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Context of 'December 17, 2003: Bush on Iraq’s Lack of WMDs: ‘So What’s the Difference?’'

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August 2, 1990: Iraq Invades Kuwait

Iraqi tanks poised to roll into Kuwait.Iraqi tanks poised to roll into Kuwait. [Source: Kristina Greve]Iraq invades Kuwait. In response, the US suspends National Security Directive 26 (see October 2-6, 1989), which established closer ties with Baghdad and mandated $1 billion in agricultural loan guarantees to Iraq. [Los Angeles Times, 2/23/1992] The secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, begins pressing President Bush to go to war with Iraq without securing Congressional approval. His rationale is two-fold: he doesn’t need Congressional authority, and he might not get it if he asks. Cheney moves the Pentagon onto a full war footing, even going so far as to create what author and former White House counsel John Dean calls “his own concocted high-risk plans of battle, which he tried but failed to sell at the White House.” Bush will juggle Cheney’s view with that of House Speaker Tom Foley, who will give the president a document signed by 81 Democratic members who insist that if Bush wants to go to war, he needs the authorization of Congress. Dean will write that Cheney’s arguments “are based on bogus legal and historical arguments that have been made before, but no one has pushed them longer or harder than he has.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 89-91] Bush decides not to follow Cheney’s advice. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will observe: “By urging Bush to ignore the War Powers Resolution on the eve of the first major overseas ground war since Congress enacted the law, Cheney was attempting to set a powerful precedent. Had Bush taken his advice and survived the political fallout, the Gulf War would have restored [former President] Truman’s claim that as president he had ‘inherent’ powers to send American troops to the Korean War on his own” (see June 30, 1950). [Savage, 2007, pp. 62]

Entity Tags: John Dean, George Herbert Walker Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (41), Charlie Savage, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

At a meeting of the White House Iraq Group, speechwriter Michael Gerson suggests that Bush argue in his next speech that the US should not wait until there is conclusive evidence that Iraq has acquired a nuclear weapon because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a “mushroom cloud.” Gerson’s suggestion is met with enthusiastic approval. The soundbite is so well liked that the phrase is leaked to the New York Times before the speech, appearing in an article on September 8 (see September 8, 2002). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 35] Gerson, a devout evangelical Christian, was trained by former Nixon aide Charles Colson, whom Colson’s former colleague John Dean describes as “Nixon’s hatchet man and political schemer.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 62]

Entity Tags: Michael Gerson, White House Iraq Group

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group, tells Congress that his investigation has found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Nor has he uncovered anything to support the theory that two trailers discovered in Iraq (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) were mobile biological weapons factories. [US Congress, 10/2/2003; Washington Post, 4/12/2006] After Kay’s testimony, White House officials call George Tenet and John McLaughlin and ask why Kay included such a blunt statement that the Iraq Survey Group had not found any weapons of mass destruction in the beginning of his report. Couldn’t he have buried that statement elsewhere in the report they ask. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 329]

