In fact, the intelligence assessments about Saddam’s weapons programs stretched back at least a decade:
- A 1993 National Intelligence Estimate found that international support for sanctions was eroding but judged that even if they remained in place, Saddam Hussein would “continue reconstituting Iraq’s conventional military forces” and “will take steps to re-establish Iraq’s WMD programs.”
- A 1994 Joint Atomic Energy Intelligence Committee report assessed that “the Iraqi government is determined to covertly reconstitute its nuclear weapons program.”
- In 2000, a National Intelligence Estimate judged, “Despite a decade-long international effort to disarm Iraq, new information suggests that Baghdad has continued and expanded its offensive BW [biological weapons] program by establishing a large scale, redundant and concealed BW agent production capability. We judge that Iraq maintains the capability to produce previously declared agents and probably is pursuing development of additional bacterial and toxin agents. Moreover, we judge that Iraq has BW delivery systems available that could be used to threaten US and Allied forces in the Persian Gulf region.”
- In late 2000, one of the first intelligence reports that George Bush and I received after our election was entitled “Iraq: Steadily Pursuing WMD Capabilities.”
We weren’t the only ones who read the intelligence. Others who did, going back to 1998, recognized the danger Saddam posed, urged action, and later changed their views when the going got tough. Some of these included:
- John Kerry: (2003) “When I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat to our security.”
- Hillary Clinton: (2003) “Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who has tortured and killed his own people” and “used chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds and Iranians. . . . Intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program,” and Saddam “has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists including al Qaeda members.”
- Joe Biden: (1998) “Ultimately, as long as Saddam Hussein is at the helm, no inspectors can guarantee that they have rooted out the entirety of [his] weapons program,” and “the only way to remove Saddam is a massive military effort, led by the United States.”
- Nancy Pelosi: (1998) “Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region,” and “he has made a mockery of the weapons inspections process.”
- Bill Clinton: (1998) “Heavy as they are, the costs of action must be weighed against the price of inaction. If Saddam defies the world, and we fail to respond, we will face a far greater threat in the future. . . . Mark my words, he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and he will use them.”
In 1998, Congress passed, and Bill Clinton signed into law, the Iraq Liberation Act, making regime change in Iraq the policy of the United States. A few months later, President Clinton launched airstrikes against Saddam’s WMD capabilities.
As we know now, Saddam did not have stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. However, it requires a willing suspension of disbelief and a desire to put politics above safety to assert that the absence of stockpiles meant the absence of a threat to the United States. David Kay, who led the international Iraq Survey Group tasked with finding Saddam’s stockpiles, said this: “I actually think that what we learned during the inspections made Iraq a more dangerous place, potentially, than in fact we had thought before the war.”
Saddam’s support for terrorists, his willingness to use the world’s worst weapons, his intent to reconstitute his own programs, including with scientists, technology, equipment, and facilities he kept on hand, his nuclear ambitions, and his thwarting of the international community for over a decade and 17 U.N. Security Council Resolutions combined to form the toxic mix that made Saddam a grave threat to the United States. We were right to invade and remove him from power.