Politics and Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Ties that Bind Obama to Bush


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President Obama has worked to make the case for a military strike on Syria, but public opinion is opposed. Image by Pete Souza

Separated by ten years, U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama are now connected in a way that few could have predicted. Each has been in the position of weighing what to do about the possibility of weapons of mass destruction being used by seemingly unstable dictators.

Despite their deep political differences, both Bush and Obama reached the same conclusion regarding the Middle East: Military action is necessary before the weapons threat spreads.

Iraq and Syria: Making The Case for Military Action

Ten years ago, then President Bush stood before the American public and made a case for military action in Iraq.

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised,” said Bush in a March 17, 2003 speech. “This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq’s neighbors and against Iraq’s people.”

Now, Obama has reached the same conclusion about Syria. In his speech on August 31, 2013, he too argued there was no doubt the country had weapons of mass destruction and had used them.

Our intelligence shows the Assad regime and its forces preparing to use chemical weapons, launching rockets in the highly populated suburbs of Damascus, and acknowledging that a chemical weapons attack took place,” said Obama in his August speech.

War Drums: A Very Different Global Response

Despite the similarities in the cases, the global response has been much different for Obama than it was for Bush.

In February 2003, then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations and laid out a case for the invasion of Iraq. Among the evidence were witness statements, government reports and audio recordings of Iraqi officials allegedly discussing how to move illicit weapons and conceal them from inspectors. Afterward, 50 nations joined what was dubbed the Coalition of the Willing, and 15 committed to sending troops as part of the effort.

However, Obama’s call for an air strike in Syria has not been met with the same level of support. Although there appears to be medical evidence that the nerve agent sarin was used in a raid against rebels in Damascus, other countries appear reluctant to commit support for a retaliation.

Syrian ally Russia holds veto power on the UN’s Security Council, and without the blessing of that body, the call for an air strike on the Middle Eastern country is unlikely to gain international traction. Even Britain, one of the staunchest supporters of the Iraqi invasion, does not seem swayed, and its Parliament has voted against military action in Syria.

Syrian Strike: Public Opinion Opposed

At an international level, lack of support for a Syrian strike may be largely the result of the lingering Iraqi war. After the lengthy occupation there, war-weary countries may not be in any rush to jump into a new conflict.

On the home front, it remains up for debate as to why the American public overwhelmingly supported the invasion of Iraq and overwhelmingly opposes an air strike on Syria.

However, the fact remains that most Americans oppose military action in response to the attack in Damascus. A poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, published on September 3, 2013 found 59 percent of Americans oppose military action in Syria. For comparison, in March 2003, the Pew Research Center found 72 percent of Americans polled said using military force in Iraq was the right decision.

American Public Not Convinced on Syria

It is likely there are a number of reasons leading to the reversal of American support for military action in the Middle East. The terror attacks of 9/11 were still a fresh memory in 2003, and widespread international support probably buoyed public perception of an Iraqi invasion.

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