Bush defends decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein
September 21, 2004
UNITED NATIONS (AP) – President Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq in a speech on Tuesday to the United Nations, urging the world community to turn its attention to fighting the war on terrorism and humanitarian concerns.
He told a subdued U.N. General Assembly session that the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein delivered the Iraqi people from “an outlawed dictator.”
Two years after he told the world body that Iraq was a “grave and gathering danger” and challenged delegates to live up to their responsibility, Bush did not dwell on his decision to invade without the consent of the U.N. Security Council.
Instead, he urged the world community to “fight radicalism and terror with justice and dignity.”
Bush said that terrorists believe that “suicide and murder are justified …And they act on their beliefs.” And he cited recent terror acts, including the death of children in their Russian school house.
“This month in Beslan, we saw once again how the terrorists measure their success in the deaths of the innocent and in the pain of grieving families,” the president said. “The Russian children did nothing to deserve such awful suffering.”
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Ahead of Bush’s speech, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the meeting of the 191-nation gathering with a warning that “the rule of law” is at risk around the world.
“No one is above the law,” Annan said. “Again and again, we see fundamental laws shamelessly disregarded – those that ordain respect for innocent life, for civilians, for the vulnerable – especially children,” he said.
He condemned the taking and killing of hostages in Iraq, but also said Iraqi prisoners had been disgracefully abused, an implicit criticism of the U.S. treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
Last week, Annan said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq “was illegal” because Washington and its coalition partners never got Security Council backing for the invasion.
Bush reached out to the international organization to help with the reconstruction of Iraq.
“The people of Iraq have regained sovereignty,” he said, noting that the prime minister of Iraq’s interim government Ayad Allawi was among those attending the session.
“The U.N. and its member nations must respond to Prime Minister Allawi’s request and do more to help build an Iraq that is secure, democratic, federal and free,” Bush said.
“A democratic Iraq has ruthless enemies,” Bush added, asserting that a terror group “associated with al-Qaida” was now engaged in terror acts – including Monday’s beheading of an American civil engineer.
“We can expect terror attacks to escalate” as elections approach in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush said.
He said his mission was “not to retreat, it is to prevail.”
“We will standing with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes for freedom and liberty are fulfilled,” Bush said.
Six weeks before Election Day, Bush’s unapologetic comments were directed as much to his audience at home as to the assembled U.N. delegates. His Democratic rival, John Kerry, has accused him of “stubborn incompetence” and “colossal failures in judgment” on Iraq policy and of having squandered international good will.
Bush’s speech, lasting just under 20 minutes, included an appeal for more humanitarian involvement, ranging from helping to end the bloody conflict in Sudan to fighting AIDS in Africa.
Bush’s remarks drew applause only once – at the end of his speech.
He also told the gathering he was proposing a “democracy fund” within the United Nations.
He said the fund would help countries lay the foundations of democracy by instituting the rule of law, independent courts, a free press, political parties and trade unions. “Money from the fund would also help set up voter precincts and polling places and support the work of election monitors,” he said.
Bush said the United States will make an initial contribution. “I urge all other nations to contribute as well,” he said. “It’s a great calling for this organization,” he added.