WHAT BUSH SAID

Daniel Drezner posted Wednesday defending President Bush on the so-called Yellowcake scandal, concluding:

I can’t get exercised about it, however. My reasons for supporting an attack on Iraq had little to do with the WMD issue. The uranium question was part of one rationale among many the administration gave for pushing forward in Iraq. I’m not saying this should be swept under the rug, but the level of righteous indignation that’s building up on the left is reaching blowback proportions.

Today, Kieran Healy, posting at Crooked Timber, responds,

Dan can be relied on to have made as well-argued and well-supported case for war as possible, but at this point I really don’t care what it was, for the same reasons the hawks had no time for the “Not In My Name” line. The substance of the President’s case for war is what matters, and it had everything to do with “the WMD issue.” If that case was built on a series of lies–immediate threat, 45-minutes to deployment, uranium from Niger and all the rest of it–then that is something to get exercised about.

This strikes me as one of those times when it’s relatively easy to see what the argument was.

Going to the White House web site, I found the full text of the 2003 State of the Union Address, in which the “Sixteen Words” were spoken. What was their context? Here, in its entirety, is the section of the speech regarding Iraq. Note that it is substantially longer than sixteen words:

Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced the prospect of being the last casualty in a war he had started and lost. To spare himself, he agreed to disarm of all weapons of mass destruction. For the next 12 years, he systematically violated that agreement. He pursued chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, even while inspectors were in his country. Nothing to date has restrained him from his pursuit of these weapons — not economic sanctions, not isolation from the civilized world, not even cruise missile strikes on his military facilities.

Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead utter contempt for the United Nations, and for the opinion of the world. The 108 U.N. inspectors were sent to conduct — were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials across a country the size of California. The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq’s regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened.

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.

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.

From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents, and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.

The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves. Iraqi officials accompany the inspectors in order to intimidate witnesses.

Iraq is blocking U-2 surveillance flights requested by the United Nations. Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say. Intelligence sources indicate that Saddam Hussein has ordered that scientists who cooperate with U.N. inspectors in disarming Iraq will be killed, along with their families.

Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.

With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region. And this Congress and the America people must recognize another threat. Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.

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.)

And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country — your enemy is ruling your country. (Applause.) And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation. (Applause.)

The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal — Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.

We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him. (Applause.)

Tonight I have a message for the men and women who will keep the peace, members of the American Armed Forces: Many of you are assembling in or near the Middle East, and some crucial hours may lay ahead. In those hours, the success of our cause will depend on you. Your training has prepared you. Your honor will guide you. You believe in America, and America believes in you. (Applause.)

Sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a President can make. The technologies of war have changed; the risks and suffering of war have not. For the brave Americans who bear the risk, no victory is free from sorrow. This nation fights reluctantly, because we know the cost and we dread the days of mourning that always come.

We seek peace. We strive for peace. And sometimes peace must be defended. A future lived at the mercy of terrible threats is no peace at all. If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means — sparing, in every way we can, the innocent. And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military — and we will prevail. (Applause.)

And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food and medicines and supplies — and freedom. (Applause.)

Many challenges, abroad and at home, have arrived in a single season. In two years, America has gone from a sense of invulnerability to an awareness of peril; from bitter division in small matters to calm unity in great causes. And we go forward with confidence, because this call of history has come to the right country.

Americans are a resolute people who have risen to every test of our time. Adversity has revealed the character of our country, to the world and to ourselves. America is a strong nation, and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity. (Applause.)

To summarize:

  • Saddam promised to give up WMD when he lost Gulf War I
  • International agencies found the presence/ability to produce:
    • 25,000 liters of anthrax
    • 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin
    • 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent
    • 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents
    • several mobile biological weapons labs. . .designed to produce germ warfare agents
    • an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb
  • Saddam refused to explain or account for any of this despite numerous UN resolutions and the threat of war
  • Saddam is intimidating and otherwise denying UN inspectors the ability to do their job
  • The threat of action by Saddam is NOT IMMINENT.
  • 9/11 showed the danger of waiting too late.
  • Saddam is has used WMD on his own people and continues to torture them
  • We’re coming to liberate the Iraqi people

Does it strike you that the main case was about nukes? Uranium from Niger? Indeed, would the argument have been any less persuasive minus that sentence?

