The lede of a straight news story in tomorrow’s WaPo: Arms Issue Seen as Hurting U.S. Credibility Abroad

The Bush administration’s inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — after public statements declaring an imminent threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein — has begun to harm the credibility abroad of the United States and of American intelligence, according to foreign-policy experts in both parties.

In last year’s State of the Union address, President Bush used stark imagery to make the case that military action was necessary. Among other claims, Bush said that Hussein had enough anthrax to “kill several million people,” enough botulinum toxin to “subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure” and enough chemical agents to “kill untold thousands.”

As virtually everyone in the blogosphere knows, this is all nonsense. See this July OTB post, for example, wherein I go through every word about Iraq uttered in last year’s SOTU.

He pursued chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons . . .

Pursued, i.e., went after, i.e. was seeking to acquire.

The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax — enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn’t accounted for that material. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

All true. Perhaps he had destroyed it. But he was under obligation, pursuant to the treaty that ended the first Gulf War, to document this destruction. Despite umpteen subsequent UN resolutions, sanctions, and the imminent threat of a second invasion, he failed to do this. For reasons which still ellude us.

The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin — enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hadn’t accounted for that material. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He’s not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them — despite Iraq’s recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

Again, all true. Notice that everything was portrayed in terms of capabilities. The chemicals and facilities to make chemical weapons. Munitions capable of carrying such weapons.

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans — this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes. (Applause.)

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. (Applause.)

The dictator who is assembling the world’s most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages — leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained — by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning. (Applause.)

It’s startling how actually reading the speech gives a completely different impression than reading press accounts of the speech. Despite the distortions constantly being debunked, they’re repeated over and again. Amazing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    When Drudge did this to Wesley Clark, people jumped all over him for distorting Clark’s testimony. Will they do the same for WaPo? Methinks not.

  2. JakeV says:

    I agree that this summary distorts what Bush said, but I don’t think it distorts it as much as you seem to think.

    It’s quite true that he never said “Iraq has X and Y.” But when Bush says that “Iraq had X and Y” and then says “He hasn’t accounted for that material. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed it,” do you think he’s criticizing Saddam for his sloppy accounting, or instead hinting that Saddam still has some or all of material? I’d lean toward the latter.

    I’d think that especially since in other public statements, Bush said things like this:

    “Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons.” (Oct. 5th,2002)

    “After eleven years during which we have tried containment, sanctions, inspections, even selected military action, the end result is that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more.” (Oct. 7th, 2002)

    “In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world –and we will not allow it.” (February 26th, 2003)

    “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

    (March 17th, 2003)

    Doesn’t sound like he’s focusing only on capabilities there. The President clearly has said in no uncertain terms that Iraq has WMD.

    He didn’t say it in the SOTU– he chose to imply it instead. And the misquote from the Post implies that he was a lot more specific about the quantities Saddam ostensibly had than he actually was– that’s sloppy and misleading, and I hope they correct it. But it would be equally or more misleading to suggest that Bush never publicly expressed certainty about the existence of signficant WMD in Iraq.

  3. Mithras says:

    What JakeV said. Also, you say, “Notice that everything was portrayed in terms of capabilities. The chemicals and facilities to make chemical weapons. Munitions capable of carrying such weapons.” But when we arrived there, did we find such capabilities? No.

  4. The onus was upon Saddam to show that he no longer had these capabilities–not upon us to prove they were there before enforcing UN resolutions.

    We may never know whether he managed to move them or destroy them in the final days of his regime, or whether he destroyed them earlier, and just didn’t document this properly.

    I don’t happen to believe that a person acts this guilty if he/she is innocent. But that isn’t the point: the point is that he did not disclose what was going on, and he was required to do so by international law.

    Did Bush believe the weapons were there? Sure. He was relying on intelligence that suggested they probably were.

  5. melvin toast says: