The United States’ invasion of Iraq happened 20 years ago. Chile’s president at the time rejected the U.S. invasion on the international stage, despite a call from then American president George W. Bush. Chile was a non-permanent member of the United Nations’ Security Council at the time.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq occurred March 20, 2003. Ricardo Lagos, then-president of Chile, rejected the United States’ request for a resolution by the United Nations’ Security Council approving the attack. Chile was one of only two Latin American countries in the council’s non-permanent member seats. Mexico was the other.
In an interview with La Tercera, Lagos recalled a telephone call with then-president of the U.S. George W. Bush ahead of the council’s vote. Bush had called Lagos hoping to get Chile’s vote in favor of the resolution. Lagos told Bush that they should wait one more month for the U.N. investigations team to determine if there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In reply, Bush told Lagos that they had waited too long and this was the moment.
“No, I can’t support you going to war, if you go to war without the Security Council’s approval, I will not support you. I think it needs another month,” Lagos said. After this response from Lagos, Bush no longer addressed Lagos by his first name. “Mr. President, I thank you very much for your frankness,” Lagos recalled Bush telling him.
Lagos told La Tercera his rejection was rule-based: ” … Chile is a small country. The international role we play is not very big. But precisely because we are small, we demand rules in the international arena. Because if there are no rules, the big ones will take us on. Consequently, I explained this repeatedly to President Bush: that we need rules because we are a small country. Bush had a hard time understanding the issue of the rules.”
In the end, the U.S. invaded Iraq without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.
When Bush called Vicente Fox, then-president of Mexico, to ask his country’s vote as a non-permanent member, Fox told Bush that he was still undecided. Fox’s indecisiveness bothered Bush, which was also why Bush thanked Lagos for his frankness at the end of their phone call.
Chongyang Zhang is pursuing an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s program in journalism, media and globalisation. His interest lies in the relations among the United States, Latin America and China. He is currently doing an exchange semester at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.