The Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS — President Bush delivered an unapologetic defense of his decision to invade Iraq, telling the United Nations Tuesday that his decision “helped to deliver the Iraqi people from an outlaw dictator.” Later, Bush condemned the beheading of a U.S. hostage by an Islamic militant.
Bush’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly, running just 24 minutes, appealed to the world community to join together in supporting the new Iraqi interim government. He included an appeal for intensifying the global war against terrorism and for focusing energies on humanitarian missions, from helping to end the bloody violence in Sudan to combating AIDS in Africa.
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 strongly defended his decision to lead a coalition that overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime without the blessings of the U.N. Security Council.
He spoke shortly after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened with a warning that the “rule of law” is at risk around the world. Annan last week asserted that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq “was illegal” because it lacked such Security Council approval.
“No one is above the law,” Annan 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.
Bush, meeting with the interim Iraq leader after the session, condemned the beheading this week of U.S. hostage Eugene Armstrong. The CIA has determined that the voice on a tape of the beheading was Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and that al-Zarqawi was likely the person who did the beheading.
Bush told a subdued U.N. session that terrorists believe that “suicide and murder are justified …And they act on their beliefs.”
Six weeks before Election Day, Bush’s 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.
With the casualty toll in Iraq still rising and with a rash of recent suicide attacks, Bush did not dwell on his decision to lead the invasion of Iraq. On Iraq, Richard Holbrooke, U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration, said this week that the goals that Bush has articulated for the new Iraq “are things that this administration has proved incapable of achieving.”