Claim: List reproduces statements made by Democratic leaders about Saddam Hussein's acquisition or possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2003]
"One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line."
President Clinton, Feb. 4, 1998.
"If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program."
President Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998.
"Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face."
Madeline Albright, Feb 18, 1998.
"He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983."
Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, Feb, 18, 1998
"[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs."
Letter to President Clinton, signed by Sens. Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John
Kerry, and others Oct. 9, 1998.
"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Dec. 16, 1998.
"Hussein has ... chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction and palaces for his cronies."
Madeline Albright, Clinton Secretary of State, Nov. 10, 1999.
"There is no doubt that . Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies."
Letter to President Bush, Signed by Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL,) and others,
Dec, 5, 2001.
"We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them."
Sen. Carl Levin (d, MI), Sept. 19, 2002.
"We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."
Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002.
"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."
Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002.
"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seing and developing weapons of mass destruction."
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA), Sept. 27, 2002.
"The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons..."
Sen. Robert Byrd (D, WV), Oct. 3, 2002.
"I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force — if necessary — to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security."
Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9, 2002.
"There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years . We also should remember we have alway s underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction."
Sen. Jay Rockerfeller (D, WV), Oct 10, 2002,
"He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years, every significant UN resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has refused to do."
Rep. Henry Waxman (D, CA), Oct. 10, 2002.
"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program.
He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002
"We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass
destruction. "[W]ithout question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime ... He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. And now he has continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction ... So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real ...
Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003.
NOW THE DEMOCRATS SAY PRESIDENT BUSH LIED, THAT THERE NEVER WERE ANY WMD'S AND HE TOOK US TO WAR FOR HIS OIL BUDDIES??? Right!!!
Origins: All of the quotes listed above are substantially correct reproductions of words uttered by various Democratic leaders regarding Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's acquisition or possession of weapons of mass destruction. However, as is typical of such lists, some of the quotes are truncated — and all of them are provided without context — so as to reinforce the author's point of view even when the proffered material does not fit it. Namely, several of these quotes were
offered in the course of statements that clearly indicated the speaker was decidedly against unilateral military intervention in Iraq by the U.S. Moreover, several of the quotes offered antedate the four nights of airstrikes unleashed against Iraq by U.S. and British forces during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, after which Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Gen. Henry H. Shelton (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) announced the action had been successful in "degrad[ing] Saddam Hussein's ability to deliver chemical, biological and nuclear weapons."
In the section below where we highlight these quotes, we've tried to provide sufficient surrounding material to make clear the context in which the quotes were offered as well as include links to the full text from which they were derived wherever possible.
In February 1998, politicians debated the Clinton administration's plans to launch air attacks against Iraq in an effort to coerce Saddam Hussein into cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors. As the Washington Post noted at the time:
Foreign leaders and diplomats may be urging restraint on the Clinton administration in the showdown with Iraq, but a growing chorus at home is calling for stronger measures than the air attacks currently being planned, with the objective of bringing down President Saddam Hussein.
Prominent members of the foreign policy establishment and some leading members of Congress say they are convinced that air attacks aimed at coercing the Iraqis into cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors would not succeed, and would result in too narrow a victory even if they did.
Instead, they argue, the United States should go beyond the objective of curtailing Iraqi weapons programs and adopt a far-reaching strategy aimed at replacing the Baghdad regime. Although they are far from consensus on what that strategy should be, a few openly advocate the possible use of U.S. ground forces, a much greater commitment than the options being pursued by the administration.
Many supporters of a more forceful strategy are conservative Republicans and longtime defense hard-liners, such as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former Pentagon official Richard L. Armitage. But they also include former representative Stephen J. Solarz (N.Y.), a liberal Democrat who with former Pentagon official Richard Perle is circulating a letter in Congress and foreign policy circles seeking bipartisan support for a more ambitious policy.
In addition to a crushing bombing campaign or the possibility of ground troops, some advocates of tougher measures are suggesting seeking Iraq's expulsion from the United Nations, indicting Saddam Hussein as a war criminal, or blockading the port of Basra to halt illicit oil exports — an action that would infuriate Iran, which shares the Shatt al Arab waterway with Iraq.
