Columnists want people to understand what we’re saying, so we try to write in plain English. That’s not always true for politicians. Oh, sometimes they keep things simple. Witness the ever-popular chant, "Bush lied, people died." Or, as Hillary Clinton phrases it, that President Bush "misled" Congress into authorizing the war against Iraq. This myth has come to seem plausible because, after all, the U.S. never found Saddam Hussein’s actual weapons of mass destruction.
But the war was about much more than WMD. We know because, back in 2002, our lawmakers told us so. Oh, it’s easy to forget that, since we need to wade through plenty of confusing rhetoric to be reminded. Who, other than a senator, would ever begin a sentence with "whereas?"
But to determine who’s misleading whom, we only need to return to the "Joint Resolution to Authorize the use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq," passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress. It cites at least 17 distinct reasons for the U.S. to invade Iraq. Some involve weapons.
"In 1998 Congress concluded that Iraq’s continuing weapons of mass destruction programs threatened vital United States interests and international peace and security," lawmakers asserted. And that was before Bush even took office.
Lawmakers added that, "the efforts of international weapons inspectors, United States intelligence agencies, and Iraqi defectors led to the discovery that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical weapons and a large scale biological weapons program, and that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons development program."
All that was true. As Doug Feith, former under secretary of Defense for policy, put it recently, Saddam "did have programs and we found the programs. What we didn’t find was the stockpiles."
But the threat of WMD wasn’t the only reason to invade. Lawmakers also noted that "Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations." And they knew that "the current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations and its own people."
Beside all that, "members of al Qaeda, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq." Also, "Iraq continues to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations, including organizations that threaten the lives and safety of United States citizens."
Want a few more reasons? Lawmakers cited "Iraq’s demonstrated capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction, the risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its Armed Forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so, and the extreme magnitude of harm that would result to the United States and its citizens from such an attack, combine to justify action by the United States to defend itself."
Even the United Nations was on board. "Security Council Resolution 678 (1990) authorizes the use of all necessary means to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 660 (1990) and subsequent relevant resolutions and to compel Iraq to cease certain activities that threaten international peace and security, including the development of weapons of mass destruction and refusal or obstruction of United Nations weapons inspections," lawmakers said. That’s why, they insisted, “it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."
The case was so overwhelming that 77 senators voted for the resolution. That includes many of the Democrats who are now running for president, including Clinton, Joe Biden, John Edwards and Christopher Dodd. There are two important points here. First, even if Bush really was wrong about the WMD, it wasn’t because he was lying to lawmakers -- it was because the CIA provided incorrect information. Our government under Bush insisted, just as it had under Bill Clinton, that Saddam had WMD. Second, there were plenty of reasons (other than WMD) to invade Iraq.
Countries seldom rush into wars.
The United States declared war the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. However, relations had been strained for years. The U.S. opposed Japan’s invasion of China and we were threatened when Japan allied with Germany and Italy and set out to create a “New Order in Asia.”
Pearl Harbor didn’t simply drop from the sky, and neither did the war in Iraq. The congressional record shows our leaders went into this fight with their eyes open. Instead of trying to rewrite history now, they ought to be able to agree we need to win.