Memo To: President George W. Bush
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your Authority To Invade Iraq
In watching your address to the United Nations General Assembly this morning, Mr. President, it struck me that you still do not realize why there is such hostility toward your presidency in that body. You still seem to think the world is angry at the USA because we invaded Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council. The problem is much deeper. It is because last November you went to the UN and asked for its assistance in resolving the perceived threat from Iraq and the UNSC gave you Resolution #1441 by a unanimous 15-to-0 vote. The resolution warned Iraq of “serious consequences” if it did not cooperate with the UN inspection teams: UNMOVIK responsible for chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), responsible for nuclear weapons. If you had decided last November that the threat from Iraq was so real and imminent that you had to take matters into your own hands, I believe there would now be far less animosity toward the US, even though there would still be questions about whether the war was justified. In other words, after having engaged the UN and having it demonstrate its effectiveness in resolving the issues your administration raised, you brushed it aside anyway.
Perhaps it is no longer as clear in your mind as it is in mine, but the reason you went to the UN to ask for its assistance is because you were advised by congressional leaders that you could not get authorization from Congress to use force unless you demonstrated that diplomacy had failed to achieve the disarmament of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad. Secretary of State Colin Powell was instrumental in counseling you in that direction, if myriad news accounts are correct. Now it may be that Secretary Powell believed on this go-round the UNMOVIK and IAEA inspectors would find Iraq un-cooperative, or would actually find hidden weapons of mass destruction, and that you could then activate the authority given you by Congress. Be that as it may, it did not turn out that way.
Those Americans who supported your failure to get UN approval for the war still seem to insist that decided to do so in order to bring about “regime change,” and that you so advised the American people in your address to the nation. You may have said that was your motive, Mr. President, but Public Law 107-243 which authorized military action did so SOLELY based on an imminent threat from Iraqi WMD. It is perfectly clear that had you not limited your request to that specific threat and promised to go through the United Nations to resolve the issue, you could not have gotten authorization from Congress. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the war strategy, said exactly that in an interview he gave to Vanity Fair, indicating you probably could not even bring along your own Cabinet if you had not solely focused on WMD. The law enacted on those grounds also required you to formally notify both the Senate and the House of Representatives that diplomacy had failed, which you did on March 19, immediately before the invasion began.
To be perfectly frank, I was genuinely surprised that you launched the war, Mr. President. I somehow believed that you could see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears that UNSCR #1441 was working like a charm. This was at a time when the French were pointing out that UNMOVIK inspectors were crawling all over Iraq. They had gone to the several hundred places where they were most likely to find illegal activities and found not a scrap of evidence that could hold up to even casual questioning. Muhammed ElBaradei, chief of the IAEA, said emphatically that Iraq had no nukes and could not acquire them without being discovered. Hans Blix of UNMOVIK said his team was interviewing Iraqi scientists in private and that ALL THAT REMAINED was to clear up some of the discrepancies in how Iraq disposed of CW and BW in 1991. Blix said this would take perhaps two more months at most and that Iraq was cooperating to expedite the process! Because of constant hints from your team that UNMOVIK was not quick enough to spot WMD, Iraq invited you to send CIA teams into the country to swoop down at a moment’s notice on sites they suspect. How much clearer could it be that multinational diplomatic action by the United Nations was working?
Yes, it was frustrating to you, because you clearly had your own reasons for wishing to depose Saddam Hussein, over and above any threat he may have posed to the future of the Middle East. It was just as frustrating to those intellectuals in your administration who had their own agenda for deposing Saddam. Still, you don’t seem to see what you did was completely outside the rule of law. Your speech at the UN today is not likely to get its support for the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq in the way you would prefer -- but you should not kid yourself into thinking it is because the rest of the world is stubborn in failing to recognize the wisdom of your pre-emptive war. It is because the UN had succeeded in doing what you officially sought through peaceful, diplomatic means instead of war.
The future of mankind depends not only individual Presidents of the United States deciding wisely - by themselves -- on who to bomb and who to spare. It depends on an international system that sorts out these kinds of questions. If you can’t see that, I’m afraid you are not going to be re-elected. This would be a pity, I think, because in so many other ways you have been a good President.
Respectfully, as always,