Such moves, if made unilaterally, would almost certainly draw the ire of most of the United States's U.N. partners and frame the crisis even more starkly as a conflict between Washington and Baghdad. But public opinion polls may indicate support for such a route. A Los Angeles Times poll published on Monday showed that by 68 percent to 24 percent, Americans favor airstrikes provided they are designed to remove Saddam Hussein from power, not just force him to accept the commands of the U.N. Security Council.1
That same article also reported a statement made by President Clinton the previous day (4 February 1998):
Yesterday, Clinton reiterated that he would prefer a "diplomatic solution" to the standoff with Iraq but added, "One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line." Clinton met with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, just back from a trip to Europe and several Arab countries to outline the U.S. position, and is to discuss Iraq with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who arrived in Washington yesterday.1
On 17 February 1998, President Clinton delivered a speech at the Pentagon. Excerpts from that speech include the following comments:
The UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq still has stockpiles of chemical and biological munitions, a small force of Scud-type missiles, and the capacity to restart quickly its production program and build many, many more weapons.
Now, against that background, let us remember the past here. It is against that background that we have repeatedly and unambiguously made clear our preference for a diplomatic solution . . .
But to be a genuine solution, and not simply one that glosses over the remaining problem, a diplomatic solution must include or meet a clear, immutable, reasonable, simple standard.
Iraq must agree and soon, to free, full, unfettered access to these sites anywhere in the country. There can be no dilution or diminishment of the integrity of the inspection system that UNSCOM has put in place.
Now those terms are nothing more or less than the essence of what he agreed to at the end of the Gulf War. The Security Council, many times since, has reiterated this standard. If he accepts them, force will not be necessary. If he refuses or continues to evade his obligations through more tactics of delay and deception, he and he alone will be to blame for the consequences.
Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction.
And some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. And I think every one of you who's really worked on this for any length of time believes that, too. . . .
If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. We want to seriously reduce his capacity to threaten his neighbors.
I am quite confident, from the briefing I have just received from our military leaders, that we can achieve the objective and secure our vital strategic interests.2
On 18 February 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appeared along with Defense Secretary William Cohen and White House National Security Adviser Sandy Berger at an internationally televised "town meeting" at Ohio State University. Protesters shouted from the stands throughout the meeting, and Secretary Albright attempted to quiet them by inviting some of them down to the floor to pose questions to her directly. As the Columbus Dispatch reported:
Few actually got the opportunity, but one — Jon Strange, a substitute teacher in Columbus — eventually took the microphone.
He repeatedly challenged Albright on whether Clinton policy is consistent or fair — attacking Saddam while acting favorably to American allies charged with atrocities against their own people, such as Indonesia and Turkey.
Albright said the United States had expressed its concerns in all of the occasions Strange mentioned. "What we ought to be thinking about is how to deal with Saddam Hussein," she added.
"You're not answering my question, Madam Albright!" Strange shouted, causing the secretary to momentarily back from the lectern.
At that point, Woodruff followed his question by asking why Iraq was branded an outlaw nation for manufacturing chemical and biological weapons that other nations also possess.
"It is a question of whether there is a proclivity to use them," Albright said. "Saddam Hussein is a repeat offender."
Many who attended yesterday's town meeting, while supportive of the nation's position on Iraq, said they are uncertain whether a military attack is the proper response.
Before the forum, Rob Aiken, a North Side resident and student at Ohio State, said he wanted to know what other options had been considered.
"I don't think killing a lot of folks will change a regime," he said.
Leandra Kennedy, a political science major from Philadelphia, said her biggest concern is that an attack has not received congressional approval.
"Saddam needs to comply," she said. "But I'm not sure about the way we're going about it, not taking into consideration how it will affect the international community in the long run."
Calling Saddam a bully who has terrorized his Middle East neighbors and tortured his own people, the officials said the administration's aim is to reduce his capacity to manufacture and deliver weapons of mass destruction.
"I am absolutely convinced that we could accomplish our mission," Berger said.
