Bush's WMD Flimflams
The Bush administrations rush to war against Iraq was justified largely by the danger that Iraqs weapons of mass destruction supposedly posed to the United States and to U.S. allies. In his January 28, 2003, state of the Union address, Bush denounced Saddam as the dictator who is assembling the worlds most dangerous weapons and listed vast quantities of biological and chemical weapons that few independent experts believed Saddam possessed. Bush concluded, A future lived at the mercy of terrible threats is no peace at all. In his March 17 ultimatum address, after listing Saddams alleged WMDs, Bush declaimed, And this very fact underscores the reason we cannot live under the threat of blackmail.
In his March 17, 2003, speech on his 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam, Bush declared that
Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal
weapons ever devised
. Under [UN] Resolutions 678 and 687
both still in effect the United States and our allies are authorized
to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.
year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free
nations would be multiplied many times over.
At a time when the allegations of Iraqi WMDs are unraveling, it is important to recognize the extent of the frauds that preceded the war.
The Bush team waved nuke after alleged Iraqi nuke over Americans heads in the run-up to the war. On August 26, 2002, Vice President Cheney, speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, warned that Saddam could have nuclear weapons fairly soon. Two weeks later, President Bush told reporters,
remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were
denied, finally denied access, a report came out of the Atomic
the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] that they were
six months away from developing a weapon. I dont know what more
evidence we need.
But the Bush administration never presented any evidence to support these assertions. The IAEA the UN organization that was conducting inspections for nuclear weapons in Iraq never produced the report Bush reminded reporters of in September. Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEAs director general, informed the UN Security Council that there is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in Iraq. And although Cheney and Bush repeatedly invoked some aluminum tubes that Iraq sought to purchase as key steps toward making a nuke, UN experts investigated and concluded that the tubes were not intended for use in nuclear weapons production.
Perhaps the most decisive piece of evidence offered by the Bush administration was the fact that Iraq sought to buy 500 tons of uranium oxide for use in nuclear weapons from uranium mines in Niger.
CIA chief George Tenet gave a classified briefing to congressmen on this and other charges in September 2002, a few weeks before Congress voted to endorse war with Iraq.
Secretary of State Colin Powell also informed a closed hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee two days later of the Iraq attempt to secure the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon. The revelation sent shock waves through Capitol Hill and helped squelch resistance to going to war.
In his January 28 state of the Union address, Bush declared:
British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought
significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
In early March, the IAEA announced that the documents detailing the attempted purchases of uranium were frauds. One senior IAEA official told the New Yorkers Seymour Hersh,
documents are so bad that I cannot imagine that they came from a serious
intelligence agency. It depresses me, given the low quality of the
documents, that it was not stopped.
The letters appeared to be a crude cut-and-paste operation with Niger government letterhead; however, the names of officials in power did not match the dates on the letter and the signature of Niger president Tandja Mamadou was an obvious forgery.
A senior IAEA official observed that the flaws in the letters could have been spotted by someone using Google on the Internet. Hersh, who wrote a superb exposé on the scam, noted,
documents and false accusations have been an element in U.S. and British
policy toward Iraq at least since the fall of 1997, after an impasse
over U.N. inspections.
Six weeks after Hershs piece appeared, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported that the vice presidents office began a much-earlier investigation into the Iraq-Niger nuclear documents, sending a former U.S. ambassador to Niger. Kristof reported that in February 2002
envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information
was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged....
The envoys debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration
and seemed to be accepted except that President Bush and the
State Department kept citing it anyway.
After months of the story of the false Niger claims festering in the media, a senior Bush administration official unnamed, of course formally announced on July 7, 2003,
all that we know now, the reference to Iraqs attempt to acquire
uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of
the Union speech.
when you use foreign intelligence, you we dont have necessarily
as much confidence or as much reliability as you do your own. It has
since turned out to be, at least according to the reports that have
been just released, not true. The president stepped forward and said
so. I think thats all you can expect.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) derided concerns over the administrations confession that it had used false statements on the path to war:
very easy to pick one little flaw here or one little flaw there. The
overall reason we went into Iraq was sound and morally sound. And
its not just because somebody forged or a made a mistake on
whether Saddam Hussein was looking for nuclear material from Niger
Bush White House aides sought to defend the president by blaming the CIA for failing to warn them that the Niger story was as bogus as three-dollar bill. However, on July 22, Bushs Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and his chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, conceded that the CIA had sent two warnings to the White House in early October 2002 casting grave doubts on the Iraq-Niger uranium claims.
The Washington Post noted the following day that
disclosures indicate top White House officials knew that the CIA seriously
disputed the claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium in Africa
long before the claim was included in Bushs January address
to the nation.
The Bush administration knew at least as of early March that the presidents statements in the state of the Union address on Iraq pursuing uranium in Africa were false and misleading. Yet the administration made no effort to correct its falsehoods until a British parliamentary inquiry had bludgeoned the Blair government on the same issue.
There is no reason to presume that Bush was more deceptive and manipulative on the war on Iraq than he is on the war on terrorism or other subjects. The main difference is that the evidence of false claims on Iraq is now stark, especially after the U.S. invasion.
James Bovard is author of Lost Rights (1994) and the forthcoming Terrorism and Tyranny: How Bush's Crusade is Sabotaging Peace, Justice, and Freedom (St. Martin's Press, September 2003) and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.
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