As U.S. Strikes Targets In Iraq, A Sense Of Deja Vu

On Thursday, President Obama became the fourth U.S. president in a row to initiate military strikes in Iraq. NPR's Arun Rath reflects on 23 years of on and off airstrikes in the country.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

As a candidate, Barack Obama pledged to end the U.S. military involvement in Iraq and he's trumpeted that accomplishment as president. But this week, Mr. Obama became the fourth consecutive president to launch an attack in that country.

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PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: My fellow citizens.

RATH: We all remember the nonexistent weapons of massive destruction that were the justification for President George W. Bush's shock-and-awe campaign over Baghdad that began on March 19th, 2003.

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GEORGE W. BUSH: At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.

RATH: The subsequent fighting dragged on for nearly nine years.

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PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Good evening, earlier today I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq.

RATH: On December 16th, 1998 President Clinton announced airstrikes against regime of Saddam Hussein.

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CLINTON: Their mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.

RATH: Five years earlier...

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CLINTON: My fellow Americans.

RATH: ... On June 26th, 1993, Clinton delivered a similar speech.

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CLINTON: I ordered our forces to launch a cruise missile attack on the Iraqi Intelligence Services Principal Command And Control Facility in Baghdad.

RATH: In that instance, Clinton ordered strikes as retaliation for a plot to assassinate his predecessor, Geroge H.W. Bush

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PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Just two hours ago, Allied air forces begin an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These attacks continue as I speak.

RATH: And that is present George H.W. Bush speaking on January 16th, 1991. It was the beginning of the Gulf War.

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GEORGE H.W. BUSH: This is a historic moment. We have in this past year made great progress in ending the long era of conflict and Cold War. We have before us the opportunity to forge, for ourselves and for future generations, a New World order - a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations.

RATH: It's strange to look back on that post-Cold War optimism of the '90s but was very real at the time. Political scientist imagined a new era were old conflicts gave way to the civilizing power of the world marketplace. I don't need to remind you how bloody the world is today since I already do that on a routine basis on this program. So let's allow ourselves a moment of nostalgia for that moment in 1991 when it felt like the world's problems could be solved.

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GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Tonight, as our forces fight, they and their families are in our prayers. May God bless each and everyone of them.

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CLINTON: May God bless and protect the brave young men and women who are carrying out this vital mission and their families.

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GEORGE W. BUSH: May God bless our country and all who defend her.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: God bless our Armed Forces and God bless the United States of America.

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