As the specter of war with Iraq looms, the two chief proponents of waging war against Saddam Hussein took to the airwaves on Thursday, arguing that the Iraqi leader is a direct threat to the Western world.
President George Bush and British Prime Minster Tony Blair both made public appearances to field questions and to spell out precisely why Saddam Hussein should be removed from power.
Bush addressed the nation during a press conference Thursday evening, and took the opportunity to argue that "Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country, to our people and to all free people."
He charged that Saddam Hussein "has a long history of reckless aggression and terrible crimes," and charged that "Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Iraq is a country that has got terrorist ties. It's a country with wealth. It's a country that trains terrorists, a country that could arm terrorists. And our fellow Americans must understand in this new war against terror, that we not only must chase down al Qaeda terrorists, we must deal with weapons of mass destruction as well."
Bush also called Iraq's recent disposal of several missiles — deemed to be in violation of a United Nations resolution barring Iraq from developing weapons — an empty gesture. "Our intelligence shows that even as he is destroying these few missiles, he has ordered the continued production of the very same type of missiles," Bush said.
"These are not the actions of a regime that is disarming," he added. "These are the actions of a regime engaged in a willful charade. These are the actions of a regime that systematically and deliberately is defying the world."
President Bush once again used the forum to state that Hussein has used weapons on his own people, and that as long as he harbors such weapons, he is a threat to all. "I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people," Bush said. "I believe he's a threat to the neighborhood in which he lives. And I've got good evidence to believe that. He has weapons of mass destruction, and he has used weapons of mass destruction, in his neighborhood and on his own people. He's invaded countries in his neighborhood. He tortures his own people. He's a murderer. He has trained and financed al Qaeda-type organizations before, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. I take the threat seriously, and I'll deal with the threat. I hope it can be done peacefully."
Prime Minister Blair also made his case, sitting down with an international audience of young people during "An MTV Forum With Tony Blair: Is War the Answer?" (see "Britain's Tony Blair To Host Q&A Session On MTV Special"), which began airing throughout Europe on Thursday.
Responding to pointed questions from a skeptical audience, Blair also painted Hussein as a threat to the West. "I'm saying to you that he's not a threat at this very moment with all those troops down there, but if you take all that away and you allow the inspectors to go back to what they were doing for the seven or eight years they were there in the 1990s, nothing will happen," Blair said.
Blair went further, indicating that Hussein's human-rights record makes him a threat to his own people, providing another reason to oust him and his regime. "I personally think there are reasons for getting rid of Saddam that have nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction," Blair said. "They're to do with the fact that thousands of people die every year needlessly in Iraq as a result of him. However, we've talked a lot about the United Nations, and we have to act within the U.N. mandate, and the U.N. mandate is disarmament. Now if we have to remove Saddam in order to get disarmament, then both those things happen. But one of the reasons why I've said to people constantly that I have a very clear conscience about doing this if we need to do it is because getting rid of Saddam would be an act of humanity."
"An MTV Forum With Tony Blair: Is War the Answer?" will air in the United States on MTV on Monday, March 10 at 8 p.m.
The rhetoric carried over to Friday (March 7), when the United Nations Security Council met to once again discuss the possibility of military action in Iraq. While the U.S. and U.K. tried to rally support, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the council a new version of a resolution would give Iraq a hard deadline for disarmament. Straw did not discuss dates during his presentation, but CNN reports that the resolution would give Iraq until March 17 to disarm. If Hussein and his regime fail to rid themselves of weapons by then, the resolution charges they "will have failed to take the final opportunity" to disarm, according to CNN, presumably opening the door for military action.