President Bush officially took the U.S. into the Iraq War on 3/19/03, citing Saddam Hussein as a grave threat, a man with weapons of mass destruction that endangered Americans. Within a few months, Americans began learning that this charge was false. Saddam possessed no significant weapons of mass destruction (WMD), or at least a corps of seekers found none anywhere they searched. Therefore the charge that he was a grave threat also was false.
How fantastic that the President and many other of his officials could have made so many false statements. How alarming that so many believed that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat. Every day we learn more details about how this situation occurred, how intelligence was fixed, how high administration officials set inexperienced Bush operatives to reading and misreading raw intelligence, how administration officials pressured professional intelligence officers or shunted them aside, etc.
In years to come, we shall discover a great many more details. Perhaps Congress will hold more hearings. Historians and others will offer many theories and explanations. In my view, Bush made a significant error in starting the Iraq War, and that is why understanding the history quickly is important. War is terrible. We certainly do not want avoidable wars. We have yet to see the full consequences of this war, in terms of shifting resources away from going after terrorists, in fostering new terrorists, in strengthening Iran’s hand in Iraq, in encouraging Islamic fundamentalism, in weakening the U.S., and in other as yet unrevealed ways.
If Saddam Hussein was not a grave threat, how did so many people come to view him as one? When did common perception transform him into a mortal threat to America? Who stimulated this transformation and why? What accidental factors contributed to this error?
If we can answer these questions in depth, perhaps we can learn more about the fundamental failings of our system of state and government. Perhaps we can change our system. Perhaps we can avoid similar errors in the future. This article merely begins to raise pertinent questions. It does not answer them. Perhaps it points in fruitful directions; perhaps not. It only begins to sort out the strange case of Saddam Hussein’s transformation from two-bit dictator and strong man into an evil the size of Hitler, capable of producing mushroom clouds over America, possessor of unmanned vehicles filled with biological diseases lying off the Atlantic shores.
Answers to historical questions often have no simple beginnings. We might begin, for example, on February 19, 1998 when a group sent an Open Letter to President Clinton calling for "a determined program to change the regime in Baghdad." This letter was signed by 40 individuals, including Perle, Abrams, Bolton, Feith, Gaffney, Kagan, Kristol, Ledeen, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Wurmser as well as former high government officials like Weinberger, Carlucci, and McFarlane.
The ideas and themes in this letter would be repeated and elaborated upon (with variations) down to the present: "And despite his defeat in the Gulf War, continuing sanctions, and the determined effort of U.N. inspectors to ferret out and destroy his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein has been able to develop biological and chemical munitions. To underscore the threat posed by these deadly devices, the Secretaries of State and Defense have said that these weapons could be used against our own people." Iraq was "a danger to our friends, our allies, and to our nation." Iraq, the writers claimed "is ripe for a broad-based insurrection. We must exploit this opportunity…What is needed now is a comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime." "Vital national interests" required action. The authors urged Clinton to "save ourselves and the world from the scourge of Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction that he refuses to relinquish." The actions recommended included a war of insurrection with anti-Saddam provisional government forces backed by American forces, a blueprint that now appears nave.
The letter writers viewed Saddam as a severe scourge or threat, making action necessary to save not only ourselves but also the world! How and why did these individuals come to hold such an extreme and apparently mistaken view of a minor dictator who not long before was allied to the U.S.? This question is beyond my scope here. My main observation is the fact that the assessments and recommendations in this letter contrasted sharply with the more sober views of a good many official Bush administration statements made during most of 2001, as I shall now document.
Early in Bush’s first term, in February of 2001, Powell and Rumsfeld said that Iraq was not a nuclear threat. Rumsfeld: "Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat at the present time." Powell: "[Saddam] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors." Powell also declared the containment policy a success. Powell: "And even though they may be pursuing weapons of mass destruction of all kinds, it is not clear how successful they have been. So to some extent, I think we ought to declare this a success. We have kept him contained, kept him in a box." While "his activities present a danger to the region, they are not a danger to the United States." He repeated this assessment in May of 2001: "The Iraq regime militarily remains fairly weak." In July of 2001, Rice spoke of "progress on the sanctions…He does not control the northern part of his country. His military forces have not been rebuilt. This has been a successful period." As late as 9/16/01, Cheney said (in answer to a question regarding terrorism) that "Saddam Hussein’s bottled up." Asked if we have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11, he answered "No." In 1995 General Hussein Kamel, who was the director of Iraq’s weapons program, had defected with crates of documents and told U.N. officials "All weapons — biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed." CIA Director Tenet’s January 2002 review of global weapons did not mention Iraq but did mention North Korea.
