Robert M. Entman

Thoughts on Politics and Media

Scandal and Silence Supplement: G.W. Bush & the Missing WMD

Excerpts from President George W. Bush’s Presidential News Conference Responses to Questions about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq

All passages were taken from transcriptions posted by the American Presidency Project at the University of California Santa Barbara:

July 30, 2003:

John [John Roberts, CBS News].

Decision To Go to War in Iraq

Q.Thank you, Mr. President. Building sort of on that idea, it’s impossible to deny that the world is a better place in the region, certainly a better place without Sad-dam Hussein. But there’s a sense here in this country and a feeling around the world that the U.S. has lost credibility by building the case for Iraq upon sometimes flimsy or, some people have complained, nonexistent evidence. I’m just wondering, sir, why did you choose to take the world to war in that way?

The President.Yes. You know, look, in my line of work, it’s always best to produce results, and I understand that. The—for a while the questions were, “Could you conceivably achieve a military victory in Iraq? You know, the dust storms have slowed you down.” And I was a patient man, because I realized that we would be successful in achieving our military objective.

Now, of course, the question is, will Iraq ever be free, and will it be peaceful? And I believe it will. I remind some of my friends that it took us a while to go from the Articles of Confederation to the United States Constitution. Even our own experiment with democracy didn’t happen overnight. I never have expected Thomas Jefferson to emerge in Iraq in a 90-day period.

And so this is going to take time. And the world will see what I mean when I say a free Iraq will help peace in the Middle East, and a free Iraq will be important for changing the attitudes of the people in the Middle East. A free Iraq will show what is possible in a world that needs freedom, in a part of the world that needs freedom.

Let me finish for a minute, John, please. Just getting warmed up. I’m kind of finding my feet. [Laughter]

Saddam Hussein was a threat. The United Nations viewed him as a threat. That’s why they passed 12 resolutions. Predecessors of mine viewed him as a threat. We gathered a lot of intelligence. That intelligence was good, sound intelligence on which I made a decision.

And in order to placate the critics and the cynics about intentions of the United States, we need to produce evidence. And I fully understand that. And I’m confident that our search will yield that which I strongly believe, that Saddam had a weapons program. I want to remind you, he actually used his weapons program on his own people at one point in time, which is pretty tangible evidence. But I’m confident history will prove the decision we made to be the right decision.


The President.Hold on for a second. You’re through, John.

Homosexuality/Definition of Marriage

Q.Thank you, sir. Mr. President, many of your supporters believe that homosexuality is immoral. They believe that it’s been given too much acceptance in policy terms and culturally. As someone who’s spoken out in strongly moral terms, what’s your view on homosexuality?

October 28, 2003:

Bob, last question.

Iraqi Weapons Program

Q.Thank you, sir. Mr. President——

The President.Fine-looking vest, fine-looking vest.

Q.Thank you, sir. [Laughter] It’s inspired by some of the attire from your APEC colleagues last week. [Laughter]

The President.Yes. [Laughter]

Q.Sir, David Kay’s interim report cited substantial evidence of a secretive weapons program. But the absence of any substantial stores of chemical or biological weapons there have caused some people, even who supported the war, to feel somehow betrayed. Can you explain to those Americans, sir, whether you were surprised those weapons haven’t turned up, why they haven’t turned up, and whether you feel that your administration’s credibility has been affected in any way by that?

The President.David Kay’s report said that Saddam Hussein was in material breach of 1441, which would have been casus belli. In other words, he had a weapons program. He’s disguised a weapons program. He had ambitions. And I felt the report was a very interesting first report— because he’s still looking for—to find the truth.

And the American people know that Sad-dam Hussein was a gathering danger, as I said. And he was a gathering danger, and the world is safer as a result for us removing him from power—”us” being more than the United States, of course—Britain and other countries who were willing to participate, Poland, Australia, all willing to join up to remove this danger.

And the intelligence that said he had a weapons system was intelligence that had been used by a multinational agency, the U.N., to pass resolutions. It had been used by my predecessor to conduct bombing raids. It was intelligence gathered from a variety of sources that clearly said Saddam Hussein was a threat.

And given the attacks of September the 11th, it was—we needed to enforce U.N. resolution for the security of the world. And we did. We took action based upon good, solid intelligence. It was the right thing to do to make America more secure and the world more peaceful.

