Washington, 21 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush, in his annual State of the Union address, has confronted critics of the Iraq war, saying that toppling Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was the right course and that America does not need "permission" from the international community to defend itself.
Bush, in the speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress last night, said that if the United States and its allies had not acted to invade Iraq last March, Hussein's regime would still be seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction and committing human rights abuses.
"Had we failed to act, the dictator's [Hussein's] weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day," he said. "Had we failed to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq would have been revealed as empty threats, weakening the United Nations, and encouraging defiance around the world. Iraq's torture chambers would still be filled with victims, terrified and innocent. The killing fields of Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of men and women and children vanished into the sand would still be known only to the killers. For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein's regime is a better and safer place."
Bush did not address the failure of U.S.-led forces so far to find any actual chemical or biological weapons that U.S. leaders said were present in Iraq before the war. Bush said however that the Iraq war had been a factor in Libya deciding late last year to abandon its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. He said the situation in Iraq is improving and he introduced the current president of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, who was seated next to Bush's wife, Laura, during the address:
"Month by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their own security and their own future. And tonight we are honored to welcome one of Iraq's most respected leaders: the current president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi. Sir, America stands with you and the Iraqi people as you build a free and peaceful nation." Pachachi received one of the longest ovations of the night. He later spoke about the establishment of a legislative body in Iraq: "I think, if it's well-refined, if it's done properly, I think it will really enable the Iraqis to have a legislature that really represents their views and is widely representative. And that's what the United Nations asked. They said that sovereignty will be restored to Iraq only if there was a representative government, internationally recognized. And that's what we hope will happen."
Afterward, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said this about the situation in Iraq: "The United States and, especially, the president, [are] totally committed to provide the Iraqi people what they have dreamed and hoped for and that is a democratic form of government. The United States will not find the road difficult. We will smooth it out. We will be with our Iraqi friends throughout this entire process."
The president said that for diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible, and that no one can now doubt America's word. Bush said the United States and the international community are continuing to insist that Iran and North Korea halt any moves to develop nuclear weapons.
In the speech, which comes as Bush launches his campaign to seek re-election in November, Bush also hailed U.S.-led successes in capturing or killing suspected terrorists, but said it would be wrong for Americans to believe they do not still face the danger of possible terror attacks. He said that coalition forces in Iraq have killed or captured 45 of the 55 most wanted Iraqis.