In September of 2002, the International Institute for Strategic Studies issued a study of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. This body is an establishment organization with government links, and Blair construed its findings as supportive of Saddam as demon. These facts make the report’s findings all the more of interest. The study emphasized only Iraq’s potential capabilities to produce weapons. As for the realities, it said: "Iraq does not possess facilities to produce fissile material in sufficient amounts for nuclear weapons. It would require several years and extensive foreign assistance to build such fissile material production facilities." The report worried over stocks of biological weapons like anthrax and the ability of Iraq to produce more on short notice. Iraq’s chemical weapons, "the first to reach full maturity," had been "devastated" by the Gulf War, and "Through to 1998, UNSCOM was able to dispose of large quantities of CW munitions, bulk agent, precursors and production equipment that were not destroyed in combat." The Gulf War wrecked Iraq’s missile capabilities, and the report speculated that perhaps Iraq had a few dozen short-range missiles. It said that "Iraq does not possess facilities to produce long range missiles and it would require several years and extensive foreign assistance to construct such facilities."
I conclude that earnest and informed opinion for months before and after 9/11/01, including a number of high-ranking Bush administration officials, did not regard Iraq as a mortal, serious, or imminent threat to the U.S. Officials knew of Saddam Hussein’s interest in rebuilding his weapons. They suggested that he was not in possession of a worrisome store of weapons of mass destruction and, as Powell said "they have not been able to come out with the capacity to deliver these kinds of systems or to actually have these kinds of systems that is much beyond where they were 10 years ago." The IISS report verified this assessment. Iraq simply could not attack the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction. It was hardly even a serious threat to its neighbors in the region. This does not deny that Iraq was a festering and unsolved foreign policy problem that could (as it has) become worse.
We might begin the story in October of 1998. That month, the 105th Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. This did not authorize use of American armed forces, but it provided funds for President Clinton to support groups seeking to oust Saddam Hussein. The Act read in part: "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime." Clinton used funds to support the Chalabi group. Bush continued that support in 2001.
How did it come about that Congress passed this Act? Had the efforts of the 40 anti-Iraq activists borne fruit? If there is a story of how they succeeded in Congress and against the CIA, it remains to be told. For Chalabi, an Iraqi Shia and ally of Wolfowitz and Perle, had been repudiated by the CIA in 1995. Jordan, in 1989, had convicted him in absentia of massive embezzlement.
We might begin the story as early as April 14, 1993. On this date the Iraqi Intelligence Service was part of a failed plot to assassinate Bush I using a car bomb. Clinton retaliated by bombing Baghdad. On 9/26/02 Bush II was to say "…I truly believe that now that the war has changed, now that we’re a battlefield, this man [Saddam Hussein] poses a graver threat than anybody could possibly have imagined. Other countries, of course, bear the same risk. But there’s no doubt his hatred is mainly directed at us. There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is a guy who tried to kill my dad at one time." To what extent was war made as a consequence of an intense personal feeling or animosity?
In context, these remarks came a few days before the key date of 10/02/02. This is when Congress passed a Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of Force in Iraq. About 2 months earlier, Bush administration officials stepped up their public statements against Iraq. Bush’s statements were part of a flow of statements prior to an important vote.
Enough warm-up acts. Let us raise the curtain and begin the story with Bush as candidate in 1999—2000 and as President-elect. Bush over and over made clear that he would use military force against Saddam Hussein if he were found to be developing weapons of mass destruction: "And if I found out in any way, shape or form that he was developing weapons of mass destruction, I’d take ‘em out." Bush’s 1999 team of 8 foreign policy advisors included vocal and very persistent advocates of military action against Iraq such as Paul Wolfowitz. Starting at least in December of 1997 when he co-wrote Saddam Must Go: A How-to Guide and continuing unremittingly thereafter, Wolfowitz promoted military action against Iraq. One of the group, Stephen Hadley, briefed Republican party policy-makers in the spring of 2000, informing them that removing Saddam Hussein would be number one on the Bush foreign policy agenda. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be downgraded in priority. Four in the group, Wolfowitz, Armitage, Perle, and Zakheim, were among the 40 letter signers in 1998.
Paul O’Neill says that preemptively taking out Saddam Hussein was a focus at the very first few meetings of Bush’s new National Security Council in early 2001. In his words: "It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying u2018Go find me a way to do this.’" A senior Pentagon official confirms "Iraqi policy is very much on his mind. Saddam was clearly a discussion point." O’Neill relates that Bush asked Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Shelton for contingency plans to introduce U.S. ground forces into Iraq to support an insurgency to bring down Saddam. Meanwhile, the think-tank, Project for a New American Century, with Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Perle as founding members, was writing: "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for substantial American force in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
There is no doubt that Bush and some of his key advisors focused on Iraq and Saddam Hussein at least from 1999 onwards. They had a penchant for removing Saddam Hussein from rule. They did not regard preemptive war or introduction of U.S. ground forces as an insurmountable obstacle. Their minds leaned strongly toward removing Saddam from power, although outright war was not yet the consensus means of achieving that goal. They aimed to do more than Clinton had done. They felt that containment had run its course. Did these players consider a full range of options? Did they consult experts or seek other opinion? Did they navely underestimate the ease of creating a new Iraq? Was their knowledge of Iraq superficial? Were they infected with the hubris of power?
Oil played some role in 2001. Cheney’s oil task force group began meeting in late January of 2001 and by early March had a detailed overview of all the oilfields and interests in Iraq and the rest of the Gulf region. An independent task force dominated by oil interests (the Baker Institute group) contributed a report that singled out Iraq as a "destabilizing influence." It recommended a full-scale U.S. policy review, including "military, energy, economic, and political/diplomatic assessments." The story of Iraq’s oil has yet to be uncovered in detail.
Early in 2001, Chalabi received funding. An Information-Collection program was set up that provided a conduit for "intelligence" from Iraq that competed with traditional channels. Later in 2001, administration officials began to extend their control over intelligence and/or build an alternative information network. Bolton barred the State Department’s Intelligence liaison, Greg Thielmann, from attending meetings. Thielmann: "Bolton seemed to be troubled because INR was not telling him what he wanted to hear." In June of 2001, Cheney named his aide, William Luti, to head NESA (Near East and South Asia bureau). Inside the Pentagon were several focal points of important activity, the Office of Special Plans and the Defense Policy Board, that were staffed by administration stalwarts. The complete story of how these offices influenced intelligence and the press remains to be revealed. W. Patrick Lang provides one account based on available recollections. This story is central and crucial to the Bush administration campaign to market the Iraq War. Also, see here, here, and here.
The 9/11/01 disaster galvanized the pro-Iraq War contingency, including Bush. That afternoon, Rumsfeld asked aides whether the information was good enough to hit Saddam Hussein. Wesley Clark relates that he was pressured that day to blame 9/11 on state-sponsored terrorism and link it to Saddam Hussein. Perle said: "This could not have been done without the help of one or more governments." Bush wondered whether Saddam’s regime was involved. On the following day, Richard Clarke found Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz trying "to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq." Bush, according to Clarke, wanted to see if Saddam did this, to look, to find any shred. Bush, hazy on the details, acknowledges speaking to Clarke. See also here.
Wolfowitz and Powell clashed over Iraq, Wolfowitz wanting immediate action. Powell won this battle, but lost the war. On 9/17/01, Bush directed the Pentagon to start the military planning for a war against Iraq.
There is no doubt that Bush in the period after 9/11 decided to make war on Iraq and Saddam Hussein although Iraq presented no threat to the U.S. and no serious link between Iraq and Al Qaeda had been established or existed. Why? I speculate that Bush leaped to the conclusion, based on the enormity of the Trade Towers attack, that the U.S. was at war. He called it a battlefield, did he not? He also felt he had a responsibility to secure the U.S., a duty. He or others then conceived of a war on terror, a genuinely new concept. But whom to fight? Iraq seemed an obvious target, not by any logic of immediate threat, but because it had been a target of one sort or another already for years. It was already high on Bush’s agenda. Why not take it out now? That was the logic. This was an opportune time to do what they wanted to do anyway.
The only problem was that while the Bush insiders took it for granted that war against Iraq was right and appropriate, many others did not. The solution was to launch, or devise, or manufacture rationales for a war against Iraq.