And David Kay continues to ferret out the truth. This is a man—Saddam Hussein is a man who hid programs and weapons for years. He’s a master at hiding things. And so David Kay will continue his search, but one of the things that he first found was that there is clear violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441. Material breach, they call it in the diplomatic circles. Casus belli, it means a—that would have been a cause for war. In other words, he said it’s dangerous.

And we were right to enforce U.N. resolutions as well. It’s important for the U.N. to be a credible organization. You’re not credible if you issue resolutions and then nothing happens. Credibility comes when you say something is going to happen and then it does happen. And in order to keep the peace, it’s important for there to be credibility in this world, credibility on the side of freedom and hope.

December 15, 2003:

Sanger [David Sanger, New York Times].

Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction/North Korea

Q.Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, it’s been 9 months now, and still there is relatively little evidence of WMD in Iraq. In retrospect, if you think back over the year, would you have been better to make more of your—of the argument that you’ve made in recent times, that democratization in the Middle East was the reason to go to war, rather than WMD?

And since the CIA has been telling you that North Korea does have two or more weapons, what lesson should Kim Chong-il draw from the capture of Saddam Hussein?

The President.Very deft at weaving in two questions there. Here’s what I took away from September the 11th, 2001, that any time a President sees a gathering threat to the United States, we must deal with it. We can’t pick or choose like we used to, could in the past. In the old days, oceans protected us from harm’s way, and a President could stand back and say, “Well, maybe this gathering threat is an issue. Maybe it’s not.” After September the 11th, that complacency, I guess may be the right word, no longer is relevant. And therefore, I began to assess threats.

And the threat of Saddam Hussein was a unique threat in this sense: The world recognized he was a threat for 12 years and 17 resolutions, I think it is—I believe it was 17 resolutions—for the resolution counter, give me a hand here—17? Seventeen resolutions. And he ignored them. He just treated the U.N. as an empty debating society, as if their resolutions meant nothing. This is a person who has used chemical weapons before, which indicated to me he was a threat. He invaded his neighbors before. This is a person who was defiant. He’s a deceiver, and he was a murderer in his own country. He was a threat.

And so I went to the United Nations, as you recall, September the 12th, 2002, and said to the United Nations, “Let’s work together to disarm this man. You recognized he had arms. We recognize he’s got arms. Let’s disarm him.” And 1441 came about. It’s when the world spoke in— through the United Nations Security Council with one voice and in a unanimous voice said, “Disarm, or there will be serious consequences.” In other words, they agreed that Saddam was a threat, and so we moved to disarm him. In other words, there were serious consequences because he was defiant.

Since then, David Kay has reported back that he had weapons programs that would have put him in material breach of 1441. What that means, of course, is that had David Kay been the lead inspector and had done the work that he did prior to our removal of Saddam, he would have reported back to the U.N. Security Council that Saddam was, in fact, in breach of the Council resolutions that were passed.

Secondly, North Korea—one of the things, David, I think you’ve seen about our foreign policy is that I’m reluctant to use military power. It’s the last choice. It’s not our first choice. And in Iraq, there was a lot of diplomacy that took place before there was any military action. There was diplomacy prior to my arrival, diplomacy during my time here, and we tried all means and methodologies to achieve the objective, which was a more secure America, by using diplomatic means and persuasion.

In North Korea, we’re now in the process of using diplomatic means and persuasion to convince Kim Chong-il to get rid of his nuclear weapons program. And that’s changed by altering the dynamics between the United States and North Korea this way, by inviting other parties to be stakeholders in the process. And that’s been successful thus far, of convincing others that they have a stake in the process.

This started in Crawford with Jiang Zemin, where we held a joint press conference, and he stepped out and said that we share a common goal, and that is a nuclear-weapons-free Peninsula—and as you know full well, that the relationship has evolved beyond just a statement, where we’re now coparticipants in the process of convincing Kim Chong-il to change his ways. And that’s exactly where we are in the process. And I’m pleased with the progress we’re making, and I hope, of course, he listens.

April 13, 2004:

Let’s see here—Terry [Terry Moran, ABC News].