Heh. Chris Lawrence sees an interesting parallel in the Declaration of Independence. (See TrackBack link below)

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John says:

    Please read John Dean’s explanation as to why it wasn’t just this silly fascination with 16 words, but with pretty much all of the above.

  2. James Joyner says:

    John,

    This is interesting although not particularly revealing. In addition to the fact that Dean has no expertise whatever in this matter, he gets a material fact wrong from the get-go:

    Dean: Indeed, the claim that these WMDs posed an imminent threat was his primary argument in favor of war.

    SOTU: 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.

    Thus, a direct acknowledgment that the threat wasn’t imminent but possible.

    And, in the same vein, quibbling over whether the anthrax estimates were enough to produce 20,000 gallons vs. 30,000 gallons is rather silly. Obviously, these are educated guesses.

  3. John says:

    Well, I think that’s really semantic quibbling of the highest order. In fact, the very line you quote above,If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late is in fact a de facto statement that Iraq was an imminent threat. It’s like saying that there are forces massing on our border, but they’re not in the country yet. We can’t wait until the flood of enemy combatants armed with nuclear weapons show up by blowing up our cities.

    As to the anthrax estimates, please read the charge. The basis of these numbers is the amount of growth medium they estimated Iraq has. It’s like saying we know you have 50,000 dogs because you have 100 tons of dog food. This is an incredibly weak claim.

    Point 2 shows an even weaker claim. Production capacity does not equate to produced units. Point 3 shows a complete and blatant misrepresentation of the source – i.e. UNSCOM. Point 4 is a “show me the source”. Not damning in itself but certainly goes to deliberate inflation of estimates to paint a scarier picture. Point 5 is the famous “Trailers of Hydrogen Production”. Weird how we haven’t heard jack about these since the Brits said it was highly likely they were knock offs of old models they had sold them. Point 6 is the nuclear issue in general, certainly laughable knowing what we now know. Point 7 is the actual 16 words. Point 8 is just another example of really, really weak evidence being used to buttress a paper argument. Given that the centrifuge guy said that they were used for missiles pretty much drives a nail into how weak the argument was. Again, not a smoking gun, rather going to show a deliberate pattern of deception and threat inflation.

  4. James Joyner says:

    John: I never took the claims to be that Saddam was in a position equivalent to massing on our border with troops. The argument was always that he had a massive program going in the 1990s, that we did’t know exactly what he has/where he is because he’s been evading and lying, and that he had demonstrated hostile intent.

    The presence of dog food is somewhat corrolative o the presence of dogs, generally. But dog food can’t be transformed into dogs. Chemicals can be transformed into chemical weapons. And, again, the whole point is that, given Saddam’s record and the fact that he wasn’t cooperating with inspectors, better safe than sorry.

    “Show me the source” isn’t an argument. Indeed, most of his arguments come down to, “Well, I don’t have access to the intel reports but from the open source docs I’ve found, I either find somewhat different numbers or can’t find numbers at all.” Well, so what?

  5. Fredrik Nyman says:

    So why is it nobody is mentioning the congressional authorization for war?

    It, too, laid out the case for war, and guess what, nowhere does it mention the words “Niger” or “uranium”.

    The Democrats who a) voted for the congressional war authorization, and b) now claim to be “misled” are rather dishonest; surely they didn’t vote yes in October 2002 because of something Bush would say in February 2003.

  6. PG says:

    The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies… Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal — Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.
    We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.

    Bush didn’t say “Saddam, if you don’t stop brutalizing your people, we’re going to invade.” Or, “Saddam, if you don’t stop paying off anti-Israel terrorists, we’re going to invade.”

    The ultimatum was about disarmament. The case for war was ultimately about “the safety of our people and for the peace of the world.” By “our people,” Bush meant the American people, not the Iraqi people.
    If Saddam’s arms did not pose a meaningful threat to Americans, then Bush’s own determining factor was meaningless. We don’t tell people to disarm unless we’re worried that their arms will create a problem for us.

    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.

