With the American people, the international community and his alma mater watching, U.S. President George W. Bush ’68 described his vision for the nation’s future in his second State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Bush touched on an array of issues, including the fight against terrorism, the economy, North Korea and Iraq. While a number of Yale professors expressed differing opinions on Bush’s speech, most agreed that Bush did not make a compelling case for war with Iraq.
“He was trying to build some support for an attack on Iraq among the American people and Congress,” said Jean Krasno, political science professor and executive director of the academic council on the United Nations. “It appears from the kind of language that President Bush was using tonight that there is a very strong will to go to war.”
Krasno noted that Bush dedicated almost a third of his address to Iraq and justified a possible attack on Saddam Hussein in three ways — by painting Hussein as a sad and evil leader, alluding to his links with terrorism, and arguing that the Iraqi leader posed a threat to the Middle East.
History professor John Gaddis said Bush’s case against Hussein was “more nuanced” than in past speeches. Gaddis noted that Bush used fewer incendiary phrases and sweeping descriptions of various countries.
“It was not as gripping a speech as some of the other ones he has given, such as the U.N. speech,” Gaddis said. “Bush went out of his way this time to make distinctions between Iran, North Korea and Iraq … [unlike] last year, when he lumped them all together. The administration has learned in office, and as they get more experience, they get more sophisticated.”
Gaddis said last night’s speech provided the strongest and clearest case against Hussein thus far. But for Krasno, the case was not strong enough.
“If [the Bush administration] is going to go to war and wants the American people with it, it is going to have to come up with evidence that Iraq is a real threat now and [it is] going to have to get, if not a U.N. resolution, at least a bigger coalition,” she said.
Bush indicated last night that he will seek the support of the U.N. to build a coalition, but he qualified the remark.
“The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of other nations,” Bush said.
Evaluating Bush’s statement, Gaddis said while the administration would like U.N. backing, it would act unilaterally if necessary.
“They are saying: ‘We will consult, we would act as part of a coalition, though we will go regardless of what the U.N. does,’” Gaddis said.
Political science professor Keith Darden said although the Bush administration cannot expect an international consensus, it should at least consider the objections of traditional allies, such as France and Germany, before taking any action.
“There are other reasonable countries like France and Germany and if they aren’t persuaded, that should at least give us pause,” Darden said.
As American citizens and the U.S. government pause to reflect on the past year and lay the groundwork for the coming year, Bush summarized his views on the “state of the union.”
“The war [on terror] goes on, and we are winning,” Bush said.
But Darden remained skeptical of the President’s assessment.
“I don’t think the government knows whether we’re winning,” Darden said. “I am quite certain they don’t have that information.”