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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Saturday, August 02, 2003

The "Imminent Threat" And The President's Packet Of Lies!
or, We Reprise The 2003 State Of The Union Address

Administration critics have enjoyed their July pretending that the famous "16 Words" from the President's State of the Union Address defined the enitire Administration rationale for the war in Iraq.

To help those who have locked in on the "16 Words" to the exclusion of the other 5,000, we give you President Bush's 2003 State of the Union. NO, not the whole thing, we will zip through it. But first, for SportsCenter fans, here is your highlight clip:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

We will find that the President is quite clear on this point. Let the speech begin:

(Applause). Greetings. Many challenges. Schools. Economy. Jobs. Tax relief. Social Security is good, and so is health care. Tort reform! Energy independence, hydrogen, cleaner environment.

Faith based initiatives, Freedom Corps, drug addiction (he is opposed).

Finally, some relevant material. Our first trip overseas is this:

The qualities of courage and compassion that we strive for in America also determine our conduct abroad. The American flag stands for more than our power and our interests. Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity, the rights of every person, and the possibilities of every life. This conviction leads us into the world to help the afflicted, and defend the peace, and confound the designs of evil men.

Human rights. How about that?

Afghanistan, Middle East, lots on AIDS in Africa, and here comes the segue:

This nation can lead the world in sparing innocent people from a plague of nature. And this nation is leading the world in confronting and defeating the man-made evil of international terrorism.

War on terror, we have them on the run, Homeland Security, and we like this:

Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power. In the ruins of two towers, at the western wall of the Pentagon, on a field in Pennsylvania, this nation made a pledge, and we renew that pledge tonight: Whatever the duration of this struggle, and whatever the difficulties, we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men -- free people will set the course of history. (Applause.)

They better applaud! Sounds like this war on terror is a long term propostion, too. The President continues:

Today, the gravest danger in the war on terror, the gravest danger facing America and the world, is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. These regimes could use such weapons for blackmail, terror, and mass murder. They could also give or sell those weapons to terrorist allies, who would use them without the least hesitation.

Fascinating. He seems to be discussing a hypothetical future threat, as well as the current state of play.

...Now, in this century, the ideology of power and domination has appeared again, and seeks to gain the ultimate weapons of terror.

Again, the potential threat.

...America is making a broad and determined effort to confront these dangers. We have called on the United Nations to fulfill its charter and stand by its demand that Iraq disarm.

Can't give up what you don't have, so this is consistent with the "he said they have weapons now" argument. Of course, the UN seemed to think so as well, but President Bush can't hide behind them forever.

The President mentions Iran, then Korea, including this:

...today the North Korean regime is using its nuclear program to incite fear and seek concessions. America and the world will not be blackmailed.

On to the last member of the Axis of Evil:

Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq. A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth, will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States.

If the lesson of Korea means anything, it is that we should not allow Iraq to develop nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. That our goal is to stop Saddam now, before he is so armed, is, at a minimum, a plausible interpretation of the lead-in to the Iraq segment.

Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced the prospect of being the last casualty in a war he had started and lost. To spare himself, he agreed to disarm of all weapons of mass destruction. For the next 12 years, he systematically violated that agreement. He pursued chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, even while inspectors were in his country. Nothing to date has restrained him from his pursuit of these weapons -- not economic sanctions, not isolation from the civilized world, not even cruise missile strikes on his military facilities.

Pursuit, pursuit, pursuit of WMDs. Not possession.

Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. ...The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq's regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened.

Next, a litany of Saddam's non-compliance. A flavor:

The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax -- enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

Similarly with "38,000 liters of botulinum toxin" (UN sources), "the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent" (intelligence sources), "upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents" (US intelligence), and "several mobile biological weapons labs" (Three Iraqi defectors).

Next, we come to the sixteen words:

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.

The first sentence, about the IAEA, I presume to be true. The uranium sentence has been noted. And the aluminum tube assertion is also troubling.

The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving.

Followed by a recounting of Saddam's non-compliance, which I suspect was later affirmed by Hans Blix.

Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.

At one time, he certainly did keep banned weapons hidden from UN inspectors.

With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region.

Again, forward looking.

And this Congress and the America people must recognize another threat. Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.

This ought to be controversial. Links between Saddam and other terrorist organizations were well known. The "members of al-Qaeda" are probably the Al-qaeda remnants in the valley in northern Iraq.

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.

My guess, based on polls showing how many Americans think Saddam was involved with 9/11, is that the public lost track of the difference between the past and the future in imagining this scenario.

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

We will pre-empt an emerging threat, as he implied earlier. This seems to directly confront and rebut the "imminent threat" position.

The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages -- leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured....

OK, "is assembling" suggests the effort is now. But I have been assembling a tree house for three months now, so I can see a different view quite easily.

A recital of human rights abuses in Iraq, then:

If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning. (Applause.)

And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country -- your enemy is ruling your country. (Applause.) And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation. (Applause.)

The human rights argument.

The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies.

...We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.

The mounting threat.

We have terrific troops (I agree), and

...A future lived at the mercy of terrible threats is no peace at all.

Finally, his big finish, and yes, there will be applause:

...we go forward with confidence, because this call of history has come to the right country.

Americans are a resolute people who have risen to every test of our time. Adversity has revealed the character of our country, to the world and to ourselves. America is a strong nation, and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity. (Applause.)

We Americans have faith in ourselves, but not in ourselves alone. We do not know -- we do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history.

May He guide us now. And may God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

OK, settle down.

First, as to the idea that the President emphasized human rights - well, he mentioned it, but I would not say he emphasized it.

Secondly, as to the idea that the President said "Saddam has weapons, the threat is imminent, we must act now", well, no, not in this speech, anyway.

Thirdly, this speech was far from all the Administration, or even President Bush, said on this topic. Obvious data points to ponder:

Dick Cheney on March 16 Meet The Press - problematic, but near the top of the show, he explains his thoughts on Saddam as follows:

"...if [Saddam] were tomorrow to give everything up, if he stays in power, we have to assume that as soon as the world is looking the other way and preoccupied with other issues, he will be back again rebuilding his BW and CW capabilities.."

Which is consistent with the picture of Saddam as a "continuing threat".

Here are links to the White House archives.

Don Rumsfeld's war aims.

Happy hunting!

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