Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg professed to be "baffle[d]" that "the only argument" that opponents of the Iraq war claim that President Bush made in justifying the March 2003 invasion of Iraq is that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and planned to use them against the United States. In fact, it was Bush himself who stressed in the weeks leading up to the invasion that disarming and removing Saddam were necessary because of the threat that he would use WMD against the United States.
Los Angeles Times columnist and National Review Online editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg, in his March 23 Times column, professed to be "baffle[d]" that "the only argument" that opponents of the Iraq war claim that President Bush made in justifying the March 2003 invasion of Iraq is that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and planned to use them against the United States. According to Goldberg, finding WMD was "never the sole reason to invade Iraq" and "[t]he fact that Hussein turned out to be bluffing about WMD isn't a mark against Bush's decision." In fact, it was Bush himself who stressed in the weeks leading up to the invasion that disarming and removing Saddam were necessary because of the threat that he would use WMD against the United States.
The heavy emphasis the Bush administration placed on disarming Saddam was most apparent in the months leading up to the invasion. In his January 28, 2003, State of the Union address, Bush famously declared: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" -- the now-infamous "16 words," which Goldberg, in his Times column, wrongly attributed to Bush's 2002 address. Bush made this comment in the context of a lengthy explanation of Saddam's purported weapons capabilities:
BUSH: To spare himself, he agreed to disarm of all weapons of mass destruction. ... 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. ... [T]he United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. ... 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. ... 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. ... Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard, and VX nerve agent. ... U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. ... 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.
In that one speech alone, Bush used the word "weapon" 17 times in reference to Saddam. He used the word "disarm" nine times -- twice in this sentence: "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."
On February 5, 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered a speech to the United Nations in which he, as Bush put it on February 6, "briefed the United Nations Security Council on Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons, and its links to terrorist groups." Iraq's supposed "links to terrorist groups" were so dangerous, according to Bush, because "weapons of mass destruction might be passed to terrorists, who would not hesitate to use those weapons." Bush went on to describe "the situation as we find it":
BUSH: Twelve years after Saddam Hussein agreed to disarm, and 90 days after the Security Council passed Resolution 1441 by a unanimous vote, Saddam Hussein was required to make a full declaration of his weapons programs. He has not done so. Saddam Hussein was required to fully cooperate in the disarmament of his regime; he has not done so. Saddam Hussein was given a final chance; he is throwing that chance away.
The dictator of Iraq is making his choice. Now the nations of the Security Council must make their own. On November 8th, by demanding the immediate disarmament of Iraq, the United Nations Security Council spoke with clarity and authority. Now the Security Council will show whether its words have any meaning. Having made its demands, the Security Council must not back down, when those demands are defied and mocked by a dictator.
The United States would welcome and support a new resolution which makes clear that the Security Council stands behind its previous demands. Yet resolutions mean little without resolve. And the United States, along with a growing coalition of nations, is resolved to take whatever action is necessary to defend ourselves and disarm the Iraqi regime.
On March 17, 2003, Bush delivered an ultimatum to Saddam and his sons, demanding that they "leave Iraq within 48 hours" or face military action, and again laid the greatest emphasis on Iraq's purported weapons capabilities:
BUSH: For more than a decade, the United States and other nations have pursued patient and honorable efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime without war. That regime pledged to reveal and destroy all its weapons of mass destruction as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Since then, the world has engaged in 12 years of diplomacy. We have passed more than a dozen resolutions in the United Nations Security Council. We have sent hundreds of weapons inspectors to oversee the disarmament of Iraq. Our good faith has not been returned.
The Iraqi regime has used diplomacy as a ploy to gain time and advantage. It has uniformly defied Security Council resolutions demanding full disarmament. Over the years, U.N. weapon inspectors have been threatened by Iraqi officials, electronically bugged, and systematically deceived. Peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime have failed again and again -- because we are not dealing with peaceful men.
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. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq's neighbors and against Iraq's people.
The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other.
In the case of Iraq, the Security Council did act, in the early 1990s. Under Resolutions 678 and 687 -- both still in effect -- the United States and our allies are authorized to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will.
Last September, I went to the U.N. General Assembly and urged the nations of the world to unite and bring an end to this danger. On November 8th, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, finding Iraq in material breach of its obligations, and vowing serious consequences if Iraq did not fully and immediately disarm.
Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed. And it will not disarm so long as Saddam Hussein holds power. For the last four-and-a-half months, the United States and our allies have worked within the Security Council to enforce that Council's long-standing demands. Yet, some permanent members of the Security Council have publicly announced they will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq. These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it. Many nations, however, do have the resolve and fortitude to act against this threat to peace, and a broad coalition is now gathering to enforce the just demands of the world. The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.
From Goldberg's March 23 LA Times column:
According to the Pentagon's definitive postmortem on the invasion, some of which was leaked to the New York Times, even many Iraqi generals were stunned to discover that Hussein didn't have WMD. Hussein practiced a strategy that one Republican Guard commander called "deterrence by doubt," in which he hoped to bluff the world into believing he had WMD in order to deter Iran and keep his rep as an Arab strongman with serious mojo.
And that's the point Thomas et al don't want to understand. For reasons that still baffle me, the WMD threat -- never the sole reason to invade Iraq -- not only became the only argument, it became a thoroughly legalistic one, as if foreign policy has rules of evidence and procedural due process. After 9/11, that kind of foreign policy by lawyers looked ridiculous, and rightly so.
The fact that Hussein turned out to be bluffing about WMD isn't a mark against Bush's decision. If you're a cop and a man pulls out a gun and points it at you, you're within your rights to shoot him, particularly if the man in question is a known criminal who's shot people before. If it turns out afterward that the gun wasn't loaded, that's not the cop's fault.