Thursday, September 16, 2004

Reassessing Iraq: Were we "Misled to War"?

The major controversy of the War on Islamist Terror has been the invasion of Iraq. Is it a part of the war, or merely a distraction? Hasn't the war increased anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world? Was Saddam really a threat? Wasn't he contained? Was the war worth the financial and, more importantly, the human cost?

The biggest controversy regarding the Iraq campaign has involved the issue of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It was widely believed before the war, by the Bush Administration and others that Iraq possessed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, as well as an active nuclear weapons program. Since the fall of Saddam's regime, we have found that, in the words of Dr. David Kay, "it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons" in Iraq.

Democrats and others have seized on the relative lack of weaponized WMD in Iraq to accuse the Bush Administration of exaggerating or even lying about the threat posed by Saddam. John Kerry frequently says that President Bush "misled us into war" in Iraq. Kerry's own record of statements on Iraq is long enough to merit its own essay, and it will. In the meantime, are Kerry and others correct in alleging that the Bush Administration lied about Saddam's WMD capabilities? There is plenty of evidence that disproves this notion.

1. The Clinton Administration described Saddam's regime as a threat on numerous occasions, often employing rhetoric that echoed that of the Bush Administration. As President Clinton stated on February 17, 1998:

"It is obvious that there is an attempt here, based on the whole history of this operation since 1991, to protect whatever remains of his capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, the missiles to deliver them, and the feed stocks necessary to produce them. The UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq still has stockpiles of chemical and biological munitions, a small force of Scud-type missiles, and the capacity to restart quickly its production program and build many, many more weapons. . . .

"Now, let's imagine the future. What if he fails to comply and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route, which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he'll use the arsenal. . . ."

Source: Project for the New American Century, The Clinton Administration's Public Case Against Saddam Hussein

2. Many of the same Democrats who accuse President Bush of lying or exaggerating in regards to Saddam's WMD programs are themselves on record warning of the threat posed by those same weapons. Take the example of West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller. In the "Additional Views" section of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Iraq intelligence, that was released in July 2004, Rockefeller wrote the following:

The Bush Administration's case against Iraq was largely based on the argument that we knew with certainty that Iraq possessed large quantities of chemical and biological weapons, was aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons, and that an established relationship between Baghdad and al Qaeda would allow for the transfer of these weapons for use against the United States. This national security rationale being put forth publicly by senior administration officials in support of regime change in Iraq was simple, direct and often fundamentally misleading.

However, in the October 9, 2002 Senate floor debate over the Iraq war resolution, Rockefeller, who voted for the resolution, said this:

There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years. And that may happen sooner if he can obtain access to enriched uranium from foreign sources--something that is not that difficult in the current world. We should also remember that we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction . . . But this isn't just a future threat. Saddam's existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose a very real threat to America, now. Saddam has used chemical weapons before, both against Iraq's enemies and against his own people. He is working to develop delivery systems like missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that could bring these deadly weapons against U.S. forces and U.S. facilities in the Middle East. . . .

(emphasis added-DD)

Source: Stephen F. Hayes, "Additional Views", The Weekly Standard, July 12, 2004

John Edwards, who also voted in favor of authorizing force in Iraq, publicly denied that the administration had "misled" him:

"No. I didn't get misled," he said on Hardball with Chris Matthews on October 13, 2003, almost a year to the day after he voted to authorize the Iraq war and some six months after major combat ended. "As you know," he went on, "I serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee. So it wasn't just the Bush administration. I sat in meeting after meeting after meeting where we were told about the presence of weapons of mass destruction. There is clearly a disconnect between what we were told and what, in fact, we found there."

Source: Stephen F. Hayes, "John Edwards, Dove?", The Weekly Standard, July 28, 2004

3. Another claim made by Democrats is that the Bush Administration described Iraq an "imminent threat" to the US. This is demonstrably false. As the liberal site Spinsanity notes in an extremely fair analysis:

Moreover, there are extremely few instances in which any member of the Bush administration even suggested that Iraq posed an "imminent threat."


This evidence is paltry, however, when compared to the times when Bush specifically argued that Iraq was an enemy for which the concept of "imminent threat" was insufficient.