Decisionmaking on Iraq

Q.Mr. President, before the war, you and members of your administration made several claims about Iraq, that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators with sweets and flowers, that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most of the reconstruction, and that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, “We know where they are.” How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong? And how do you answer your opponents who say that you took this Nation to war on the basis of what have turned out to be a series a false premises?

The President.Well, let me step back and review my thinking prior to going into Iraq. First, the lesson of September the 11th is, when this Nation sees a threat, a gathering threat, we’ve got to deal with it. We can no longer hope that oceans protect us from harm. Every threat we must take seriously.

Saddam Hussein was a threat. He was a threat because he had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people. He was a threat because he coddled terrorists. He was a threat because he funded suiciders. He was a threat to the region. He was a threat to the United States. That’s the assessment that I made from the intelligence, the assessment that Congress made from the intelligence. That’s the exact same assessment that the United Nations Security Council made with the intelligence.

I went to the U.N., as you might recall, and said, “Either you take care of him, or we will.” Anytime an American President says, “If you don’t, we will,” we better be prepared to. And I was prepared to. I thought it was important for the United Nations Security Council that when it says something, it means something, for the sake of security in the world. See, the war on terror had changed the calculations. We needed to work with people. People needed to come together to work, and therefore, empty words would embolden the actions of those who are willing to kill indiscriminately.

The United Nations passed a Security Council resolution unanimously that said, “Disarm, or face serious consequences.” And he refused to disarm.

I thought it was very interesting that Charlie Duelfer, who just came back—he’s the head of the Iraqi Survey Group—reported some interesting findings from his recent tour there. And one of the things was, he was amazed at how deceptive the Iraqis had been toward UNMOVIC and UNSCOM, deceptive in hiding things. We knew they were hiding things. A country that hides something is a country that is afraid of getting caught, and that was part of our calculation. Charlie confirmed that. He also confirmed that Saddam had a— the ability to produce biological and chemical weapons. In other words, he was a danger. He had long-range missiles that were undeclared to the United Nations. He was a danger, and so we dealt with him.

What else—part of the question—oh, oil revenues. Well, the oil revenues are— they’re bigger than we thought they would be at this point in time. I mean, one year after the liberation of Iraq, the revenues of the oil stream is pretty darn significant. One of the things I was concerned about prior to going into Iraq was that the oil-fields would be destroyed, but they weren’t. They’re now up and running. And that money is—it will benefit the Iraqi people. It’s their oil, and they’ll use it to reconstruct the country.

Finally, the attitude of the Iraqis toward the American people—it’s an interesting question. They’re really pleased we got rid of Saddam Hussein, and you can understand why. This is a guy who was a torturer, a killer, a maimer; there’s mass graves. I mean, he was a horrible individual that really shocked the country in many ways, shocked it into kind of a fear of making decisions toward liberty. That’s what we’ve seen recently. Some citizens are fearful of stepping up. And they were happy—they’re not happy they’re occupied. I wouldn’t be happy if I were occupied either. They do want us there to help with security, and that’s why this transfer of sovereignty is an important signal to send, and it’s why it’s also important for them to hear we will stand with them until they become a free country.

February 17, 2005:

Yes, sir. Mark [Mark Silva, Chicago Tribune].

Iran and North Korea

Q.Thank you, Mr. President. If, as you say, the development of nuclear weapons is unacceptable and if the administration’s concern for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which proved out to be unfounded, drove an invasion to seek regime change, how concerned should Americans and, for that matter, the world be that the true identification of weapons in Iran or North Korea might not lead to the same sort of attack?

The President.Well, first, Iran is different from Iraq—very different. The international community was convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction—not just the United States but the international community—and had passed some 16 resolutions. In other words, diplomacy had—they tried diplomacy over and over and over and over again. John was at the United Nations during this period. And finally, the world, in 1441—U.N. Resolution 1441—said, “Disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences.” This was not a declaration by the United States of America; it was a declaration by the United Nations Security Council—and a 15-to-nothing vote, as I recall. And we took that resolution very seriously.

December 19, 2005:

Wendell [Wendell Goler, FOX News Channel]. You got a little problem there, Wendell? [Laughter]

Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction/Iraq

Q.I’m caught, Mr. President.

