Editor & Publisher / CNN Online – 2005-05-17 08:25:32
Bush Sold the War on WMDs, Not Regime Change
Greg Mitchell / Editor & Publisher
(May 15, 2005) — Ever since it became apparent, almost two years ago, that Saddam Hussein held no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — the most prominent reason offered by the Bush administration for going to war against him — defenders of the U.S. invasion and occupation in the media have flailed away, attempting to uphold the president’s honor.
First they claimed the weapons would still be found in Iraq. Months later, bitterly disappointed, they reluctantly admitted they had been proven wrong, but suggested that the WMDs must have been spirited out of the country, to Syria, or maybe in Michael Moore’s backyard.
When that fantasy went nowhere, they claimed that, well, that wasn’t Bush’s only, or even his main, declared point in going to war — he had highlighted others, such as getting rid of a brutal dictator and bringing freedom to the Iraqi people. That’s what he was really after. He did not sell the war to the American people and the press primarily on the chemical, biological and nuclear WMD threat.
We’ve read this argument more and more often in the press and among online pundits in the wake of the Iraqi elections. Even so, the latest Gallup polls find that 57% of Americans still feel the war is “not worth it” and 50% believe the president “deliberately misled” them on WMDs. But what about the explanation that Bush’s case for the war really didn’t rise and fall on WMD?
I haven’t seen many editorials exploring this rationale, or articles that actually went back and looked at what Bush actually said in the days before going to war, so I decided to do it.
To test the pro-warriors’ argument that Bush, highlighted other issues, particularly regime change, at least as much as he was pushing the bogus WMD threat., I went back and studied the president’s address to the nation on March 17, 2003, in which he famously gave Saddam 48 hours to get out of Dodge City, or else.
Doing this, I half-expected to find that Bush’s defenders would be proven correct. In my memory, just before the war, the White House did indeed begin to de-emphasize the WMD and mushroom cloud imagery, after United Nations’ inspectors in Iraq failed to find anything. Alas, this was not the case at all.
Bush’s key March 17 address, in printed form (available at www.whitehouse.gov), runs 27 paragraphs. For those keeping score at home, exactly 18 of those paragraphs mention or emphasize the WMD threat. Five raise the “freedom” issue.
And the WMD warnings receive much higher priority; Bush does not “bury the lead.” The first four paragraphs discuss nothing but WMDs, in 10 separate sentences. Only after that, in one short paragraph, does Bush mention that Saddam’s regime “has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East” and has “deep hatred” of America. He then linked Saddam to al-Qaeda, another charge now widely discredited.
Then it was back to WMDs for eight more paragraphs, before mentioning a “new Iraq that is prosperous and free.”
Walking down memory lane here, it is tempting to quote Bush assertions, such as “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised” and “Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed,” but I will not stoop to that.
But surely the president mentioned regime change and freedom for the Iraqis in his formal letter to Congress the following day, outlining why he was justified in going to war?
Well, no. All he listed was the “continuing threat” posed to the US by Iraq, Saddam’s failure to comply with UN resolutions on WMD, and Iraq’s links to international terrorists “including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” Even Vice Prresident Cheney has now given up on the 9/11 link.
Today, with the so-called “Downing Street Memo” — the July 2002 British document which suggests that the U.S. was determined to go to war and would “fix” intelligence on WMD to support that goal — finally gaining wide press attention, Bush’s vulnerability on the argument for war grows even greater. Is the press ready to join that debate in earnest?
As someone intimately involved in this controversy once said, “Bring it on.”
(email@example.com) is the editor of E&P.
White House Refutes UK Iraq Memo
WASHINGTON (May 16, 2005) — Claims in a recently uncovered British memo that intelligence was “being fixed” to support the Iraq war as early as mid-2002 are “flat out wrong,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday.
McClellan insisted the process leading up to the decision to go to war was “very public” — and that the decision to invade in March 2003 was taken only after Iraq refused to comply with its “international obligations.”
“The president of the United States, in a very public way, reached out to people across the world, went to the United Nations and tried to resolve this in a diplomatic manner,” McClellan said.
“Saddam Hussein was the one, in the end, who chose continued defiance. And only then was the decision made, as a last resort, to go into Iraq.”
However, McClellan also said he had not seen the “specific memo,” only reports of what it contained.
Earlier this month, the Times of London published the minutes of a meeting of top British officials in mid-2002, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush’s staunchest ally in the Iraq war.
According to the minutes cited by the Times, a British official identified as “C” said that he had returned from a meeting in Washington and that “military action was now seen as inevitable” by US officials.
“Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” the memo said, according to the newspaper.
The minutes also quoted the unnamed British official as saying the U.S. National Security Council had “no patience” with taking the dispute to the United Nations and “no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record.”
“There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action,” the official said, according to the minutes published by the Times.
The memo also quoted British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon as saying that the final push to war would likely begin a month before the U.S. congressional elections in November 2002, with an actual attack coming in January 2003.
President Bush did begin trying to build public support for military action against Iraq during the mid-term election, which saw Republicans pick up seats in both the House and Senate. The invasion came four months later, in March 2003.
British officials have not disputed the authenticity of the memo published by the Times.
After the minutes of the meeting became public, 89 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Bush asking for an explanation.
The memo “raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war, as well as the integrity of your administration,” the letter said.
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