    In this passage, Bush doesn’t seem to understand the difference between imminent threats and threats that have already been realized in the form of attacks. An imminent threat would be Saddam’s proven possession of a working nuclear weapon with the ability to reach the U.S. (such as North Korea has boasted of having). A threat already realized would be the nuking of an American city.
    The threat we actually saw from Iraq was Saddam’s attempts to have a nuclear weapon. Those attempts were more plausible if he was trying to get weapons-grade uranium, and if he was using aluminum tubes for creating the weapons. Both the uranium and the tubes are dubious evidence for Saddam’s ability to pose an imminent threat to the U.S.

    As for the congressional authorization for war, I don’t recall its having been based on the incontrovertible humanitarian case for war either.

  7. James Joyner says:

    PG,

    In this passage, Bush doesn’t seem to understand the difference between imminent threats and threats that have already been realized in the form of attacks. An imminent threat would be Saddam’s proven possession of a working nuclear weapon with the ability to reach the U.S. (such as North Korea has boasted of having). A threat already realized would be the nuking of an American city.

    Uh….no. Once a threat gets to the level of the enemy possessing nukes, it’s rather too late to strike preemptively. As we’re now seeing in Korea. By definition, preemption requires acting before the threat manifests. The capability combined with the intent to develop and use WMD is an imminent threat.

    And, yes, Saddam’s disarming–to comply with the Gulf War I ceasefire and several UN resolutions was the key. Saddam had to either produce the weapons that previous UN inspection regimes had documented or provide evidence that he had destroyed those arsenals. He did neither.

    The Administration’s case was manifold. Presumably, different Congressmen signed off on it for manifold reasons as well.

  8. tc says:

    I think this whole WMD thing is a red herring. The real reason why Bush invaded Iraq was to force Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran to turn against al-Qaeda and other Islamic terror groups. Bush doesn’t really want to say this in public, of course, because it would mean that the US invaded a sovereign country not for anything it did or might do, but just to send a message to its neighbors, with the WMD as a side issue with propaganda benefits. Bizarrely enough, however, it looks like Saddam’s weapons programs really were destroyed, so unless Bush can present a different reason for invading, the apparent absence of WMD will continue to eat away at his credibility.

  9. Yongilman says:

    Ummm… PG, you can’t go to war over civil attrocities. Atleast not legally, I don’t know an easy way to express this. Yeash, their are so many reasons why we can’t wage a war over mistreatment of a countires civilians.

    First off, their not ours. We have no legal jurisdiction over them. IE we have no legal power to impose/do anything to them. Their health is in the hands of their country. We can a pressure them, but thats about it.

    Secondly, to go to war over civil attrocities would put us in a moral high-chair. I don’t know a PC way to put this. I suppose something like “what gives you the right?” kind of thing. A lot of extra hassle.

    Thirdly, because of polical ramifications. Since we are already on a war against terrorism, and have already bounced on Afganistan(sp), it makes it much easier to keep going on that note. Especially since Iraq is known to harbor/help many terrorist groups. Iraq is a doorway into the middle east, by fixing Iraq we can pressure/change the whole of the middle east. Besides, what’s a better way to improve the Iraqi’s life then to oust the bastard and give them a real shot of being free. (if you go to war over civil rights, then you have to do a lot more micro-management. We don’t want to do that. Also, it makes it harder to keep putting the pressure on in the future. Working with other countires would be more restricted to the fields of wellfare, instead of terrorism. That would really put us in a jam.)

    The reasons go on and on. I’m just to lazy:)

    And even if it was possible, in order to go to war over it would take to long. We would have to send in investigators, and spend years monitoring him to see if he raised his standard of living. So its a totally impracticle way to start a war. (Even though its a good motivation.)

    As for the rest of your complaining… consider this. Why do you care? Do you really feel vexed by our president saying stuff? How vexed were you over Monica and Clinton?

    I think your just upset because your to ingraned in your POV/political standings and refuse to consider a different one.

    One final note. If a man goes walking down the street with an AK, even if its unloaded, he’s going to be arrested. Saddam had the means to create WMD, weather he had them at the point in time is unimportant. Weather he had the nuke’s doesn’t matter… the point is he had the potential to have them. Thats what makes him dangerous. You don’t wait for your enemy to load his gun before you shoot him. The point of a pre-emtive strike(sp) is to stop him before he buys the bullets. Not stop him AFTER he loads and aims.

