OXFORD UNION DEBATE

"Should President Bush be re-elected?"

(Thursday, 28th October, 2004)

For: Rt Hon David Trimble, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Coleen Graffy, former head of Republicans Abroad, Grover Norquist, Advisor to President Bush

Against: Piers Morgan, former Editor of Daily Mirror, Richard Dreyfuss, actor, Will Hutton, former Editor of The Observer


In favour of the proposition, Rt. Hon. David Trimble:

Well Madam President may I say first of all that it is a pleasure to be here and it is a particular pleasure to come after that very moving speech by Richard Dreyfuss. I will have occasion to refer to it later, but I think everyone appreciated the quality and sincerity of the comments that were made there.

Before I come to that and to the main points I want to make to you, I also want to comment on some of the other speeches that have been made, particularly those speaking against this proposition. While we have heard from the opponents of this proposition reflections on the knowledge and the ability of President Bush, implying a degree of unintelligence or ignorance, I do have to say, and I’m sorry to have to say this, but I was quite astonished at the level of ignorance and the level of prejudice displayed. Now we have reference to the behaviour – the quite indefensible behaviour – of some US soldiers at Abu Ghraib without any acknowledgement of the fact that there have been legal proceedings, soldiers responsible have been convicted and in one case got a 12 year sentence, and to say that the US Government and George Bush tolerated that ill-treatment is simply not true.

There is also a widespread understanding about the situation in Guantanamo Bay. The persons there are essentially Prisoners of War; they are persons who were captured in the field. Prisoners of War are not persons who have to be held as if it was in a civil situation where there has to be charges against them, normally prisoners of war are held until the war is over.

Interruption: - ”With your permission, I believe they were classified as enemy combatants and therefore were able to be taken out of their own country, is that not true?”

They were persons who were captured in the course of military operations and it is quite common in military operations, no matter how you classify people, for persons captured to be taken out of the theatre of operations. I thought perhaps you were going to intervene to tell me about the Supreme Court decision with regard to Guantanamo Bay which has quite clearly established a legal framework which will give people in Guantanamo Bay a form of legal redress which prisoners of war do not normally get even if people prefer the phrase ‘enemy combatants’.

Dreyfuss: - ”Was the conviction of Dreyfuss in France the moral ending of that story and was the conviction alone the morality of what we are doing here?’

I can well understand Richard your reference to the Dreyfuss case but I do have to say that it’s not at all relevant to the situation we are dealing with. Now if I can speak to your prize winner who dismissed Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait because it was 10 years ago – no doubt he would dismiss the invasion of Iran because it was even further away – could I suggest to you that you go and read the Iran Survey Group’s report or the summary of it which shows quite clearly that Saddam Hussein wanted to have weapons of mass destruction because of what he considered the threat he faced from Iran. It is quite clear from that that he wanted to try conclusions with Iran again in the future if he could. To dismiss the threat that Saddam posed to the region simply because the combined effort of so many countries trying to enforce UN resolutions from 1999 onwards had depleted his ability to do so – to then dismiss the threat that would be there if those sanctions had been broken (which was very nearly the case) is, I think, not particularly realistic.

Also unrealistic, I have to say to Mr Hutton, are some of the comments that he made. He referred to the way in which the occupation, immediately after the successful invasion of Iraq, decided initially to dissolve the Ba’ath Party and the implications that had for the administration in Iraq. Mr Hutton suggested that this was driven by some ideology of some sort. I would agree with you that it was not a wise decision as it turned out, but it’s quite clear that the precedent they were thinking of following was the denazification of Germany after 1945. It was a mistake, I think, to just simply follow in a crude way what was done there because it didn’t work in Iraq – but to say it was driven by ideology I think is wrong.

Interruption - ”It was not just about the Ba’ath Party, it was about the entire police, the armed services, the lot.”

With regard to the administrative structure in Iraq, the one followed from the other because in fact all the structures both civil and military were dominated completely by the Ba’ath party. Once you took the Ba’ath party members out you were then left with no civil administration, that’s why I actually think it was a bad idea in practice. But to suggest as you did that it was driven by ideology is wrong, and that’s the point I’m making. You are being driven I think by you ideological view of US republicanism and I think there is a mistake there.