Entity Tags: US Congress, David Kay

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

Diane Sawyer with President Bush.Diane Sawyer with President Bush. [Source: USA Today]President Bush gives a rare one-on-one interview to ABC’s Diane Sawyer. Among other topics addressed, he reaffirms his belief that terrorists operated in Iraq before the March 2003 invasion (citing Ansar al-Islam, “a al-Qaeda affiliate, I would call them al-Qaeda, was active in Iraq before the war, hence—a terrorist tie with Iraq…”) and that his insistence that Iraq had an active and threatening WMD program was based on “good solid intelligence[, t]he same intelligence that my predecessor [Bill Clinton] operated on.” [ABC News, 12/17/2003] In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will respond, “His predecessor, however, never claimed that Saddam [Hussein] had imminent… nuclear capacity, nor did his predecessor say that Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 153]
Iraq Had WMD Program, Bush Insists - Bush insists that weapons inspector David Kay proved Iraq did have a burgeoning and active WMD program (see October 2, 2003), and implies that it is just a matter of time before the actual weapons are found. Sawyer says, “But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still,” to which Bush replies, “So what’s the difference?” Sawyer appears taken aback by the answer, and Bush continues that since it was possible Hussein would acquire WMDs, it was necessary to “get rid of him” to make “the world a safer, freer place.” Sawyer presses the point home: “What would it take to convince you he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction?” and Bush responds: “Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.” Sawyer asks, “And if he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction?” and Bush replies tartly: “Diane, you can keep asking the question. I’m telling you, I made the right decision for America. Because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). But the fact that he is not there is, means America’s a more secure country.” [ABC News, 12/17/2003] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “Bush’s response was telling, much more so than I stopped to contemplate at the time.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 200]
Why Read the News? - Sawyer asks Bush about his reported penchant for not reading the news for himself. Bush confirms that he gets his news from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who, Sawyer says, “give you a flavor of what’s in the news.” Bush agrees that this is the case, and says: “Yeah. I get my news from people who don’t editorialize. They give me the actual news. And it makes it easier to digest, on a daily basis, the facts.” Sawyer asks, “Is it just harder to read constant criticism or to read?” to which Bush replies: “Why even put up with it when you can get the facts elsewhere? I’m a lucky man. I’ve got, it’s not just Condi and Andy. It’s all kinds of people in my administration who are charged with different responsibilities. And they come in and say, ‘this is what’s happening, this isn’t what’s happening.’” Laura Bush, who joins her husband halfway through the interview, says she reads the newspapers, including the opinion columns, but says: “I agree with him that we can actually get what is really happening from the people who really know what’s happening. And that isn’t always what you get in the newspapers.… There are certain columnists I won’t read. I mean, what, you know, why would I?” [ABC News, 12/17/2003]
Wilson: Bush 'Systematically Deceived' US, 'Betrayed' Military - Months later, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write: “It was clear, from this one statement, […] that the administration, from the president on down, had systematically deceived the American people, Congress, and the world. Most of all, the president had betrayed the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who so bravely march out when ordered into war to defend our country against immiment threats, or even from grave and gathering dangers. Iraq had posed neither. The difference, Mr. President, I thought, is that war was not the only option, or even the best one. We had gone to war over capacity, not stockpiles, not mushroom clouds (see September 4, 2002), not intent, or, as John Bolton had earlier said more directly, because scientists were on Saddam’s payroll. Our troops had died—and were continuing to die—in vain. I came away from this sad revelation resolved that, unlike the other bitterly divisive war debate of my lifetime, over the war in Vietnam, we should admit this terrible fact sooner, rather than later, and thereby revise our national policies accordingly.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 414-415]

Entity Tags: Laura Bush, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Scott McClellan, Joseph C. Wilson, David Kay, Diane Sawyer, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, Ansar al-Islam, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