"The risks that the leader of a rogue state can use biological or chemical weapons on us or our allies is the greatest security risk we face," Albright said.3
During that same meeting National Security Adviser Sandy Berger also spoke about how to make Saddam Hussein comply with United Nations weapons inspectors:
Berger won strong applause when he insisted Washington is still hoping for a peaceful way to persuade Saddam to give United Nations inspectors free access to suspected weapons sites. But Berger re-used a warning delivered Tuesday by President Bill Clinton: "The only answer to aggression and outlaw behaviour is firmness. . . He (Saddam) will rebuild his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and some day, some way, I am certain he will use that arsenal again, as he has 10 times since 1983."4
On 6 October 1998, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, addressed that committee at a hearing on the subject of worldwide threats facing the U.S. His comments on Iraq included mention of a letter to President Clinton which he and other senators were circulating:
As the Chairman has indicated, the situation in Iraq also poses a threat to international peace and security. Once again, Saddam Hussein has halted cooperation with the United Nations Special Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Without intrusive inspections, we will not be able to ensure that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs are destroyed in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions. Without those inspections, the Iraqi people will continue to suffer as a result of international economic sanctions.
And that is why, along with Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Hutchison, I am circulating among our Senate colleagues a letter to President Clinton, urging him, in consultation with Congress, consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take effective actions, including if appropriate, the use of air strikes, to respond to the Iraqi threat.
(President Clinton did undertake the action urged in this statement a few months later by ordering the aforementioned Operation Desert Fox airstrikes.)
On 16 December 1998, Nancy Pelosi, a Congressional representative from California and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, issued a statement concerning a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq:
As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am keenly aware that the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is an issue of grave importance to all nations. Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.
The responsibility of the United States in this conflict is to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, to minimize the danger to our troops and to diminish the suffering of the Iraqi people. The citizens of Iraq have suffered the most for Saddam Hussein's activities; sadly, those same citizens now stand to suffer more. I have supported efforts to ease the humanitarian situation in Iraq and my thoughts and prayers are with the innocent Iraqi civilians, as well as with the families of U.S. troops participating in the current action.
I believe in negotiated solutions to international conflict. This is, unfortunately, not going to be the case in this situation where Saddam Hussein has been a repeat offender, ignoring the international community's requirement that he come clean with his weapons program. While I support the President, I hope and pray that this conflict can be resolved quickly and that the international community can find a lasting solution through diplomatic means.
(In this statement Rep. Pelosi was not urging that action be taken against Iraq in order to destroy its WMD technology; she was expressing support for attacks that had already begun with that purpose as their stated objective.)
On 10 November 1999, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addressed another open meeting, this one held at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. Challenged to defend the Clinton administration's support of an economic and trade embargo against Iraq, Secretary Albright responded:
If you remember in 1991, Saddam Hussein invaded another country, he plagued it, he set fire to it, and he decided that he could control the region. Before that, he had gassed his own people.
Saddam Hussein had been acquiring weapons of mass destruction. We carried out, with the help of an alliance, a war in which we put Saddam Hussein back into his box. The United Nations voted on a set of resolutions which demanded Saddam Hussein live up to his obligations and get rid of weapons of mass destruction.
The United Nations Security Council imposed a set of sanctions on Saddam Hussein until he did that. It also established an organization that is set up to monitor whether Hussein had gotten rid of his weapons of mass destruction.
There has never been an embargo against food and medicine. It's just that Hussein has just not chosen to spend his money on that. Instead, he has chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction, and palaces for his cronies.
In December 2001, nine members of Congress (a group which included both Democrats and Republicans) wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to step up support for the internal Iraqi opposition seeking to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Included in that letter was the following paragraph:
This December will mark three years since United Nations inspectors last visited Iraq. There is no doubt that since that time, Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf war status. In addition, Saddam continues to refine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies.
Unless the version reproduced on the Department of State's web site is in error, however, Senator Bob Graham of Florida was not one of the signatories to that letter.
On 19 September 2002, Senator Carl Levin — by then Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee — addressed a committee hearing on U.S. policy on Iraq. His introductory remarks included the following:
The Armed Services Committee meets this afternoon to continue our hearings on U.S. policy toward Iraq. The purpose of these hearings is to give the Administration an opportunity to present its position on Iraq, and to allow this Committee to examine the Administration's proposal with Administration witnesses and experts outside of the government.
We welcome Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers to the Committee. Next week the Committee will hear from former senior military commanders on Monday and from former national security officials on Wednesday.
We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandates of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.
On 23 September 2002, former Vice-President Al Gore addressed the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco on the subject of Iraq and the war on terrorism. Among the comments he offered there were the following:
Moreover, 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 abandoned Afghanistan after quickly defeating a fifth rate military there, the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam. We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.
