The Blog

Clinton vs. Clinton, on Iraq

The former president spoke at the Labour party conference in Blackpool yesterday--and reversed field on Iraq.

9:50 AM, Oct 3, 2002 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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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. The inspection system works. The inspection system has worked in the face of lies, stonewalling, obstacle after obstacle after obstacle. The people who have done that work deserve the thanks of civilized people throughout the world. It has worked. That is all we want. And if we can find a diplomatic way to do what has to be done, to do what he promised to do at the end of the Gulf War, to do what should have been within 15 days, within 15 days of agreement at the end of the Gulf War, if we can find a diplomatic way to do that, that is by far our preference. 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. I ask all of you to remember the record here; what he promised to do within 15 days of the end of the Gulf War, what he repeatedly refused to do, what we found out in '95, what the inspectors have done against all odds.

We have no business agreeing to any resolution of this that does not include free unfettered access to the remaining sites by people who have integrity and proven competence in the inspection business. That should be our standard. That's what UNSCOM has done, and that's why I have been fighting for it so hard. And that's why the United States should insist upon it. 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 and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made?

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 has really worked on this for any length of time, believes that, too.

Now, we have spent several weeks building up our forces in the Gulf and building a coalition of like-minded nations. Our force posture would not be possible without the support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the GCC states and Turkey. Other friends and allies have agreed to provide forces, bases or logistical support, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland and the Czech Republic, Argentina, Iceland, Australia and New Zealand, and our friends and neighbors in Canada.

That list is growing, not because anyone wants military action, but because there are people in this world who believe the United Nations resolutions should mean something, because they understand what UNSCOM has achieved, because they remember the past and because they can imagine what the future will be, depending on what we do now.

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.

Let me be clear. A military operation cannot destroy all the weapons of mass destruction capacity, but it can, and will, leave him significantly worse off than he is now in terms of the ability to threaten the world with these weapons or to attack his neighbors. And he will know that the international community continues to have the will to act if and when he threatens again. Following any strike, we will carefully monitor Iraq's activities with all the means at our disposal. If he seeks to rebuild his weapons of mass destruction, we will be prepared to strike him again. The economic sanctions will remain in place until Saddam complies fully with all U.N. resolutions. Consider this: Already these sanctions have denied him $110 billion. Imagine how much stronger his armed forces would be today, how many more weapons of mass destruction operations he would have hidden around the country if he had been able to spend even a small fraction of that amount for a military rebuilding.

We will continue to enforce the no-fly zone from the southern suburbs of Baghdad to the Kuwait border and in northern Iraq, making it more difficult for Iraq to walk over Kuwait again or threaten the Kurds in the North. Now, let me say to all of you here, as all of you know, the weightiest decision any president ever has to make is to send our troops into harm's way. And force can never be the first answer. But sometimes it's the only answer. You are the best prepared, best equipped, best trained fighting force in the world, and should it prove necessary for me to exercise the option of force, your commanders will do everything they can to protect the safety of all the men and women under their command. No military action, however, is risk free. I know that the people we may call upon in uniform are ready. The American people have to be ready as well.

Dealing with Saddam Hussein requires constant vigilance. We have seen that constant vigilance pays off, but it requires constant vigilance. Since the Gulf War, we have pushed back every time Saddam has posed a threat. When Baghdad plotted to assassinate former President Bush, we struck hard at Iraq's intelligence headquarters. When Saddam threatened another invasion by amassing his troops in Kuwait, along the Kuwaiti border in 1994, we immediately deployed our troops, our ships, our planes; and Saddam backed down.

When Saddam forcefully occupied Erbil in northern Iraq, we broadened our control over Iraq's skies by extending the no-fly zone. But there is no better example--again, I say, than the U.N. weapons inspection system itself. Yes, he has tried to thwart it, in every conceivable way. But the discipline, determination, year-in, year-out effort of these weapons inspectors is doing the job, and we seek to finish the job.

Let there be no doubt, we are prepared to act. But Saddam Hussein could end this crisis tomorrow, simply by letting the weapons inspectors complete their mission. He made a solemn commitment to the international community to do that and to give up his weapons of mass destruction a long time ago, now. One way or the other, we are determined to see that he makes good on his own promise. Saddam Hussein's Iraq reminds us of what we learned in the 20th century and warns us of what we must know about the 21st.

In this century, we learned through harsh experience that the only answer to aggression and illegal behavior is firmness, determination, and, when necessary, action. In the next century, 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, drug traffickers, or organized criminals who travel the world among us unnoticed.

If we fail to respond today, Saddam, and all those who would follow in his footsteps, will be emboldened tomorrow by the knowledge that they can act with impunity, even in the face of a clear message from the United Nations Security Council, and clear evidence of a weapons of mass destruction program.

But if we act as one, we can safeguard our interests and send a clear message to every would-be tyrant and terrorist that the international community does have the wisdom and the will and the way to protect peace and security in a new era. That is the future I ask you all to imagine. That is the future I ask our allies to imagine. If we look at the past and imagine that future, we will act as one together. And we still have, God willing, a chance to find a diplomatic resolution of this, and if not, God willing, the chance to do the right thing for our children and grandchildren.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.