To take just a few examples, when signing the Congressional resolution empowering him to order an invasion of Iraq last October, Bush stated, "The Iraqi regime is a serious and growing threat to peace." In his address to the United Nations in September of last year, Bush said, "Our greatest fear is that terrorists will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale." And when summarizing his case against Iraq shortly before the war began in March, Bush stated, "The dictator of Iraq and his weapons of mass destruction are a threat to the security of free nations. He is a danger to his neighbors. He's a sponsor of terrorism. He's an obstacle to progress in the Middle East. For decades he has been the cruel, cruel oppressor of the Iraq people."

Source: Ben Fritz, "Sorting out the "imminent threat" debate",, November 3, 2003

In fact, in his 2003 State of the Union Address, George W. Bush specifically said that Saddam's Iraq was not an imminent threat:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

Source: President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 28, 2003

In fact, of the four men currently running for President or Vice-President, the only one who called Iraq an "imminent threat" was John Edwards:

Although Democrats, including Kerry, had long paid lip service to a policy of regime change in Iraq, Edwards was one of the earliest and most outspoken Democratic hawks on Iraq following the September 11 attacks. On February 24, 2002, he described Saddam Hussein's regime as an "imminent threat" in an interview on CNN. "I think Iraq is the most serious and imminent threat to our country."

Source: Stephen F. Hayes, "John Edwards, Dove?", The Weekly Standard, July 28, 2004

4. The belief was almost universal among foreign governments and intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein possessed active WMD programs. As Dr. David Kay pointed out in his January 28, 2004 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Senator Kennedy knows very directly. Senator Kennedy and I talked on several occasions prior to the war that my view was that the best evidence that I had seen was that Iraq, indeed, had weapons of mass destruction.

I would also point out that many governments that chose not to support this war -- certainly, the French president, Chirac, as I recall in April of last year, referred to Iraq's possession of WMD. The German certainly -- the intelligence service believed that there were WMD.

It turns out that we were all wrong, probably in my judgment, and that is most disturbing.

(emphasis added-DD)

Source: Dr. David Kay, Testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, January 28, 2004

Or as Kenneth Pollack told the Atlantic Monthly in an interview:

It's important to remember that any intelligence service or country with the ability to monitor Iraq and its weapons programs—Germany, France, Britain, Russia, Israel—was a hundred percent certain that Saddam had these programs. There may have been some debate over just how aggressive they were or how far along they were. The Germans were the most alarmist of all on the subject of a nuclear weapon. They thought the Iraqis might have one in as little as two or three years. Our own intelligence community tended to be a little more conservative; they thought it was more like four to six years away—or five to seven. But no one doubted that Saddam had these weapons.

Source: Atlantic Online, "Weapons of Misperception", January 13, 2004

5. An argument that many Democrats have made against the Bush Administration is that it "pressured" the intelligence community to come up with the desired conclusions regarding Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Iraq debunked this notion as well. As the report concluded:

The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

Source: United States Senate, Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq: Conclusions, July 2004

(official PDF version at:

6. The most telling evidence in the administration's favor is Saddam Hussein's own record. He was a genocidal, totalitarian tyrant who had launched two wars against his neighbors, used chemical weapons on his own civilians, and spent 12 years in defiance of ultimately 17 United Nations resolutions. In light of his track record, it was up to Saddam to prove that he was in compliance with the obligations imposed upon him, and this is exactly what he failed to do. Stephen Sestanovich makes the point even more clearly:

Clearly, President Bush and his advisers did not expect Saddam Hussein to cooperate in this test, and might still have wanted war if he had. But even if the administration had handled other aspects of the issue differently, it would still have been necessary to subject Iraq to a test. In our debate about the war, we need to acknowledge that the administration set the right test for Saddam Hussein -- and that he did not pass it.

When America demanded that Iraq follow the example of countries like Ukraine and South Africa, which sought international help in dismantling their weapons of mass destruction, it set the bar extremely high, but not unreasonably so. The right test had to reflect Saddam Hussein's long record of acquiring, using and concealing such weapons. Just as important, it had to yield a clear enough result to satisfy doubters on both sides, either breaking the momentum for war or showing that it was justified.

