An Annotated Overview of the
Foreign Policy Segments of
President George W. Bush's
State of the Union Address
By Stephen Zunes
January 29, 2003
Editor: John Gershman, Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC)
"This threat is new; America's duty is familiar. Throughout the 20th century,
small groups of men seized control of great nations, built armies and
arsenals, and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world. In each
case, their ambitions of cruelty and murder had no limit. In each case, the
ambitions of Hitlerism, militarism, and communism were defeated by the will
of free peoples, by the strength of great alliances, and by the might of the
United States of America.. Once again, we are called to defend the safety of
our people, and the hopes of all mankind. And we accept this responsibility."
The attempt to put Baathist Iraq on par with Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia
is ludicrous. Hitler's Germany was the most powerful industrialized nation in
the world when it began its conquests in the late 1930s and Soviet Russia at
its height had the world's largest armed forces and enough nuclear weapons to
destroy humankind. Iraq, by contrast, is a poor Third World country that has
been under the strictest military and economic embargo in world history for
more than a dozen years after having had much of its civilian and military
infrastructure destroyed in the heaviest bombing in world history. Virtually
all that remained of its offensive military capability was subsequently
dismantled under the strictest unilateral disarmament initiative ever, an
inspection and verification process that has been resumed under an even more
rigorous mandate. It is true that the inspector's have reported that Iraq can
not account for large amounts of biological and chemical agents that can be
used as weapons of mass destruction, yet that does not necessarily justify
going to war. By contrast, back in the 1980s, when Iraq really was a major
regional power and had advanced programs in weapons of mass destruction, the
United States did not consider Iraq a threat at all; in fact, the U.S.
provided extensive military, economic, and technological support to Saddam
"America is making a broad and determined effort to confront these dangers.
We have called on the United Nations to fulfill its charter and stand by its
demand that Iraq disarm."
There is nothing in the UN Charter about the unilateral disarmament of a
member state. By contrast, articles 41 and 42 of the Charter--reiterated in
the final article of UN Security Council resolution 1441--make clear that the
UN Security Council alone has the authority to authorize the use of force to
enforce its resolutions. It should also be noted that there are over ninety
UN Security Council resolutions currently being violated by governments other
than Iraq, most of them by such U.S. allies as Morocco, Israel, and Turkey.
However, the United States has blocked the United Nations from enforcing
these other resolutions.
"We're strongly supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency in its
mission to track and control nuclear materials around the world."
The IAEA has received very little support from the Bush administration. For
example, the U.S. has blocked the United Nations from enforcing UN Security
Council resolution 487, which calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities
under the safeguard of the IAEA. In addition, administration spokespeople
have repeatedly belittled the organization and its effectiveness.
"We're working with other governments to secure nuclear materials in the
former Soviet Union, and to strengthen global treaties banning the production
and shipment of missile technologies and weapons of mass destruction."
The Bush administration has actually blocked efforts to strengthen
international treaties preventing the spread of biological and chemical
weapons and successfully instigated and led an effort to remove the highly
effective director of an international program overseeing the destruction of
chemical weapons stockpiles around the world. In addition, the Bush
administration has cut funding for programs to remove nuclear materials from
the former Soviet Union and rejected a proposed treaty by Russia that would
have destroyed thousands of nuclear weapons, insisting that they instead
simply be put into storage. Finally, the Bush administration has rejected
calls for a nuclear-free zone for all the Middle East.
"We also see Iranian citizens risking intimidation and death as they speak
out for liberty and human rights and democracy. Iranians, like all people,
have a right to choose their own government and determine their own
destiny--and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom."