We have no evidence, however, that he has shared any of those weapons with terrorist groups. However, if Iraq came to resemble Afghanistan — with no central authority but instead local and regional warlords with porous borders and infiltrating members of Al Qaeda than these widely dispersed supplies of weapons of mass destruction might well come into the hands of terrorist groups.
If we end the war in Iraq the way we ended the war in Afghanistan, we could easily be worse off than we are today. When Secretary Rumsfield was asked recently about what our responsibility for restabilizing Iraq would be in an aftermath of an invasion, he said, "That's for the Iraqis to come together and decide."
[ . . .]
What is a potentially even more serious consequence of this push to begin a new war as quickly as possible is the damage it can do not just to America’s prospects to winning the war against terrorism but to America’s prospects for continuing the historic leadership we began providing to the world 57 years ago, right here in this city by the bay.
[ . . .]
Nevertheless, Iraq does pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf and we should organize an international coalition to eliminate his 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. Moreover, no international law can prevent the United States from taking actions to protect its vital interests, when it is manifestly clear that there is a choice to be made between law and survival. I believe, however, that such a choice is not presented in the case of Iraq. Indeed, should we decide to proceed, that action can be justified within the framework of international law rather than outside it. In fact, though a new UN resolution may be helpful in building international consensus, the existing resolutions from 1991 are sufficient from a legal standpoint.
On 27 September 2002, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts delivered a speech to the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. An excerpt from that speech includes the following statements:
We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction. Our intelligence community is also deeply concerned about the acquisition of such weapons by Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria and other nations. But information from the intelligence community over the past six months does not point to Iraq as an imminent threat to the United States or a major proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.
In public hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, CIA Director George Tenet described Iraq as a threat but not as a proliferator, saying that Saddam Hussein — and I quote — "is determined to thwart U.N. sanctions, press ahead with weapons of mass destruction, and resurrect the military force he had before the Gulf War." That is unacceptable, but it is also possible that it could be stopped short of war.
In October 2002, as the U.S. Senate debated Joint Resolution 46 authorizing President George W. Bush to use military force against Iraq, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia delivered remarks regarding his belief that the "rush to war" was "ignoring the U.S. Constitution" and that Iraq did not pose an imminent threat to the United States. Among his remarks were the following statements:
The Senate is rushing to vote on whether to declare war on Iraq without pausing to ask why. Why is war being dealt with not as a last resort but as a first resort? Why is Congress being pressured to act now, as of today, 33 days before a general election when a third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives are in the final, highly politicized, weeks of election campaigns? As recently as Tuesday (Oct. 1), the President said he had not yet made up his mind about whether to go to war with Iraq. And yet Congress is being exhorted to give the President open-ended authority now, to exercise whenever he pleases, in the event that he decides to invade Iraq. Why is Congress elbowing past the President to authorize a military campaign that the President may or may not even decide to pursue? Aren't we getting ahead of ourselves?
The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retained some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capability. Intelligence reports also indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons, but has not yet achieved nuclear capability. It is now October of 2002. Four years have gone by in which neither this administration nor the previous one felt compelled to invade Iraq to protect against the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction. Until today. Until 33 days until election day. Now we are being told that we must act immediately, before adjournment and before the elections. Why the rush?
Yes, we had September 11. But we must not make the mistake of looking at the resolution before us as just another offshoot of the war on terror. We know who was behind the September 11 attacks on the United States. We know it was Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network. We have dealt with al Qaeda and with the Taliban government that sheltered it — we have routed them from Afghanistan and we are continuing to pursue them in hiding.
So where does Iraq enter the equation? No one in the Administration has been able to produce any solid evidence linking Iraq to the September 11 attack. Iraq had biological and chemical weapons long before September 11. We knew it then, and we know it now. Iraq has been an enemy of the United States for more than a decade. If Saddam Hussein is such an imminent threat to the United States, why hasn't he attacked us already? The fact that Osama bin Laden attacked the United States does not, de facto, mean that Saddam Hussein is now in a lock and load position and is readying an attack on the United States. In truth, there is nothing in the deluge of Administration rhetoric over Iraq that is of such moment that it would preclude the Senate from setting its own timetable and taking the time for a thorough and informed discussion of this crucial issue.
During that same debate, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts also made a speech from the Senate floor, which included the following statements:
When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security and that of our allies in the Persian Gulf region. I will vote yes because I believe it is the best way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. And the administration, I believe, is now committed to a recognition that war must be the last option to address this threat, not the first, and that we must act in concert with allies around the globe to make the world's case against Saddam Hussein.
Let me be clear, the vote I will give to the President is for one reason and one reason only: To disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, if we cannot accomplish that objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies.
In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days — to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out.
If we do wind up going to war with Iraq, it is imperative that we do so with others in the international community, unless there is a showing of a grave, imminent — and I emphasize "imminent" — threat to this country which requires the President to respond in a way that protects our immediate national security needs.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has recognized a similar need to distinguish how we approach this. He has said that he believes we should move in concert with allies, and he has promised his own party that he will not do so otherwise. The administration may not be in the habit of building coalitions, but that is what they need to do. And it is what can be done. If we go it alone without reason, we risk inflaming an entire region, breeding a new generation of terrorists, a new cadre of anti-American zealots, and we will be less secure, not more secure, at the end of the day, even with Saddam Hussein disarmed.
Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the President has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances.
In voting to grant the President the authority, I am not giving him carte blanche to run roughshod over every country that poses or may pose some kind of potential threat to the United States. Every nation has the right to act preemptively, if it faces an imminent and grave threat, for its self-defense under the standards of law. The threat we face today with Iraq does not meet that test yet. I emphasize "yet." Yes, it is grave because of the deadliness of Saddam Hussein's arsenal and the very high probability that he might use these weapons one day if not disarmed. But it is not imminent, and no one in the CIA, no intelligence briefing we have had suggests it is imminent. None of our intelligence reports suggest that he is about to launch an attack.
The argument for going to war against Iraq is rooted in enforcement of the international community's demand that he disarm. It is not rooted in the doctrine of preemption. Nor is the grant of authority in this resolution an acknowledgment that Congress accepts or agrees with the President's new strategic doctrine of preemption. Just the opposite. This resolution clearly limits the authority given to the President to use force in Iraq, and Iraq only, and for the specific purpose of defending the United States against the threat posed by Iraq and enforcing relevant Security Council resolutions.
The definition of purpose circumscribes the authority given to the President to the use of force to disarm Iraq because only Iraq's weapons of mass destruction meet the two criteria laid out in this resolution.
There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years. And that may happen sooner if he can obtain access to enriched uranium from foreign sources — something that is not that difficult in the current world. We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction.
When Saddam Hussein obtains nuclear capabilities, the constraints he feels will diminish dramatically, and the risk to America’s homeland, as well as to America’s allies, will increase even more dramatically. Our existing policies to contain or counter Saddam will become irrelevant.
Americans will return to a situation like that we faced in the Cold War, waking each morning knowing we are at risk from nuclear blackmail by a dictatorship that has declared itself to be our enemy. Only, back then, our communist foes were a rational and predictable bureaucracy; this time, our nuclear foe would be an unpredictable and often irrational individual, a dictator who has demonstrated that he is prepared to violate international law and initiate unprovoked attacks when he feels it serves his purposes to do so.
The global community — in the form of the United Nations — has declared repeatedly, through multiple resolutions, that the frightening prospect of a nuclear-armed Saddam cannot come to pass. But the U.N. has been unable to enforce those resolutions. We must eliminate that threat now, before it is too late.
But this isn’t just a future threat. Saddam’s existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose a very real threat to America, now. Saddam has used chemical weapons before, both against Iraq’s enemies and against his own people. He is working to develop delivery systems like missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that could bring these deadly weapons against U.S. forces and U.S. facilities in the Middle East.
And he could make those weapons available to many terrorist groups which have contact with his government, and those groups could bring those weapons into the U.S. and unleash a devastating attack against our citizens. I fear that greatly.
We cannot know for certain that Saddam will use the weapons of mass destruction he currently possesses, or that he will use them against us. But we do know Saddam has the capability. Rebuilding that capability has been a higher priority for Saddam than the welfare of his own people — and he has ill-will toward America.
I am forced to conclude, on all the evidence, that Saddam poses a significant risk.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Administration's policy towards Iraq, I don't think there can be any question about Saddam's conduct. He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years, every significant UN resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has refused to do. He lies and cheats; he snubs the mandate and authority of international weapons inspectors; and he games the system to keep buying time against enforcement of the just and legitimate demands of the United Nations, the Security Council, the United States and our allies. Those are simply the facts.
And now, time has run out. It has been four long years since the last UN weapons inspectors were effectively ejected from Iraq because of Saddam’s willful noncompliance with an effective inspection regime.
