives, and that their “liberation is near.” Bush also called on the Iraqi military to surrender without fighting. Not doing so, Bush said, would result in dire consequences.
“It will be no defense to say ‘I was just following orders,'” Bush said.
It is hard to imagine what a people fatigued from years of war might think of what Bush said. Many may indeed yearn for a life without Hussein. But a war on home soil means death for civilians and destruction of property. Would Iraqis find the benefits of Hussein’s removal worth the devastation of war?
With that speculation aside, Tuesday will be an interesting day as world reaction to Bush’s ultimatum begins to arrive. No matter what Bush’s actual intentions are, the speech gave a sense that the president is tired of diplomacy with other nations and will now act no matter what others may think.
Even if that is not the case, the fact that his speech leaves that feeling could create even more conflict with allies. With an important vote on a war resolution coming today in Britain’s House of Commons, the president must be careful to maintain vital friendships. Otherwise, the allies may slowly fall away.
Several statements in Bush’s speech seem honorable but could have a duality.
One of those statements, as subtle as it may seem, was a call by the president for visitors and journalists to depart from Iraq. Such a statement may seem like nothing more than a concern for the safety of Americans abroad. But others may see it as something more.
If journalists leave Baghdad, there will be no pictures of dead Iraqi civilians or dead American troops. There will be no reports of war crimes or savage brutality. The war will be anesthetic, as was the first Persian Gulf War.
The military learned its lesson after the Vietnam War. Coverage of the violence was a part of civilian anti-war sentiment. The press experienced very little of the first Persian Gulf War firsthand, and the coverage suffered. Many of the horrible realities of that conflict did not surface until months or years after it happened.
Because of the questions around it, this war needs to be well reported. Americans need to be able to analyze the results and decide if Bush’s decisions were correct. Only then will they be able to decide in 2004 whether he deserves to keep his job.