Just how big a threat was Saddam Hussein? Let's reprise what our leaders had to say on the subject. First, here's the president:
"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. . Now, let's imagine the future. What if he fails to comply, and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction.? 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."
Here is the vice president:
"If you allow someone like Saddam Hussein to get nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, biological weapons, how many people is he going to kill with such weapons? He's already demonstrated a willingness to use these weapons. He poison-gassed his own people. He used poison gas and other weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors. This man has no compunction about killing lots and lots of people. So this is a way to save lives and to save the stability and peace of a region of the world that is important to the peace and security of the entire world."
Here's the hitch: That was Clinton and Gore in 1998, not Bush and Dick Cheney in 2002.
President Clinton offered his assessment in February 1998. Gore made his observations the following December, defending the military strikes Clinton had ordered against Iraq. These were not off-the-cuff remarks but vetted statements by the two highest officials of the United States.
Clinton and Gore were not alone in their conviction that Saddam had WMDs. France thought so, too, as did Israel, China, Russia, Britain, the United Nations, the CIA and the entire national security team of the Democratic administration. The Germans believed Saddam would have a nuclear weapon within 36 months.
Robert Einhorn, Clinton's deputy assistant secretary of state, told the Senate Governmental Affairs committee in March 2002 that Saddam could have nukes and the missiles capable of striking Europe "within four to five years" and would be able to deliver nukes in America via "non-conventional means." "If Iraq managed to get its hands on sufficient quantities of already produced fissile material," he said, "these threats could arrive much earlier."