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Bush's Pre-Emptive War Doctrine Condemned

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Oct. 6, 2003

Bush's Pre-Emptive War Doctrine Condemned as Related Scandals Erupt in White House

- Interview with Ian Williams, author of "United Nations for Beginners," conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

The U.S. corporate media predictably focused much attention on President Bush's poorly received Sept. 23 address at the United Nations while virtually ignoring an important speech delivered by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in which he condemned Mr. Bush's pre-emptive war doctrine used to justify America's invasion and occupation of Iraq. The White House doctrine, Annan said, "represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last 58 years."

Back in Washington, the Bush administration is reeling from growing criticism of their conduct in the Iraq war. The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee publicly criticized U.S. intelligence agencies' pre-war assessment of Iraq's weapons programs, a primary rationale for the American invasion. This came on the heels of a preliminary report issued by the administration's own chief investigator checking Iraq's weapons programs who found little evidence supporting the White House line that Baghdad presented an imminent threat to the U.S.

Meanwhile, CIA Director George Tenet's request for a Justice Department investigation into allegations that White House officials leaked the identity of a covert CIA operative to a conservative columnist has touched off a political firestorm. The leak exposed the identity of the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had openly refuted President Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium in Africa with which to make nuclear weapons, a matter the administration had earlier sent him to investigate. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Ian Williams, author of the "United Nations for Beginners," who examines U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's condemnation of President Bush's pre-emptive war doctrine and the unfolding scandals surrounding the White House conduct in the Iraq war.

Ian Williams: I thought it was interesting how most of the American media gave full space to the president's lackluster speech and then ignored Kofi (Annan's speech) which, in some ways is lucky for Kofi, because otherwise he would have been named an honorary Frenchman by now -- he would have been public enemy number 1.

Koffi Annan's speech was really, in diplomatic terms, very incisive and the strongest indictment that anyone -- including lots of heads of state who've made noises -- the strongest indictment that anyone has really made of the unilateral invasion. It was coming not from the position of someone supporting total sovereignty, but Kofi Annan in 1999 had supported the idea of humanitarian intervention in issues like Kosovo, Somalia or Rwanda. But he said it's very dangerous and we need to look at it, it's not something that can be done unilaterally.

To some extent he was criticizing Bush and (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair by implication for bringing humanitarian intervention into disrepute. By doing this unilaterally you're really putting truth in all of the rumors that the opponents of humanitarian intervention have said "that this is just an excuse for strong countries to beat up on poor ones." As you went through that speech he was pointing out that this is a really dangerous precedent which the United States had set. Of course, he's quite right, because within weeks of the U.S. making this argument the Indians were saying, "Well, of course we agree with the Americans because we think that Pakistan is harboring terrorists and we want to go in and sort them out and they have weapons of mass destruction as well."

So all across the world there are lots of smaller, less powerful countries -- but still pretty strong -- who could pick up the U.S. precedent and say, "Well, you know there are terrorists there we don't need to wait for the United Nations because we feel they're threatening us." That's what really worried Kofi, the U.N. secretariat and a lot of the other speakers (at the U.N.) -- that basically the U.S. is inviting international lawlessness -- unless of course the rest of the world accepts that there are two different rules, one for the United States and one for everyone else.

Between The Lines: Ian Williams how do you think growing criticism and loss of support for President Bush among citizens in the United States is affecting how the international community treats Mr. Bush and his administration in their initiatives on Iraq and in other areas?

Ian Williams: Most of these countries' delegations don't want to be seen as anti-American. They're much more balanced about it. And of course, you've seen what happened to the French or the Germans whenever they gave the slightest criticism of U.S. policy -- bottles of burgundy being poured down the gutter and French cheeses being thrown out the window. That type of infantile response does scare them a little, but on the other hand when they can see there's a growing majority -- is it a majority yet -- a sort of growing number of people in the U.S. who think that maybe the rest of the world had a point after all.

You've got to look at the rest of the world, I mean really, they're in the position of having to humor a giant who is sort of out of control and not entirely rational. So what do you do, do you argue? There's no one in a position to actually militarily attack the United States unless it’s a suicidal nuclear attack by Russia or China. They're not really in a position to mount economic sanctions against the United States either, so the best they can do is to hope to persuade it.

To some of them, I think the British are the prime example, I know the people around Blair and not one of them think very highly of George Bush's intellect and the way that American diplomacy is functioning, but they feel that it's for the good of the world, it's their job to sort of pander and try and steer this somewhat pin-headed giant in the right direction.

Between The Lines: One of the things that's got to be keeping political advisors in the White House up late at night is the call by CIA Director George Tenet, who has asked the Justice Department to look into whether an administration official or officials had leaked the identity of a covert CIA operative to the news media. Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador to Gabon, it was Mr. Wilson who went to Niger to, in fact, disprove the whole idea that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium there, justifying the Bush administration's claim that (Iraq) had revived its nuclear weapons program and by extension justifying their war. Mr. Wilson was quite critical of the Bush Administration's drive for war, and its manipulation as he saw it, of intelligence information. Not too long after that, his wife was "outed" as a CIA operative and now there's this investigation. Are we seeing a major scandal erupt in Washington, D.C. that could take the Bush administration down?

Ian Williams: We're seeing a major scandal which should be something that would get people upset and take it down, but you have to remember that this administration has more convicted felons in it than anything else. This administration is filled with people who sold arms to Iran -- and it would be alleged by others had actually connived to keep American hostages in there until Jimmy Carter was defeated in the election. These are the people who were illegally arming the Contras, the people who had mined the harbors in Nicaragua. We're talking about a fairly desperate bunch of people who don't think laws apply to them when it's for the cause.

It doesn't surprise me at all that they would decide that if it was necessary to score political points for the greater cause of whatever they think it is - then outing one of their own secret agents and risking her life would be part of it. These people don't think that rules apply to them.

"United Nations for Beginners," is published by Writers and Readers. Read Ian Williams' articles in the pages of the Nation Magazine or online at


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 30 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending Oct. 10, 2003. Between The Lines Q&A is compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.

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