Tim Russert allowed Richard Perle to selectively quote from a 2002 speech in which Al Gore said Saddam Hussein possessed hidden stockpiles of "chemical and biological weapons" and that Saddam's "search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter." Perle cited the speech to support his claim that it was a "widely accepted" view prior to the Iraq war that Saddam posed "an intolerable threat." But in the speech, Gore nonetheless vocally opposed the invasion of Iraq.
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On the March 18 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, host and NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert allowed American Enterprise Institute resident fellow Richard Perle to selectively quote from a September 2002 speech in which former Vice President Al Gore asserted that Saddam Hussein had "stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout" Iraq and that his "search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter." Perle cited the speech to support his claim that it was a "widely accepted" view prior to the Iraq war that Saddam posed "an intolerable threat." But Russert did not challenge Perle by pointing out that Gore nonetheless vocally opposed the invasion of Iraq -- including in the speech from which Perle quoted.
During a roundtable discussion on the Iraq war, Perle argued that it was a "widely accepted view" prior to the U.S. invasion that Saddam "posed a threat that had to be dealt with." He went on to cite statements from Gore and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) as evidence that this was not simply "a Republican view." Perle first quoted Levin's December 16, 2001, statement that "[t]he war against terrorism will not be finished as long as Saddam Hussein is in power." When Russert pointed out that Levin had voted against the war, Perle purported to quote from Gore's September 23, 2002, speech: "We know that Saddam has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout the country. Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power."
But in this case, Russert did not note that Gore strongly opposed the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq. In fact, Gore's opposition to the war is apparent from the 2002 speech in question, during which he stated that the "aftermath" of a successful invasion of Iraq "could easily" make the United States less safe. In addition, while Perle presented Gore as saying that "Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter," Gore actually said that Saddam's quest for WMD had "proven impossible to completely deter" [emphasis added] -- suggesting that Saddam had been substantially deterred by earlier international cooperation.
From Gore's September 23, 2002, speech at the Commonwealth Club of California:
I'm speaking today in an effort to recommend a specific course of action for our country, which I sincerely believe would be better for our country than the policy that is now being pursued by President Bush. Specifically, I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.
Nevertheless, all Americans should acknowledge that Iraq does indeed pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf region, and we should be about the business of organizing an international coalition to eliminate his [Saddam's] access to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power. Now, let's be clear, there's no international law that can prevent the United States from taking action to protect our vital interests when it is manifestly clear that there is a choice to be made between law and our survival. Indeed, international law itself recognizes that such choices stay within the purview of all nations. I believe, however, that such a choice is not presented in the case of Iraq. Indeed, should we decide to proceed, our action can be justified within the framework of international law rather than requiring us to go outside the framework of international law. In fact, even though a new United Nations resolution might be helpful in the effort to forge an international consensus, I think it's abundantly clear that the existing U.N. resolutions passed 11 years ago are completely sufficient from a legal standpoint so long as it is clear that Saddam Hussein is in breach of the agreements made at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War.
Here's another of the main points I want to make. If we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted fourth-rate military of Iraq and then quickly abandon that nation, as President Bush has quickly abandoned almost all of Afghanistan after quickly defeating a fifth-rate military power there, then the resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam. Here's why I say that; we know that he has stored away secret supplies of biological weapons and chemical weapons throughout his country. As yet, we have no evidence, however, that he has shared any of those weapons with terrorist groups. If the administration has evidence that he has, please present it, because that would change the way we all look at this thing. But if Iraq came to resemble Afghanistan, in its current depleted state, with no central authority -- well, they have a central authority, but their central authority, because the administration's insistence that the international community not be allowed to assemble a peace keeping force large enough to pacify the countryside, that new government in Afghanistan controls a few precincts in one city and the warlords or drug lords control the whole rest of the countryside. What if in the aftermath of a war against Iraq, we face a situation like that because we washed our hands of it? What would then happen to all of those stored reserves of biological weapons all around the country? What if the Al Qaeda members infiltrated across the borders of Iraq the way they are in Afghanistan? Then the question wouldn't be, Is Saddam Hussein going to share these weapons with the terrorist group? The terrorist groups would have an enhanced ability to just walk in there and get them.
Perle also omitted the context of Levin's 2001 quote, which undermines Perle's contention that it was widely accepted that Saddam Hussein "posed a threat that had to be dealt with." Levin, appearing on the December 16, 2001, edition of CNN's Late Edition, did say that "[t]he war against terrorism will not be finished as long as he is in power," referring to Saddam. But as a November 16, 2005, Financial Times article noted, Levin then expressly said that "that does not mean [Saddam] is the next target," and that a decision on invading Iraq depends on the "facts," including "whether or not Saddam is getting a weapon of mass destruction and is close to it." Perle's cherry-picking of Levin's statement mirrors that of President Bush, who has selectively quoted Levin for the same purpose. Indeed, in a November 14, 2005, speech, Bush stated that "[a]nother senior Democrat [sic] leader said, 'The war against terrorism will not be finished as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.' "
From Levin's December 16, 2001, appearance on CNN's Late Edition, with host Wolf Blitzer and Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT):
BLITZER: And very briefly, Senator Kyl, your colleague, Joe Lieberman, minced no words earlier today on one of the Sunday morning programs when he specifically said that the next target indeed has to be Saddam Hussein. Listen to what he had to say.
LIEBERMAN [video clip]: The fact is that the war against terrorism cannot end before Saddam Hussein is out of power in Iraq, because he is the world's most powerful terrorist.
BLITZER: Do you agree with Senator Lieberman, Senator Kyl?
KYL: Yes. Whether he's the next target or not, we can't finish this war without having dealt with him, that's correct.
BLITZER: What about that, Senator Levin?
LEVIN: I agree, but exactly the way Senator Kyl put it. The war against terrorism will not be finished as long as he is in power. But that does not mean he is the next target.
And the commitment to do that, it seems to me, could be disruptive of our alliance that still has work to do in Afghanistan. And a lot will depend on what the facts are in various places as to what terrorist groups are doing, and as to whether or not we have facts as to whether or not the Iraqis have been involved in the terrorist attack of September 11, or whether or not Saddam is getting a weapon of mass destruction and is close to it. So facts will determine what our next targets are.
From the March 18 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:
RUSSERT: In fact, you were quoted as saying if you were Delphic that you probably would not have gone into Iraq?
PERLE: Well, no. I think -- I think Saddam Hussein posed a threat that had to be dealt with, and I think the decision to remove him was a correct decision. I think there were lots of things subsequent to his removal that might well have been -- should have been done differently. But the fact is he posed a threat.
Let me quote -- I don't usually quote Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, but on this occasion I will. These are his words: "The war against terrorism will not be finished as long as Saddam Hussein is in power."
This was not an eccentric view. This was certainly not a Republican view. It was a widely accepted view among --
RUSSERT: But he did vote against the war.
PERLE: This was his view of it.
Remember Vice President Gore? I'm quoting him: "We know that Saddam has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout the country. Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power."
Tim, we went into Iraq to defend this country against the threat that, after 9/11, we understood to be an intolerable threat. That is that Saddam Hussein, with a history of weapons of mass destruction, with known ties to terrorists, might use that weapons capability by placing it in the hand of terrorists. We were right to take that threat seriously. Now we find we're in a difficult situation, and it makes no sense to abandon this fight without giving the new strategy a chance to succeed. It's accepting defeat unnecessarily, and it will be a catastrophe in the continuing war against terrorists who want to destroy us.