It was the United States, through its Central Intelligence Agency, that
overthrew Iran's last democratic government, ousting Prime Minister Mohammed
Mossadegh in 1953. As his replacement, the U.S. brought in from exile the
tyrannical Shah, who embarked upon a 26-year reign of terror. The United
States armed and trained his brutal secret police--known as the SAVAK--which
jailed, tortured, and murdered tens of thousands of Iranians struggling for
their freedom. The Islamic revolution was a direct consequence of this
U.S.-backed repression since the Shah successfully destroyed much of the
democratic opposition. In addition, the repressive theocratic rulers who
gained power following the Islamic Revolution that ousted the Shah were
clandestinely given military support by the U.S. government during the height
of their repression during the 1980s. As a result, there are serious
questions regarding the United States' support for the freedom of the Iranian
"Throughout the 1990s, the United States relied on a negotiated framework to
keep North Korea from gaining nuclear weapons. We now know that that regime
was deceiving the world, and developing those weapons all along. And today
the North Korean regime is using its nuclear program to incite fear and seek
concessions. America and the world will not be blackmailed."
Indications are that North Korea kept its commitment during part of 1990s but
re-started its uranium enrichment program when the Republican-controlled
Congress failed to appropriate funds in a timely fashion for the energy
projects that were supposed to be funded under the framework. It is widely
believed that North Korea deepened these efforts as a direct result of last
year's State of the Union address, when President Bush declared North Korea
to be part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran. Seeing the United
States prepare to invade Iraq and increase its bellicose rhetoric against
Iran and themselves, the North Koreans apparently decided that they needed to
create a credible deterrent in case they were next. They have offered to end
their nuclear program in return for a guarantee that the United States will
not invade them.
"America is working with the countries of the region--South Korea, Japan,
China, and Russia--to find a peaceful solution, and to show the North Korean
government that nuclear weapons will bring only isolation, economic
stagnation, and continued hardship. The North Korean regime will find respect
in the world and revival for its people only when it turns away from its
Actually, the United States has been at odds with North Korea's neighbors,
taking a far more hard-line position toward the communist regime than those
who have far greater grounds for concern about any potential threat. Perhaps
more significantly, given that the United States has good relations with
other countries that have developed nuclear weapons in recent years--such as
India, Pakistan, and Israel--and has demonstrated hostility toward North
Korea well prior to the start of its nuclear program, the North Koreans may
have reason to doubt that curbing their nuclear ambitions will make much of a
"Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula and
not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq. A brutal dictator, with
a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great
potential wealth, will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and
threaten the United States."
There was a very real threat of Iraq dominating the region in the 1980s.
During this period, however, the United States provided Saddam Hussein's
regime with military, economic, and technological assistance, even as it
invaded Iran and its internal repression and support of terrorism was at its
height. Now that the country has only a fraction of its once formidable
military prowess and it has little direct access to its oil wealth, it is
hard to imagine how it could realistically dominate the region again, much
less threaten the United States.
"Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam
Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead utter contempt for
the United Nations, and for the opinion of the world. The 108 UN inspectors
were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials across a
country the size of California. The job of the inspectors is to verify that
Iraq's regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is
hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and
destroy them as directed."
UNMOVIC director Hans Blix and IAEA director Mohamed El-Baradei have
expressed concerns that Iraq was not sufficiently forthcoming in some
potentially key areas, though they also noted where there had been a high
level of cooperation in other areas. This is far short of "utter contempt."
Similarly, their mission is far from being a scavenger hunt, given the
extensive records from the eight years of UN inspections during the 1990s. It
is noteworthy that the UNSCOM inspectors did not find any more hidden
materials during their last four years of operations despite expanding the
scope of their searches. Though these inspectors were withdrawn under
pressure from President Bill Clinton in late 1998 before they could complete
their job, satellite surveillance and other intelligence gathering since then
has given this new round of inspections--which have an even tougher mandate
regarding the timing and extent of their searches--a good idea of where to
look and what to look for. Furthermore, they have equipment that can detect
radioactive isotopes and other telltale signs of WMD development at a great
distance from their source. It is noteworthy that after insisting that Iraq's
four-year refusal to allow UN weapons inspectors to return was cited as
grounds for an invasion, the Bush administration has suddenly challenged the
inspectors' effectiveness since they resumed inspections. Furthermore, the
United States has yet to put forward any proof that Iraq currently has any
"The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological
weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax--enough doses to
kill several million people. He hasn't accounted for that material. He's
given no evidence that he has destroyed it. The United Nations concluded that
Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of
botulinum toxin--enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory
This is like saying that a man has enough sperm to impregnate several million
women. Theoretically true, but if you don't have sufficient delivery systems,
it simply cannot be done. There is no evidence that Iraq has any delivery
systems that can effectively disseminate biological weapons in a way that
could endanger large populations.
"Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to
produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard, and VX nerve agent. In such
quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He's not
accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed
This figure is far higher than most independent estimates. The former chief
weapons inspector for UNSCOM stated that at least 95% of Iraq's chemical
weapons had been accounted for and destroyed by 1998. With the embargo
preventing the import of new materials, satellites eyeing possible sites for
new production, and the return of UN inspectors, it is highly dubious that
Iraq could develop an offensive chemical weapons arsenal, particularly since
virtually all of their ballistic missiles capable of carrying such weapons
have also been accounted for and destroyed. In addition, if Saddam Hussein's
possession of chemical weapons is really such a major concern for the U.S.
government, why did the United States send Iraq tons of toxic chemicals
during the 1980s, even when it became apparent that they were being used for
"The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam
Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for
a nuclear weapon, and was working on five different methods of enriching
uranium for a bomb."
True. What the president failed to mention is that in 1998 the International
Atomic Energy Agency also reported that Iraq's nuclear capability had been
completely dismantled. More importantly, IAEA director El-Baradei, in his
January 27 report to the UN Security Council, reported there was no evidence
to suggest that Iraq had resumed its nuclear program.
"Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase
high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."
As "60 Minutes" and other independent investigations have revealed, these
aluminum tubes also have commercial applications. The IAEA has investigated
the matter and has reported that there is no evidence to suggest they were
intended for a nuclear program.
"Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent
enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass
destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he
could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack."
This is hardly the "only possible explanation." The most likely reason for a
country in a heavily armed region within missile range of two nuclear powers
to pursue weapons of mass destruction is for deterrence. Even the CIA has
reported that there is little chance that Iraq would use WMDs for offensive
purposes in the foreseeable future. By contrast, so says this CIA analysis,
there is a far greater risk that Saddam Hussein would use whatever WMDs he
may possess in the event of a U.S. invasion, when deterrence has clearly
failed and he no longer has anything to lose.
"And this Congress and the America people must recognize another threat.
Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by
people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects
terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without
fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or
help them develop their own."
Reports from the State Department, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies
have found no credible proof of any links between the Islamist al Qaeda
movement and the secular Iraqi government. In fact, they have been at odds
with each other for many years. Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism peaked
in the 1980s, when the U.S. dropped Iraq from its list of states sponsoring
terrorism in order to make the regime eligible to receive U.S. military and
technological assistance. Furthermore, most biological weapons--the only WMDs
threat that Iraq realistically might possess at this point--do leave
fingerprints and could easily be traced to Iraq.
"Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein
could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses, and shadowy
terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with
other weapons and other plans--this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would
take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a
day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our
power to make sure that that day never comes."
Again, there is no evidence of any connection between Saddam Hussein and
Osama bin Laden, who has called the Iraqi dictator "an apostate, an infidel,
and a traitor to Islam." Iraq has never threatened nor been implicated in any
attack against U.S. territory and the CIA has reported no Iraqi-sponsored
attacks against American interests since 1991. It is always easy to think of
worst case scenarios, but no country has the right to invade another on the
grounds that the other country might some day possess weapons that they might
decide to pass on to someone else who might use these weapons against them.
"The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has
already used them on whole villages--leaving thousands of his own citizens
dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are
obtained--by torturing children while their parents are made to watch.
International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the
torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping
acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and
rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning."
The use of chemical weapons by the Iraqi armed forces against Kurdish
villages took place in the 1980s when the U.S. was backing Saddam Hussein's
government. The U.S. even covered up for the Halabja massacres and similar
atrocities by falsely claiming it was the Iranians--then the preferred
enemy--who were responsible. Human rights organizations have indeed reported
torture and other human rights abuses by the Iraqi regime and did so back in
the 1980s when the U.S. was supporting it. As a result, one can only assume
that this professed concern about human rights abuses is insincere,
particularly since the Bush administration is currently sending military and
police aid to repressive regimes such as Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Colombia,
Egypt, and others that are guilty of similar human rights abuses. If
President Bush really thinks that this constitutes evil, why does he support
governments that engage in such crimes?