  10. Scott Harris says:

    I think the whole WMD argument portion of the rationale for war in Iraq was emphasized only because of our decision to include the the United Nations in the whole justification process. Because compliance with disarmament under UN Sanctions was the legal mechanism for convincing Allies to join us, it was the argument proferred in the international community by the Administration.

    Having said that, it was never the main point that convinced me that Gulf War II was a desirable course of action. Last September, I emailed the White House expressing my disapproval of the war, and then followed up in December with an email changing my position.

    What changed between September and December, 2002?

    The actual threat posed by Saddam Hussein did not change in that time. In fact, it might have actually decreased. What changed was my evaluation of the seriousness of that threat in light of 9/11.

    Prior to 9/11, I would never have supported such a war; so blaming Clinton for not aggressively prosecuting such a war is a non-starter for me. But after 9/11, it became increasingly obvious that the whole Middle East region was not only a festering sore, but a breeding ground of irrationality that must be taught a lesson in reality.

    This may sound cold, but as long as terrorist were killing themselves, Israeli’s and Europeans, I considered them at best, a circus-like freakshow, and at worst, a nuisance. It became obvious to me that after dealing with the initial source of 9/11 – Afghanistan, the administration was right in determining that much more was needed to pull the “weed” of terrorism out by the roots. We needed to inject ourselves into the mix, and overthrow the despots who were oppressing their own people and getting their religious leader lackeys to blame the USA.

    The only place where we had a “legal” justification for invasion was Iraq. So we used that case to start the ball rolling. But the point was/is to get started on rooting out oppression and disinformation in the Arab/Islamic world.

    In those three months in 2002, I became comfortable with using the legal technicality of Iraq’s non-compliance with the 1991 cease fire as justification to impose freedom.

    BTW, we are not imposing freedom on the citizens of the Arab world. We are imposing freedom on the Arab dictators. And free Arabs will never fully agree with the USA on policy issues. I can live with that, just like I can live with France & Germany. But freedom once obtained is precious, and newly freed people are hard pressed to become oppressed again. And the freedom to make our case in greater Arabia is all we can justifiably require.

  11. Death of a thousand cuts
    James Joyner helpfully points out that the U.S. case for war in Iraq, as made in the State of the Union address—including the famous “sixteen…

  12. PoliBlog says:

    Iraq, Nukes and Arguments for War
    James of OTB has an excellent post on the nuke issue in the context of the arguments for war. It is essentially what I have been thinking on the issue, but have been too busy driving from state to state,…

  13. Reading the Speech
    I may not be as sharp as usual today (lack of sleep can do that), but James’ examination of the

  14. Way to Go Kieran
    Kieran at Crooked Timber frames a counter-argument to Daniel Drezner very well on the uranium from Niger debate.Dan can be relied on to have made as well-argued and well-supported case for war as possible, but at this point I really…

  15. Modulator says:

    Late Night Reading
    Craig Cheslog has a lot to say today about texans, the budget and North Korea. James Joyner reprises the full text of the 2003 State of the Union speach as part of the ongoing did he or didn’t he discussion. Doc Searls shares his experience with the ne…

  16. Mental Illness
    There is a mental illness sweeping through the hard-core Democratic ranks,

  17. RESPONDING TO MY CRITICS
    Catching up from a weekend spent off the net, I found Kieran Healy taking issue with my not taking issue with the WMD/intelligence imbroglio

  18. Excuse Me?
    I have never understood why Democrats always believe they have a monopoly on the interpretation of political speech, but here

  19. The Rest of the Story
    James Joyner at Outside the Beltway provides the definitive Uranium-gate answer. Why aren’t you there now?

  20. Quidnunc says:

    Dowdification’s endpoint: don’t even quote!
    Reading the State of the Union speech might help some folks on the left realize their arguments against liberating Iraq have little merit. Mr. Den Beste isn’t saying anything the rest of us haven’t realized since, oh, September 12, 2001. UP

  21. DaGoddess says:

    Rounding With The Carnival of the Vanities #44
    The Carnival of the Vanities has always reminded me of rounds at a hospital. So why not put that spin on it in blog form? Indeed. What do you expect from a nurse?