A link between al-Qaeda and 9/11 was one such rationale. Remember that on 9/16/01 Cheney said there was no evidence of such a link. The State Department’s April, 2001 report on state-sponsored terrorism included Iraq but made no mention of any al-Qaeda activity in Iraq. It noted that "The regime has not attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack" since the 1993 Bush I assassination attempt. Powell in his comments made no mention of Iraq. By contrast, CIA briefings of Bush contained numerous mentions of al-Qaeda and bin Laden including one on 8/6/01 headlined "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in U.S." Woolsey, former CIA director, on 9/13/01 continued to promote his favored notion that Iraq was behind the first bombing of the World Trade towers and now their destruction. Clarke on 9/18/01 sent a memo to Rice with his report on an al-Qaeda-Iraq connection. He and a Rice staffer, Khalilzad, concluded "that only some anecdotal evidence linked Iraq to al Qaeda." "The memo found no u2018compelling case’ that Iraq had either planned or perpetrated the attacks." The credibility of this memo is strengthened by the fact that Khalilzad was Wolfowitz’s co-author of "Saddam Must Go."
Undeterred by Clarke’s report, the administration in October continued the search for an al-Qaeda to Iraq link and never quite gave it up. Rumsfeld set up a 4—5 man intelligence team under Feith for this purpose and to examine Iraq’s intentions. Feith’s team included Wurmser who pored over raw CIA intelligence reports and produced a report for Rumsfeld. Wolfowitz dispatched Woolsey to London to seek evidence of a connection. During the month, Woolsey made several public statements blaming Iraq for the attacks.
In contrast, Powell went on the record blaming bin Laden for 9/11: "…we think he’s guilty and all roads point to him." The State Department’s November 2001 list of countries in which al-Qaeda had operated did not include Iraq. We now know, and I will skip the details, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and almost nothing to do with al-Qaeda’s leadership or even its operatives apart from occasional and tangential crossing of paths.
On 11/20/01, Perle went further. Of Iraq he said "it poses the greatest threat to the United States." He also spoke of evidence linking al-Qaeda to Iraq. Neither of these statements could be substantiated. Although chairman of the Defense Policy Board, he said he was speaking for himself. Bush began to cross a line. On 11/21/01, he said "Afghanistan is just the beginning on the war against terror. There are other terrorists who threaten America and our friends, and there are other nations willing to sponsor them. We will not be secure as a nation until all of these threats are defeated." By this point in time, there were numerous and clear press reports about Iraq being the next target. Bush’s allusion to "other nations willing to sponsor" terrorists meant Iraq, among others. At about the same time in a Newsweek interview, Bush said that Saddam Hussein had ambitions of mass terrorism. At a press conference, he added: "If they develop weapons of mass destruction that will be used to terrorize nations, they will be held accountable." Bush placed the burden of proof on Saddam to "show us that he is not developing weapons of mass destruction."
In December, Wolfowitz went even further: "With respect to Iraq…the combination of support for terrorism with the development of weapons of mass destruction is clearly one of the most dangerous potentials in the world." Bush and Wolfowitz were moving toward a brand new theme, a new way to sell the war. This was the marriage of weapons of mass destruction with mass terrorism. It was linking Iraq as a state sponsor of terror with WMD. Bush and others now fused terror and WMD and Saddam.
On 12/20/01 the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Iraq’s weapons programs. Noting Iraq’s noncompliance with U.N. inspections, it viewed Iraq as a mounting threat. This resolution spoke of "Saddam’s ability to reconstitute his nuclear weapons program, his biological weapons program, his chemical weapons program, and his long range missile program…" This language and these charges would be repeated frequently in months to come. The House seems ahead of the White House in this instance in using the term "reconstitute." Who inserted this language into the resolution?
After the anthrax events in the U.S., both intelligence agents and scientists searched for a link to Iraq. None was found. The anthrax strain was American.
A short three months after 9/11, the Iraq war hawks had won the day. During most of 2001, a number of officials had viewed Iraq as in a bottle, contained, and as militarily weak. The CIA and others made it clear that Iraq was not a nuclear threat. No serious evidence had turned up linking Iraq to al-Qaeda. No serious evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 had turned up. Yet after 9/11, Bush and others were linking Iraq with support for terrorism and with the development of weapons of mass destruction. They were painting Iraq as a serious threat to the U.S. This disconnect between the reality and the rhetoric was evident at the time. It became even more apparent later when no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq despite intensive searching.
In his State of the Union address on 1/29/02, Bush, speaking of Iraq, stated that it posed a "grave and growing danger." Iraq "could provide these arms to terrorists…could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States." Bush amplified the hypothetical risks of possible Saddam actions. He did not appreciate the risks of his own actions in disrupting Iraq. No significant change had occurred on the ground in Iraq since the time a few months earlier when administration officials (Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney) spoke of Iraq as weak and contained. In truth then, Iraq was not a grave danger and was unable to accomplish these alarming activities. The following months brought even further departures from the truth.
It is possible, but implausible, that at this time (throughout most of 2002) Bush and others fully believed what they were saying, which was basically that the Iraq threat was a present danger to the U.S. that justified attacking Iraq. It is possible because such a belief lies a few steps beyond Bush’s earlier idea that Saddam should be taken out if he developed WMD. It is implausible because it was not factual. The CIA on 2/01/02 wrote that it had no "direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs." It continued to speak of Iraqi capabilities in chemical and biological weapons and its lack of a nuclear program and missiles. Bush knew this. He knew that Saddam possessed little beyond capabilities and desires. I find it more plausible that Bush and others were intent on building a case for war against Iraq, and that they crossed the line into falsehood. (A collection of some quotes appears here.) I believe they lied. I also believe that they deluded themselves, insulated themselves from contrary beliefs, and that they intentionally built a rival intelligence operation and sought intelligence to confirm their a priori beliefs. They themselves corrupted the workings of the national security system.
Norman Podhoretz has argued that Bush believed what he was saying because his CIA director Tenet assured him that the WMD case was a "slam dunk." However, Tenet did not make this statement, if he did, until 12/21/02, almost a year later. Podhoretz has argued that Bush believed what he was saying because his National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) said so. That report did not appear until 10/04/02. It has since been ripped apart by the Select Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. Senate. Furthermore, many individuals have provided anecdotal evidence that Bush’s closest associates and administration members managed to influence the contents of the NIE.
The question of whether or not Bush believed what he was saying or lied may be important for impeachment hearings or for psychologists or for its entertainment value, but it is somewhat peripheral. False ideas and falsehoods became prevalent and culminated in war, whether or not certain people fully believed them or did not.
Michael Smith’s lengthy Telegraph article is well worth reading for the additional insight into the war momentum revealed by the British side of this. We know that on 3/14/02 Britain’s Ambassador to the U.S., David Manning, sent a memo to Blair. This made crystal clear the problem of selling the war. Smith also cites a sensitive paper prepared by the Cabinet Office Overseas and Defence Secretariat. I quote portions of Smith’s article. The time frame is March of 2002.
"There was increasing pressure within the administration to invade Iraq and it had less to do with the War on Terror than a desire to finish the job that the president’s father had begun in the Gulf War.
"u2018The success of Operation Enduring Freedom, distrust of UN sanctions and inspection regimes, and unfinished business from 1991 are all factors,’ the paper said.
"But there would be major problems finding a legal justification to use military force. u2018Subject to law officers’ advice, none currently exists,’ it warned starkly.
"There was no greater threat that Saddam would use chemical or biological weapons now than there had been at any time in the recent past; regime change had no basis in international law; and there was no evidence that Iraq was backing international terrorism that might justify an action based on self-defence, as in Afghanistan, the options paper said.
"No one doubted that America could invade Iraq successfully on its own if it so chose, but the likely long term cost of rebuilding the country, laid out in detail in the Cabinet Office options paper, must have come as a shock to Mr Blair.
"The only certain way of ensuring success was to keep large numbers of forces on the ground for u2018many years’.
"Even so there was no guarantee that regime change would produce the desired effect. While both Iran and Israel had weapons of mass destruction, even a representative Iraqi government would probably try to acquire its own.
"MI6 opposed revealing details of its intelligence and, at any event, it didn’t back up the claims Mr Blair wanted the dossier to make. The latest Joint Intelligence Committee assessment, dated Friday, March 15, said information on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was u2018sporadic and patchy’.
"It was barely able to back up the claim that Saddam had any sort of weapons programme, confining itself to concluding: u2018We believe Iraq retains some production equipment, and some small stocks of chemical warfare agent precursors, and may have hidden small quantities of agents and weapons. There is no intelligence on any biological agent production facilities.’
"u2018Colleagues know that Saddam and the Iraqi regime are bad. But we have a long way to go to convince them as to: the scale of the threat from Iraq and why this has got worse recently; what distinguishes the Iraqi threat from that of eg Iran and North Korea so as to justify military action; the justification for any military action in terms of international law; and whether the consequence of military action really would be a compliant, law-abiding replacement government.’
"Neither the extent of the threat nor the reasons for tackling it now were clear, Mr Straw said. It was doubtful that America would be considering military action if the September 11 attacks had not occurred.
"But at the same time there was u2018no credible evidence’ to link Iraq to Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’eda."
Smith’s article provides strong support for the important conclusion already mentioned above, that Saddam was no serious threat and many in the Bush administration knew it. In addition, it suggests that Bush’s impatience to finish off Saddam had partly a personal basis. It suggests that the Bush administration failed to look down the road to the morning after the bombing had ceased.
On 3/24/02, Cheney said that Saddam "is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time." On 4/12/02 Rumsfeld: "…he’s developing weapons of mass destruction…" On 7/23/02 the Downing Street memo read: "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy…But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
On 9/23/02, Rumsfeld resurrected the linkage of Iraq to al-Qaeda, stating it is "accurate and not debatable." On 9/28/02, Bush stated his case more strongly than ever: "The danger to our country is grave and it is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year."
This is a most clever set of statements, with the obvious design of convincing the listener that Iraq is a grave danger. In point of fact, none of the weapons systems mentioned posed a danger at the time; and Saddam was not threatening anyone with what he did possess. There was no evidence of any significant amounts of chemical or biological weapons. The regime may have been seeking a nuclear bomb, but it did not then have the capabilities and would need a great deal of foreign assistance to obtain them. Iraq did not possess high-grade fissile material. Iraq had not had links to al Qaeda in the past. Quite possibly members of al Qaeda were in Iraq, having fled Afghanistan or as cells with their own aims. Their presence did not mean that Iraq was actively supporting them in efforts against the U.S. The 45-minute claim was obviously inserted to arouse fear in the listener. It has been criticized on many grounds, as being obtained from a thirdhand source, as not being substantiated, as referring to battlefield weapons, as being eye-catching, etc. In Bush’s speech, there is no indication of who would be attacked. The misleading impression is given that all of the actions mentioned are a "danger to our country," that is, the U.S. In sum, this may have been one of the most deceptive and propagandistic statements that Bush had made up to that point in time.
On 10/02/02, after the Congress passed its Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of Force in Iraq, Bush told leaders: "We know Saddam Hussein has longstanding and ongoing ties to international terrorists. With the support and shelter of a regime, terror groups become far more lethal. Aided by a terrorist network, an outlaw regime can launch attacks while concealing its involvement. Even a dictator is not suicidal, but he can make use of men who are. We must confront both terror cells and terror states, because they are different faces of the same evil."
Again we face a set of carefully crafted and cleverly misleading statements. In this case, Bush virtually claims that Saddam Hussein, an outlaw regime, is in the business of using a terrorist network to launch attacks while hiding its own role. He links terror cells with terror states. We have to remind ourselves that time and again, the CIA and others failed to find links between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
On 10/04/02, the CIA released its NIE report that was an about-face from its earlier stance. This report later was debunked by the Select Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. Senate. The Senate report suggested that all of the "major key judgments…either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting provided to the Committee." These misjudgments were that Iraq "is reconstituting its nuclear program," "has chemical and biological weapons," that it was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle to deliver biological agents, and that all the key aspects of its biological program were more active and advanced than before the Gulf War. The Senate Committee blamed this faulty intelligence on faulty trade craft. However, the evidence points to Bush administration pressure on and corruption of the intelligence process as a far more likely cause of the intelligence breakdown.
The next day, 10/05/02, Bush was in New Hampshire telling the audience: "This is a man who told the world he would not have weapons of mass destruction — your chemical, your biological or nuclear weapons. For eleven years he has lied. On the one hand, he said he wouldn’t have them — he does." These statements appear to say that Iraq has nuclear weapons, but Bush probably misspoke.
Bush’s speech on 10/07/02, just prior to an important Congressional vote on 10/10/02 to authorize military force against Iraq, powerfully summarized all his favored themes. Iraq was no longer a grave danger but now a "grave threat." It was driving toward an "arsenal of terror." The theme of conjunction of weapons of mass destruction with terrorism had now been distilled into a powerful three-word phrase. Immediately after describing Iraq’s weapons and its support of terror and practice of terror on its own people, Bush invoked the memory of 9/11 and the pledge "to confront every threat, from any source, that could bring sudden terror and suffering to America."
What conclusion could any listener reach other than Saddam’s regime must be destroyed? Saddam was defiant, deceptive, broke his word, was building weapons of mass destruction, hated the U.S., was in bed with terrorists, and at any moment could rain down sudden terror on the U.S. Although Saddam was by no means threatening "America and the world with horrible poisons and gases and atomic weapons," somehow Bush was saying that he must not be permitted to do so! Bush was saying that Saddam was an imminent threat. But this was false.
The next day (10/08/02) Bush’s claims were answered in an article that featured the views of "a growing number of military officers, intelligence professionals and diplomats in his own government [who] privately have deep misgivings about the administration’s double-time march toward war." Their number (at least a dozen) made up for their anonymity. The article spoke of "intelligence agents…under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House’s argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary." The administration was charged with "squelching dissenting views." The analysts tore into Rumsfeld’s claims of an Iraq-al-Qaeda link. They criticized Bush’s comments on Saddam’s quest for a softball size piece of highly enriched uranium saying "Saddam has sought such highly enriched uranium for many years without success, and there is no evidence that he has it now." Furthermore, how would he deliver a weapon? And if a weapon were detonated, that would "…automatically trigger a response that would include Iraq, Iran, North Korea…" They criticized Bush’s mention of aluminum tubes and a number of other administration statements. On 10/09/02 yet another article drawn from similar sources attacked Bush’s presentation.
Unfazed, Bush on 11/04/02 in Dallas said: "At one time we know for certain he was close to having a nuclear weapon. Imagine Saddam Hussein with a nuclear weapon."
On 11/13/02 Iraq accepted U.N. Resolution 1441 and a few days later U.N. inspectors returned to Iraq. On 12/07/02, Iraq delivered an 11,800-page declaration to the U.N. The U.N. handed it over to the U.S. which edited out 8,000 pages. Within a few days, several American experts said that the new document contained nothing new. On 12/22/02 Iraq invited the CIA to enter Iraq and track down any weapons of mass destruction. An advisor to Saddam Hussein also asked the U.S. and Britain to offer up any hard evidence they had of WMD. Hans Blix made a similar request. Britain indicated that it had no hard evidence. On 12/30/02, the U.S. began providing Blix with information. On 1/09/03, Ari Fleischer stated "We know for a fact that there are weapons there." That same day, Blix reported to the U.N. that weapons inspectors have not found evidence (a "smoking gun") that would prove that Iraq violated U.N. resolutions. On 1/27/03 the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iraq had not resumed its nuclear program. During January of 2003, administration officials continually assailed Saddam Hussein’s cooperativeness, his documentation, and alluded to hard evidence of weapons programs. This culminated on 1/28 with Bush’s assertion that Iraq had recently sought to buy uranium in Africa, a charge we now know to have been based on fabricated intelligence. On 1/29/03 Blix defended himself against a number of charges and charged there were inaccuracies in statements made by Powell and Bush. On 2/04/03 he dismissed the claim that Iraq had mobile biological labs or was moving them before inspectors arrived.
On 2/05/03 Powell made his Security Council speech after many days of editing out unsuitable material. He has since regretted making the speech, calling it a "blot" on his record. The many claims concerning weapons of mass destruction have never been verified.
Blix and the IAEA provided several more reports in February suggesting Iraq was cooperating with inspectors and finding no cause of war. No WMD had been found. By the end of February, however, Blix expressed frustration with the slowness of the process.
For years officials have worried about the opacity of Saddam’s activities to rebuild his weapons and complained about poor or slow accounting for various materials and weapons. This raises several questions. Are Iraqi record-keeping standards comparable to those in the U.S.? This is doubtful. Is government record-keeping ever of high quality? This is doubtful. The U.S. accounting for Iraq’s oil revenues has been a scandal, and even today there is low transparency. Making war over the inability of a foreign country to account for some chemical purchased 15 years ago that may have been stolen, sold, lost, or deteriorated is not an exercise in rationality. It is even less rational when one is dealing with individuals from a foreign culture who may place quite a different emphasis on answering up quickly and correctly to the demands of westerners.
On 3/16/03 Cheney disagreed with the IAEA’s assessment that Iraq’s nuclear program was moribund.
War with Iraq officially began on 3/19/03.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.