"We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein
does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the
world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him."
To invade Iraq without the authorization of the United Nations Security
Council would be a direct violation of fundamental legal norms and would make
the United States an international outlaw. A unilateral U.S. invasion and the
repercussions of such an act of aggression would be a far greater threat to
the safety of Americans and the peace of the world than maintaining the
current UN strategy of rigorous inspections, military sanctions, and
"Tonight I have a message for the men and women who will keep the peace,
members of the American Armed Forces: Many of you are assembling in or near
the Middle East, and some crucial hours may lay ahead. In those hours, the
success of our cause will depend on you. Your training has prepared you. Your
honor will guide you. You believe in America, and America believes in you."
No doubt the thousands of armed forces personnel currently assembling in that
region do believe in America. One hopes America will believe in them
enough not abandon them as they did the veterans of the previous war against
Iraq who suffer the debilitating effects of Gulf War Syndrome without the
support and recognition of the government that sent them into combat. It is
also ironic to hear such high praise of the men and women readying for combat
from a man who--despite his support for the Vietnam War--refused to fight in
it, instead using family connections to get into a National Guard unit from
which he was AWOL for much of his time of service. In addition, it is
Orwellian to claim that an army poised to bomb and invade a sovereign nation
is there to "keep the peace." The best way American servicemen and
servicewomen can keep the peace would be to refuse to obey any illegal orders
of their commander-in-chief that command them to fight in an illegitimate war.
"We seek peace. We strive for peace... If war is forced upon us, we will
fight in a just cause and by just means--sparing, in every way we can, the
innocent. And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and
might of the United States military--and we will prevail."
The palpable eagerness of the Bush administration to go to war belies any
claims of seeking peace. Iraq has neither attacked nor threatened the United
States, so it cannot be said that war is being forced upon the country.
Virtually all of America's allies oppose this threat of war. In the United
States, the Catholic bishops and every mainline Protestant denomination have
gone on record declaring that a U.S. invasion would not constitute a just
war, a sentiment echoed by religious leaders around the world. The U.S.
record of sparing the innocent in its recent wars has been quite poor, with
upwards of 5,000 civilians killed in the first Gulf War, an estimated 500
civilians in Yugoslavia and approximately 3,000 civilians in Afghanistan.
Most scenarios predict a far higher level of civilian casualties in a U.S.
invasion of Iraq, particularly should American troops have to seize
Baghdad--a city of five million--by force.
"And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring
to the Iraqi people food and medicines and supplies--and freedom."
The United States has spent only a miserly amount of money for food,
medicine, and other humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan relative to the
billions of dollars spent to bomb that country. Despite greater political
pluralism in Afghanistan under the post-Taliban regime, most of the country
is not enjoying freedom, but is subjected to the abuse of war lords, opium
magnates, and ethnic militas that have gained in power since the U.S.
"Americans are a resolute people who have risen to every test of our time.
Adversity has revealed the character of our country, to the world and to
ourselves. America is a strong nation, and honorable in the use of our
strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the
liberty of strangers."
The character and resoluteness of the American people is worthy of praise.
Unfortunately, the United States government has frequently used its military
and economic power to suppress liberty, such as supporting the overthrow of
democratically elected governments in countries like Guatemala and Chile
while backing scores of dictatorial regimes throughout the world. The United
States has also used powerful international financial institutions to force
poor countries to weaken environmental and labor laws to enhance the profits
of U.S.-based multinational corporations.
"Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every
person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's
gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity."
What would God think of a government that supplies more weapons, training,
and logistical support to more dictatorships and other human rights abusers
than any other? If freedom and liberty are indeed the will of God, the
foreign policy of the Bush administration is nothing short of blasphemy.
(Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of politics and
chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San
Francisco. He is Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project
(online at www.fpif.org) and is the author of the recently released book
Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism