"The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists," the president of the United States warned. "If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow."
The secretary of state loyally followed this hard line, defending the U.N. sanctions on Saddam Hussein: "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."
Leveraging U.N. resolutions to support military action, the secretary of defense said: "The United Nations has determined that Saddam should not possess chemical or biological or nuclear weapons, and what we have is the obligation to carry out the U.N. declaration."
The officials argued that U.N. inspections weren't enough. "It is ineffectual; it is not able to do its job by its own judgment," the president's national security adviser said of the U.N. inspections regime. "It doesn't provide much deterrence against WMD activity."
The president's congressional loyalists stood behind him. "Iraq is not the only nation in the world to possess weapons of mass destruction," said a prominent senator, sounding a familiar theme, "but it is the only nation with a leader who has used them against his own people."
"For the United States and Britain, an Iraq equipped with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons under the leadership of Saddam Hussein is a threat that almost goes without description," said another hawk, taking aim at the split in the international community. "France, on the other hand, has long established economic and political relationships within the Arab world, and has had a different approach."
Who were the political leaders who, according to critics of the Iraq war, perpetrated this fraud on the American people by making overblown warnings about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? Respectively, President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. John Kerry.
They were all speaking in the late 1990s when Clinton bombed Iraq to "degrade" an Iraqi WMD capacity that we are supposed to believe disappeared in the inspection-free years that ensued, only to be resurrected as a false justification for war by the Bush administration.
The failure so far to find WMD in Iraq is a major embarrassment for President Bush, and congressional hearings into the intelligence prior to the Iraq War are welcome. But the post-Iraq debate shouldn't proceed on false pretenses: Everyone this side of famed Iraqi prevaricator Baghdad Bob believed that Iraq had WMD. In the run-up to the war, the United Nations, the "axis of weasel" (France and Germany) and high-profile Democrats all agreed about WMD.
The specific figures in Secretary of State Colin Powell's U.N. presentation about Iraq's unaccounted-for WMD came from U.N. inspectors. France and Germany didn't argue that Saddam had no WMD, but inspections could rid him of them. Clinton and Al Gore dissented from aspects of Bush's policy, but agreed about WMD. "We know," Gore said, "he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons."
The question was what to do about a dictator with ties to terrorism who for 12 years had defied the procedures set out by the world to confirm that he no longer had dangerous weapons. For the Bush administration, Sept. 11 meant erring on the side of safety, and so continuing to accept Saddam's denials and defiance wasn't an option.
As someone once warned: "This is not a time free from peril, especially as a result of the reckless acts of outlaw nations and an unholy axis of terrorists, drug traffickers and organized international criminals. We have to defend our future from these predators of the 21st century." Even if the rhetoric was shrill, Bill Clinton had a point.