A bipartisan Senate report finds that no credible evidence of any links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government ever existed, despite repeated and insistent claims by the White House and its allies (see Early 1995), March-June 1998, (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 18, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 21, 2001, October 27, 2001, 2002, February 6, 2002, March 22, 2002, July 25, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 15, 2002, September 25, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 2, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 2, 2002, Mid-January 2003, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, January 28, 2003, February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 8, 2003, February 9, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, February 16, 2003, March 9, 2003, March 17, 2003, March 17-18, 2003, Shortly After April 9, 2003, July 9, 2003, September 7, 2003, September 14, 2003-September 17, 2003, September 28, 2003, December 17, 2003, January 8, 2004, January 9, 2004, Early June 2004, June 14, 2004, June 15, 2004, June 15, 2004, October 4, 2004, May 2005, October 2005, (2006), January 31, 2006, March 29, 2006, and September 10, 2006). Panel Democrats say that the White House knew the intelligence surrounding its claims of such links was flawed and unreliable.
Tenet Admitted to Giving in to Pressure - They note that in July former CIA Director George Tenet told the panel that the White House pressured him to support its arguments and that he agreed despite the findings of his own analysts. “Tenet admitted to the Intelligence Committee that the policymakers wanted him to ‘say something about not being inconsistent with what the president had said,’” says Intelligence Committee member Carl Levin (D-MI). Such compliance was, in hindsight, “the wrong thing to do,” Tenet added, according to Levin. “Well, it was much more than that,” Levin says. “It was a shocking abdication of a CIA director’s duty not to act as a shill for any administration or its policy.” Tenet also admitted that he erred in issuing a statement after President Bush’s October 7, 2002 speech saying that Bush’s claims were consistent with CIA findings (see October 7, 2002).
Republicans Say Report Just 'Election-Year Politicking' - Republican committee members insist that there is little new information about prewar intelligence or claims about Iraq’s links to terrorism. Ranking committee member Pat Roberts (R-KS) accuses Levin and other Democrats of trying to “use the committee… insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.… That is simply not true, and I believe the American people are smart enough to recognize election-year politicking when they see it.” Democrats retort that the report speaks for itself.
Impeachment Not Warranted - However, committee Democrats such as John Rockefeller (D-WV) say that the report does not prove any criminal behavior from Bush or his top officials, and say that impeachment of Bush or anyone else is not warranted.
Hussein Opposed to US Policies - An FBI summary quoted in the report shows Hussein acknowledging that his government had met with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but denying any collusion. Hussein said he opposed only US policies, and added that “if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the US, he would have allied with North Korea or China,” according to the FBI summary.
Other Portions of Report - Other sections of the report find that no evidence existed to support claims that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see February 7, 2001, February 12, 2001, November 14, 2001, May 2002-September 2002, September 9, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 25, 2003, and May 30, 2003), had possessed biological weapons in 2003 (see 2002, 2002-March 2003, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, August 2002, September 2002, September 24, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, January 9, 2003, and March 7, 2003), used the Salman Pak facility to train Islamist terrorists (see September 8, 2006), or that Iraqi officials met with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 8-10, 2006). The report also finds that the White House relied heavily on false intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see After August 2, 1989, (1994), January 1996, November 6-8, 2001, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Summer 2002, and June 26, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 pdf file; Associated Press, 9/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Carl Levin, George J. Tenet, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Pat Roberts, Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

According to a poll just released by Dartmouth professor Benjamin Valentino, 63 percent of self-identified Republicans still believe that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when the US invaded in March 2003 (see March 19, 2003). Twenty-seven percent of self-identified independents and 15 percent of self-identified Democrats hold that view. The question was: “Do you believe that the following statement is true or not true? ‘Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.’” Reporter Dan Froomkin, commenting on the poll results, writes: “The Bush administration’s insistence that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and might give them to terrorists was a key selling point in its campaign to take the country to war (see September 30, 2001, 2002-2003, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 21, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 23, 2003, March 24, 2003, March 30, 2003, Late March 2003 and After, April 10, 2003, April 20, 2003, Between April 20, 2003 and April 30, 2003, May 28, 2003, May 29, 2003, June 2003, June 1, 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11, 2003, July 31, 2003, September 14, 2003, January 22, 2004, and March 24, 2004). It turned out to be untrue.… There is no reality-based argument that Iraq actually had WMD, after extensive searches found none (see 2002-March 2003, 2002, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, May 2002-September 2002, September 2002, Late September 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, Before October 7, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, December 3, 2002, January 9, 2003, January 28-29, 2003, February 20, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 4, 2003, May 25, 2003, May 30, 2003, June 2003, Early June 2003-Mid-June 2003, Between June 3, 2003 and June 17, 2003, Mid-June 2003, Early July 2003, July 11, 2003, July 20, 2003, July 29, 2003, July 30, 2003, August 16, 2003, October 2, 2003, October 2003, November 2, 2003, December 2003, December 2003, December 17, 2003, Mid-January 2004, January 20, 2004, January 23, 2004, January 27, 2004, January 28, 2004, February 8, 2004, and July 9, 2004), but this is hardly the first time many Americans have been certain of something that simply wasn’t true” (see May 14, 2003-May 18, 2003). The 65-question poll was conducted by YouGov from April 26 through May 2, 2012, and surveyed 1,056 respondents. It has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.18 percent. [Valentino, 6/20/2012 pdf file; Jim Lobe, 6/20/2012; Huffington Post, 6/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Dan Froomkin, Saddam Hussein, Benjamin Valentino

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation


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