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An Annotated Refutation of President George W. Bush's September 23 Address Before the United Nations
by Stephen Zunes
September 24, 2003

"The success of a free Iraq will be watched and noted throughout the region. Millions will see that freedom, equality, and material progress are possible at the heart of the Middle East. Leaders in the region will face the clearest evidence that free institutions and open societies are the only path to long-term national success and dignity."

This is ironic statement from the government that is the world's primary economic, diplomatic and military backer of autocratic leaders throughout the Middle East. Since coming to office, the Bush Administration has actually increased military and economic assistance to dictatorial regimes that deny their people free institutions and open societies.

"And a transformed Middle East would benefit the entire world, by undermining the ideologies that export violence to other lands."

Then why not encourage such a transformation by first ending U.S. support for the dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- long considered America's two most important Arab allies -- that not only deny their people the political freedom that President Bush claims to support, but have (not coincidentally) produced most of Al-Qaeda's members and leadership.

"Iraq as a dictatorship had great power to destabilize the Middle East."

It did during the 1980s, when the U.S. was supporting it. Subsequent to Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, however, after its military capacity was largely destroyed and they were no longer able to import the necessary weapons, technology and raw materials from advanced industrialized countries, the Iraqi dictatorship was barely a shell of its once formidable military prowess.

"Iraq as a democracy will have great power to inspire the Middle East. The advance of democratic institutions in Iraq is setting an example that others, including the Palestinian people, would be wise to follow."

The primary obstacle to Palestinian democracy is the Israeli occupation -- armed and financed by the United States -- which denies the Palestinians their right to self-determination and their ability to create and sustain their own democratic institutions.

"The Palestinian cause is betrayed by leaders who cling to power by feeding old hatreds, and destroying the good work of others."

Actually, Palestinian public opinion is more militant than most of the Palestinian Authority's leadership, which has called for resuming negotiations and implementing the road map that would lead to a Palestinian state encompassing the now-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside a secure Israel with a shared co-capital of Jerusalem. While some demagogues -- particularly among radical Islamic groups -- are indeed exacerbating the conflict, the violence from the Palestinian side stems less from "old hatreds" as it does from the very current and ongoing occupation and colonization of their land and the ongoing repression and harassment of their people.

"The Palestinian people deserve their own state, committed to reform, to fighting terror, and to building peace."

Then why is the United States spending billions of dollars, vetoing UN Security Council resolutions, and shipping massive amounts of armaments to enable Israel to maintain the very occupation that prevents the Palestinians from establishing a viable state? In addition, thus far President Bush has shown no indication that his vision of a Palestinian "state" is anything more than right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's plans to offer the Palestinians a bare 40% of the occupied territories (less than 10% of historic Palestine), subdivided into a series of non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel.

"A second challenge we must confront together is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Outlaw regimes that possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons -- and the means to deliver them -- would be able to use blackmail and create chaos in entire regions. We are determined to keep the world's most destructive weapons away from all our shores, and out of the hands of our common enemies. Because proliferators will use any route or channel that is open to them, we need the broadest possible cooperation to stop them. Today I ask the UN Security Council to adopt a new anti-proliferation resolution. This resolution should call on all members of the UN to criminalize the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; to enact strict export controls consistent with international standards; and to secure any and all sensitive materials within their own borders."

It is noteworthy how the United States exempts itself and such Southwest Asian allies as Israel and Pakistan from anti-proliferation resolutions while focusing solely on governments it doesn't like. It is also revealing that the Bush Administration has rejected calls from Middle Eastern nations -- ranging from allies like Jordan to adversaries like Syria -- for the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone for all of the Middle East, comparable to treaties that already exist in Latin America and the South Pacific. It is also worth noting that the United States has also been notoriously lax in its own export controls of dual-use technologies.

"There is another humanitarian crisis, spreading and yet hidden from view. Each year, an estimated eight to nine hundred thousand human beings are bought, sold, or forced across the world's borders. Among them are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls, and others as young as five, who fall victim to the sex trade. This commerce in human life generates billions of dollars each year, much of which is used to finance organized crime. There is a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. The victims of sex trade see little of life before they see the very worst of life, an underworld of brutality and lonely fear. Those who create these victims, and profit from their suffering, must be severely punished. Those who patronize this industry debase themselves and deepen the misery of others. And governments that tolerate this trade are tolerating a form of slavery."

Most development organizations and advocates for Third World women recognize that the sex trade and other human trafficking has grown most dramatically in countries where traditional economies have collapsed as a result of neo-liberal economic policies imposed by U.S.-backed international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. The selling of one's daughter or oneself becomes a matter of survival. Shifting to a development policy that emphasizes sustainable development and grassroots economic initiatives (such as micro-lending programs) will do far more to lessen this human tragedy than relying on law enforcement alone.

"As an original signer of the UN charter, the United States of America is committed to the United Nations. And we show that commitment by working to fulfill the UN's stated purposes, and give meaning to its ideals."

Then why did the United States violate the UN Charter by invading a sovereign member nation?

"The founding documents of the United Nations and the founding documents of America stand in the same tradition. Both assert that human beings should never be reduced to objects of power or commerce, because their dignity is inherent."

This is an excellent summation of why the policies of the Bush Administration are subject to growing opposition both at home and abroad.

"Both recognize a moral law that stands above men and nations which must be defended and enforced by men and nations. And both point the way to peace, the peace that comes when all are free. We secure that peace with our courage, and we must show that courage together."

Indeed, individuals and nations must demonstrate enormous courage and struggle nonviolently against the policies of what is being seen increasingly as a rogue superpower whose quest for domination so seriously threatens the rule of law, basic moral principles, human freedom and any hope for real peace and security

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco and the author of 'Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism' . He serves as Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project, where this analysis first appeared.

September 26, 2003


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