Now I’ve just 5 minutes and I want to turn to the main point which I wish to make. I would have liked to have time to deal with the economic issues where I’m afraid the economic policies of Kerry are absolutely wrong, and if we didn’t hear enough about Kerry’s protectionism and Kerry’s lack of realisation of the economic benefits that flow from globelisation – it is a good thing actually but I want to ask you here now to think about this not from the point of view of what is good for the US people – because the economic issues relate to that – but to think of it from the British national interest. I say British deliverately because I want to exclude from your mind any sort of little England-ism, and we got a picture of it there describing the British equivalent which is isolationism and doesn’t want to look beyond the world of the country that we live in.

We can’t afford to be Little Englanders – we are a nation with global interests. We are also, we must be, very concerned about the future of the world that we live in. I mentioned economic globalisation – but there is globalisation taking place in other terms as well, and put very movingly and very eloquently by Richard Dreyfuss when he said that we have now reached a point unheard of in history, where threats that may have originated thousands of miles away can directly affect our interests and we have got to take account of that.

There is a big problem in the world today, it concerns what’s called the greater Middle East; that area stretching from both sides of the Sahara right through the Middle East to India. There is within that area a lot of weak states and a lot of unstable states. There are lots of places within that in which terrorist groups can operate and we know in the way in which through Al-Qaeda they have formed an international network and they are pursuing a policy which is against our interest and which indeed threatens the stability of the world. That is not an exaggeration that is the problem that we face.

The problem has been growing for some time. Unfortunately, in President Clinton’s time, there was a tendency to brush it under the carpet. We know of course of the dramatic effect of the attacks in September 2001 but please bear in mind that six years earlier there was another attack on the twin towers and that earlier attack was intended to bring the towers down – it failed, but that was the intention so the problem was there and unfortunately, under the Clinton period, there was a little bit of wishful thinking. The wishful thinking ended on 9/11 and people had to deal with the reality of the situation. There’s no point complaining about it, there’s no point hoping that somehow this goes away, it’s here and we are going to have to deal with it.

Now there will be mistakes made in dealing with it and I have conceded some of those. There will be future mistakes made again, you can’t in a situation like this, expect everything to go well. John McCain has made criticisms, but John McCain has also said that in wars things don’t always go right and you’ve got to be prepared for the difficulties that are there.

Now, looking at those difficulties, you’ve got to ask yourself, are we better off where the United States is the largest military power in the world, and the largest economic power in the world, as it will necessarily have to lead the effort to deal with this. Are we going to be better off with someone who did actually rise to the challenge and who didn’t rush recklessly into the matter, who proceeded carefully and with deliberation, who turned Pakistan around extremely successfully, who has helped to neutralise the problem in Kashmir, who was successful in Afghanistan in quite a remarkable way, and who has taken on this problem in Iraq which needs to be dealt with.

Yes, there are difficulties, but are you going to follow someone who has actually had the moral courage to deal with it, or are you going to deal with a person who in all his career has not shown any capability for leadership and who has not shown any capability of taking decisions on any basis other than what is going to be most popular on one particular day. Yes, I know the phrase ‘flip-flop’ is used, but it is an accurate reflection of the gentleman’s career. Has he in fact produced any policies – we didn’t hear any, there was no alternative. I listened carefully to Mr Hanson but no alternative came forward. Mr Hutton said that Kerry will try and do something – but what? On his record he’s not even going to get up to the standard of Bill Clinton and Bill didn’t do a good job of tackling these problems – indeed, part of the difficulty we have is the fact that he didn’t deal with the issue when he should have and when he could have, but we have to deal with it now.

So I say to you this – we have a big problem in the world today – we are going to have to find a way, as Richard Dreyfuss says, of trying to solve this problem and we are only going to do that by actually engaging with the problem! Yes, and by engaging too with the Muslim world because this is a problem of the difficulty of some segments of Islamic Society in dealing with modernisation in the modern world (and I say some segments). We have got to engage with them, we have got to understand the problem we are dealing with, but we’ve got to be clear about those who resort to violence and those who resort to terrorism. Yes, we’ve got to try and understand them and if possible diffuse them but we’ve also got to be very clear about those who pose threats.

If you want to see uncovenanted benefits that come from the forward policies of President Bush, look at Libya, look at the way that it has disarmed, and then think also about Iran which appears to be determined to develop Nuclear weapons and realise that there is an immediate problem that has to be addressed one way or another and if we are going to have to bring pressure to bear on Iran who would you rather do it – someone who has got clarify and determination and courage or someone who appears, in the rather old-fashioned phrase, to have a lack of moral fibre.


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