President Bush referred repeatedly to disarmament of Iraq in a prime-time press conference for a skeptical global audience last night, but he did not mention the word democracy once.
Bush used the word disarmament or one of its derivatives 45 times.
“Saddam Hussein is not disarming,” Bush said in his opening statement.
Responding to a reporter’s question, Bush said, “Our demands are that Saddam Hussein disarm. We hope he does. We have worked with the international community to convince him to disarm. If he doesn’t disarm, we will disarm him.”
In another exchange, the president said, “Well, if they believe he should be disarmed, and he’s not going to disarm, there’s only one way to disarm him.”
Missing from Bush’s vocabulary was the word democracy. In fact, Bush’s silence about democracy in Iraq was thunderous. It was as if the president had forgotten his speech given a week earlier, in which he said that replacing Hussein and rebuilding Iraq would inspire democracy in the Middle East.
“A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region,” Bush told a friendly audience at the American Enterprise Institute. “Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state.”
While Bush did not use the word democracy in his prime-time press conference, he did say that the people of Iraq would be better off without Hussein and were capable of self-government.
When asked what assurance he could provide the American people that the nation was not heading down a similar path to that of Vietnam, Bush said, “Our mission is clear in Iraq.”
He added, “Our mission is very clear: disarmament.”
It is the lack of clarity about the United States’ mission, however, that has caused global public opposition and contributed to the American public’s reluctance to go to war.
If disarmament is really the goal, then why did Bush trot out the democracy argument? A simple answer may be that Bush now knows the democracy argument lacked credibility, and he jettisoned it in favor of the mantra of disarmament, which is a doable goal shared around the world.
But the constant shifting of arguments from regime change to disarmament to democracy to disarmament suggests that the mission is anything but clear.
The administration’s lack of mission clarity also appeared in the president’s response to a straightforward question about the financial costs of the war. He hemmed and hawed. But he never answered the question. He said, “We’ll let you know.”
If the mission is disarmament, what are the expected costs? If the mission is regime change, what are those costs? If the mission is democracy, which would result in the occupation of Iraq for years, if not decades, what are those costs?
Disarmament is a laudable objective. Unfortunately, the president did not make the case for why disarmament is doable only through a military invasion right now. Neither did he refute the results yielded by current international pressure.
The president did voice “hope” repeatedly for disarmament and said he was praying for peace. On that count, American public opinion is surely in his corner.
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.