(emphasis added-DD)

Source: Stephen R. Sestanovich, "How Saddam Failed the Yeltsin Test", originally published in the New York Times, July 21, 2004

David Kay himself has pointed out that Saddam remained in material breach of all UN resolutions requiring him to dismantle his WMD programs till the last day of his regime:

Iraq was in clear and material violation of 1441. They maintained programs and activities, and they certainly had the intentions at a point to resume their program. So there was a lot they wanted to hide because it showed what they were doing that was illegal. I hope we find even more evidence of that.

Source: Kay, Senate Testimony, January 28, 2004

People who criticize George Bush for launching a war against Iraq ignore one final point: We were already at war with Saddam's Iraq. Everyday for almost a decade, American pilots enforced no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, and were shot at regularly by Iraqi forces while doing so. Tommy Franks has written in his memoir, American Soldier, that having an American plane shot down over Iraq was one of his major concerns.(p.268)

Yes, the intelligence on Iraq was far from perfect. Unfortunately, this is the norm, not the exception. Not only the Bush Administration, but also the Clinton Administration, the British, French, Russians, Germans, and Israelis all considered Saddam's WMD programs to be an active and growing threat. Many of the same Democrats who now repeat the "Bush lied" mantra, were themselves adamant that Saddam posed a threat that needed to be dealt with. The Bush Administration did not argue that Saddam posed an "imminent threat": rather, they argued that, considering his track record and the available intelligence, that waiting patiently until Saddam became an "imminent threat" was not an option in the post 9/11 world. It is perfectly fair to disagree with this strategy, or to criticize the Bush Administration's implementation of this policy. However, the idea that the administration "lied" or "misled" us into Iraq is simply not a credible argument in light of the available evidence.


Blogger Simon W. Moon ksc said...

Even though you've posted comments from various politicians on their beliefs about Hussein being a threat, you don't mention the American Intelligence Community's assessment of the probability of Hussein initiating and attack on the US (directly or by proxy).
Since everyone knows that just because two or more politicians tell you the same story it doesn't mean you aren't gettin hornswaggled, I thought I'd take a moment and post it.
I'd be sorely disappointed if Mr. Bush et al decided to invade Iraq based on the likes of these comments from Mr. Clinton and Mr. Rockefeller.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Dave said...


Thanks for your comment. I note that neither David Kay, Kenneth Pollack, nor Stephen Sestanovich are politicians. My purpose in using quotes from Bill Clinton, Jay Rockefeller, and John Edwards was that these were Democrats who saw the same intelligence that Bush did, and came to the same general conclusion that Saddam had active WMD programs that posed a threat to the US. The Bush Administration's view of Saddam as a serious threat who could no longer be left to his own devices in a post 9/11 world was widely held on both sides of the political aisle. For many of the same Democrats to turn around now and say "Bush lied" when they saw the same evidence and came to the same conclusion is extremely disingenuous. BTW, I'm sure Bush put much more stock in George Tenet's comment that the issue of Saddam and WMD was a "slam dunk" than he did in any of the quotes from Democrats that I cited.

You link to the October 9th, 2002 letter from George Tenet to Senator Bob Graham, in order to correctly emphasize that the opinion of the Intelligence Community was that it was unlikely that Saddam would initiate an attack against us. However, in that same letter, Tenet also writes "that the likelihood of Saddam using WMD for blackmail, deterrence, or otherwise grows as his arsenal builds". The letter further says that "growing indications of a relationship with al- Qa'ida, suggest that Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase, even absent US military action". So, in other words, the same Intelligence Community who told President Bush that it was a "slam dunk" that Iraq had WMD also told him that the threat from Iraq was growing.

This gets back to the crucial factor of Saddam's own record, and history of aggression and erratic behavior. A strong case can be made, and was, that Saddam simply could not be contained or deterred over the long term. In light of all these factors, Bush decided that the issue of Saddam's Iraq had to be dealt with. You may disagree with that decision, but many Democrats, as I've pointed out, didn't, at least not at the time. To say Bush "lied" about the threat posed by Saddam, when both the belief that Iraq had WMD and the fear of how Saddam would use them were widely held, is simply not a tenable argument. That is the point I am making.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

1:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home