What Saddam has done in the interim is not known for certain - but there is every evidence, from the dossier prepared by the Prime Minister of Britain, to President Bush’s speech at the United Nations, that Saddam has rebuilt substantial chemical and biological weapons stocks, and that he is determined to obtain the means necessary to produce nuclear weapons. He has ballistic missiles, and more are on order. He traffics with other evil people in this world, intent on harming the United States, Israel, other nations in the Middle East, and our friends across the globe.
In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.
It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.
Now this much is undisputed. The open questions are: what should we do about it? How, when, and with whom?
Some people favor attacking Saddam Hussein now, with any allies we can muster, in the belief that one more round of weapons inspections would not produce the required disarmament, and that deposing Saddam would be a positive good for the Iraqi people and would create the possibility of a secular democratic state in the Middle East, one which could perhaps move the entire region toward democratic reform.
This view has appeal to some, because it would assure disarmament; because it would right old wrongs after our abandonment of the Shiites and Kurds in 1991, and our support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980's when he was using chemical weapons and terrorizing his people; and because it would give the Iraqi people a chance to build a future in freedom.
However, this course is fraught with danger. We and our NATO allies did not depose Mr. Milosevic, who was responsible for more than a quarter of a million people being killed in the 1990s. Instead, by stopping his aggression in Bosnia and Kosovo, and keeping on the tough sanctions, we created the conditions in which his own people threw him out and led to his being in the dock being tried for war crimes as we speak.
If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us. In recent days, Russia has talked of an invasion of Georgia to attack Chechen rebels. India has mentioned the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on Pakistan. And what if China were to perceive a threat from Taiwan?
So Mr. President, for all its appeal, a unilateral attack, while it cannot be ruled out, on the present facts is not a good option.
Making a speech at Georgetown University on 23 January 2003, during the build-up to the war with Iraq, Senator John Kerry said:
Second, without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime. We all know the litany of his offenses. He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. He miscalculated an eight-year war with Iran. He miscalculated the invasion of Kuwait. He miscalculated America's response to that act of naked aggression. He miscalculated the result of setting oil rigs on fire. He miscalculated the impact of sending scuds into Israel and trying to assassinate an American President. He miscalculated his own military strength. He miscalculated the Arab world's response to his misconduct. And now he is miscalculating America's response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction. That is why the world, through the United Nations Security Council, has spoken with one voice, demanding that Iraq disclose its weapons programs and disarm.
So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but it is not new. It has been with us since the end of the Persian Gulf War. Regrettably the current Administration failed to take the opportunity to bring this issue to the United Nations two years ago or immediately after September 11th, when we had such unity of spirit with our allies. When it finally did speak, it was with hasty war talk instead of a coherent call for Iraqi disarmament. And that made it possible for other Arab regimes to shift their focus to the perils of war for themselves rather than keeping the focus on the perils posed by Saddam's deadly arsenal. Indeed, for a time, the Administration's unilateralism, in effect, elevated Saddam in the eyes of his neighbors to a level he never would have achieved on his own, undermining America's standing with most of the coalition partners which had joined us in repelling the invasion of Kuwait a decade ago.
In U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, the United Nations has now affirmed that Saddam Hussein must disarm or face the most serious consequences. Let me make it clear that the burden is resoundingly on Saddam Hussein to live up to the ceasefire agreement he signed and make clear to the world how he disposed of weapons he previously admitted to possessing. But the burden is also clearly on the Bush Administration to do the hard work of building a broad coalition at the U.N. and the necessary work of educating America about the rationale for war. As I have said frequently and repeat here today, the United States should never go to war because it wants to, the United States should go to war because we have to. And we don't have to until we have exhausted the remedies available, built legitimacy and earned the consent of the American people, absent, of course, an imminent threat requiring urgent action.
Last updated: 9 February 2015
- 4. Kenna, Kathleen. "Anti-Iraq Show Goes on the Road in America."
- The Toronto Star. 19 February 1998 (p. A16).
- 1. Lippmann, Thomas W. "In U.S., Calls Grow Louder for Saddam Hussein's Removal."
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- 3. Powers, Scott and Lornet Turnbull. "Town Meeting Turbulent."
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- The Washington Post. 9 January 1999 (p. A14).
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- 18 February 1998 (p. A14).