Thank god I’m not the only one who misses Bill Clinton terribly, or the only one who thinks he was a highly-competent leader. I knew there was a good reason why I’ve always loved the British.
I am profoundly grateful for Britain’s involvement with the United States and with others in diplomatic efforts and where necessary in military ones. You were there when we turned back Slobodan Milosevic and the tide of ethnic cleansing which threatened every dream people had of a Europe united, democratic and at peace for the first time in history.
You were there in 1991 when the United States and the global alliance turned back Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. When Saddam Hussein threw the weapons inspectors out in 1998 and we attacked Iraq, you were there. And when you were working towards peace in Northern Ireland, we were there. (Applause).
Whatever America did for Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish peace process, you repaid 100 fold in the aftermath of September 11. Prime Minister Blair’s firm determined voice bolstered our own resolve, his calm and caring manner soothed our aching hearts; and the British people pierced our darkness with the light of your friendship. In the aftermath of September 11th, we went to work against terror in a world rudely awakened to its universal threat, and much more willing to support the actions necessary to prevail.
I still believe our most pressing security challenge is to finish the job against al Qaida and its leaders in Afghanistan and any other place that they might hide. I would support even committing war forces to that. We have only about half as many forces in Afghanistan today that we had in Bosnia after the conflict was over and we were keeping the peace. I applaud Britain’s commitment to finish the job in not only the conflict but to winning the peace, to staying in Afghanistan with an international force and with the kind of support necessary to make sure that we do not have the disaster that occurred when the West walked away from them 20 years ago. (Applause).
A few words about Iraq. I support the efforts of the prime minister and President Bush to get tougher with Saddam Hussein. I strongly support the prime minister’s determination, if at all possible, to act through the UN. We need a strong new resolution calling for unrestricted inspections. The restrictions imposed in 1998 are not acceptable and will not do the job. There should be a deadline and no lack of clarity about what Iraq must do. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein’s regime poses a threat to his people, his neighbors and the world at large because of his biological and chemical weapons and his nuclear program. They admitted to vast stores of biological and chemical stocks in 1995. In 1998, as the prime minister’s speech a few days ago made clear, even more were documented. But I think it is also important to remember that Britain and the United States made real progress with our international allies through the U.N. with the inspection program in the 1990s. The inspectors discovered and destroyed far more weapons of mass destruction and constituent parts with the inspection program than were destroyed in the Gulf War — far more — including 40,000 chemical weapons, 100,000 gallons of chemicals used to make weapons, 48 missiles, 30 armed warheads and a massive biological weapons facility equipped to produce anthrax and other bio-weapons. In other words, the inspections were working even when he was trying to thwart them.
In December of 1998, after the inspectors were kicked out, along with the support of Prime Minister Blair and the British military we launched Operation Desert Fox for four days. An air assault on those weapons of mass destruction, the air defense and regime protection forces. This campaign had scores of targets and successfully degraded both the conventional and non-conventional arsenal. It diminished Iraq’s threat to the region and it demonstrated the price to be paid for violating the Security Council’s resolutions. It was the right thing to do, and it is one reason why I still believe we have to stay at this business until we get all those biological and chemical weapons out of there. (Applause).
What has happened in the last four years? No inspectors, a fresh opportunity to rebuild the biological and chemical weapons program and to try and develop some sort of nuclear capacity. Because of the sanctions, Saddam Hussein is much weaker militarily than he was in 1990, while we are stronger — but that probably has given him even more incentive to try and amass weapons of mass destruction. I agree with many Republicans and Democrats in America and many here in Britain who want to go through the United Nations to bring the weight of world opinion together, to bring us all together, to offer one more chance to the inspections.
President Bush and Secretary Powell say they want a U.N. resolution too and are willing to give the inspectors another chance. Saddam Hussein, as usual, is bobbing and weaving. We should call his bluff. The United Nations should scrap the 1998 restrictions and call for a complete and unrestricted set of inspections with a new resolution. If the inspections go forward, and I hope they will, perhaps we can avoid a conflict. In any case the world ought to show up and say we meant it in 1991 when we said this man should not have a biological, chemical and nuclear weapons program. And we can do that through the UN. The prospect of a resolution actually offers us the chance to integrate the world, to make the United Nations a more meaningful, more powerful, more effective institution. And that’s why I appreciate what the prime minister is trying to do, in trying to bring America and the rest of the world to a common position. If he was not there to do this, I doubt if anyone else could, so I am very very grateful. (Applause)
If the inspections go forward, I believe we should still work for a regime change in Iraq in non-military ways, through support of the Iraqi opposition and in trying to strengthen it. Iraq has not always been a tyrannical dictatorship. Saddam Hussein was once a part of a government which came to power through more legitimate means.
The West has a lot to answer for in Iraq. Before the Gulf War — when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds and the Iranians — there was hardly a peep in the West because he was (fighting) Iran. Evidence has now come to light that in the early 1980s the United States may have even supplied him with the materials necessary to start the bio-weapons program. And in the Gulf War the Shi’ites in the southeast of Iraq were urged to rise up and then were cruelly abandoned to their fate as he came in and killed large numbers of them, drained the marshes and largely destroyed their culture and way of life. We cannot walk away from them or the proven evidence that they are capable of self-government and entitled to a decent life. We do not necessarily have to go to war to give it to them, but we cannot forget that we are not blameless in the misery under which they suffer and we must continue to support them (Applause).
This is a difficult issue. Military action should always be a last resort, for three reasons; because today Saddam Hussein has all the incentive in the world not to use or give these weapons away, but with certain defeat he would have all the incentive to do just that. Because a preemptive action today, however well justified, may come back with unwelcome consequences in the future. And because I have done this, I have ordered these kinds of actions. I do not care how precise your bombs and your weapons are — when you set them off, innocent people will die. (Applause).
Weighing the risks and making the calls are what we elect leaders to do, and I can tell you that as an American, and a citizen of the world, I am glad that Tony Blair will be central to weighing the risks and making the call. (Applause). For the moment the rest of us should support his efforts in the United Nations and until they fail we do not have to cross bridges we would prefer not to cross.
Now, let me just say a couple of other things. This is a delicate matter, but I think this whole Iraq issue is made more difficult for some of you because of the differences you have with the conservatives in America over other matters, over the criminal court and the Kyoto Treaty and the comprehensive test ban treaty. I don’t agree with (their positions) either — plus I disagree with them on nearly everything: on budget policy, (laughter) tax policy (applause), on education policy, (applause), on environmental policy, on health care policy. I have a world of disagreements with them. But we cannot lose sight of the bigger issue. To build the world we want, America will have to be involved and the best likelihood comes when America and Britain, when America and Europe, are working together. I cannot believe that we cannot reach across party and philosophical lines to find common ground on issues fundamental to our security and the way we organize ourselves as free people. That is what Tony Blair could not walk away from, what he should not have walked away from and what we are all trying to work through in the present day. I ask you to support him as he makes that effort. (Applause).