The President.Oh, you’re caught. [Laughter] Well, liberate him. [Laughter]

Q.You’ve talked about your decision to go to war and the bad intelligence, and you’ve carefully separated the intelligence from the decision, saying that it was the right decision to go to war despite the problems with the intelligence, sir. But with respect, the intelligence helped you build public support for the war. And so I wonder if now, as you look back, if you look at that intelligence and feel that the intelligence and your use of it might bear some responsibility for the current divisions in the country over the war, and what can you do about it, sir?

The President.No, I appreciate that. First of all, I can understand why people were—well, wait a minute. Everybody thought there was weapons of mass destruction, and there weren’t any. I felt the same way. We looked at the intelligence and felt certain that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Intelligence agencies around the world felt the same way, by the way. Members of the United States Congress looked at the National Intelligence Estimate—same intelligence estimate I looked at—and came to the same conclusion, Wendell.

So in other words, there was universal— there was a universal feeling that he had weapons of mass destruction. As a matter of fact, it was so universal that the United Nations Security Council passed numerous resolutions. And so when the weapons weren’t there, like many Americans, I was concerned and wondered why. That’s why we set up the Silberman-Robb Commission to address intelligence shortfalls, to hopefully see to it that this kind of situation didn’t arise.

Now, having said all that, what we did find after the war was that Saddam Hussein had the desire to—or the liberation—Saddam had the desire to reconstitute his weapons programs. In other words, he had the capacity to reconstitute them. America was still his enemy. And of course, he manipulated the Oil-for-Food Programme in the hopes of ending sanctions. In our view, he was just waiting for the world to turn its head, to look away, in order to reconstitute the programs. He was dangerous then. It’s the right decision to have removed Sad-dam.

Now, the American people—I will continue to speak to the American people on this issue, to not only describe the decision-making process but also the way forward. I gave a speech prior to the liberation of Iraq, when I talked about a broader strategic objective, which is the establishment of democracy. And I’ve talked about democracy in Iraq. Certainly it’s not the only rationale; I’m not claiming that. But I also want you to review that speech so that you get a sense for not only the desire to remove a threat, but also the desire to help establish democracy. And the amazing thing about—in Iraq, as a part of a broader strategy to help what I call, “lay the foundation of peace,” democracies don’t war; democracies are peaceful countries.

August 21, 2006:

War on Terror/Spread of Democracy in the Middle East

Q.Quick followup: A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn’t gone in. How do you square all of that?

The President.I square it because, imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who would—who had relations with Zarqawi. Imagine what the world would be like with him in power. The idea is to try to help change the Middle East.

Now, look, part of the reason we went into Iraq was—the main reason we went into Iraq at the time was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn’t, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction. But I also talked about the human suffering in Iraq, and I also talked the need to advance a freedom agenda. And so my question— my answer to your question is, is that, imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.

You know, I’ve heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and then—kind of the “stir up the hornet’s nest” theory. It just doesn’t hold water, as far as I’m concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

Q.What did Iraq have to do with that?

The President.What did Iraq have to do with what?

Q.The attack on the World Trade Center?

The President.Nothing, except for it’s part of—and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a—the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill to achieve an objective. I have made that case.

And one way to defeat that—defeat resentment is with hope. And the best way to do hope is through a form of government. Now, I said going into Iraq, we’ve got to take these threats seriously before they fully materialize. I saw a threat. I fully believe it was the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein, and I fully believe the world is better off without him. Now the question is, how do we succeed in Iraq? And you don’t succeed by leaving before the mission is complete, like some in this political process are suggesting.

May 24, 2007:

Yes, Jim [Jim Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times].

Former President Saddam Hussein of Iraq

Q. Mr. President, moments ago you said that Al Qaida attacked us before we were in Iraq. Since then Iraq has become much less stable; Al Qaida has used it as a recruiting tool, apparently with some success. So what would you say to those who would argue that what we’ve done in Iraq has simply enhanced Al Qaida and made the situation worse?

The President. Oh, so, in other words, the option would have been just let Saddam Hussein stay there? Your question is, should we not have left Saddam Hussein in power? And the answer is, absolutely not. Saddam Hussein was an enemy of the United States. He’d attacked his neighbors. He was paying Palestinian suicide bombers. He would have been–if he were to defy–and by the way, cheating on the U.N. oil for sanctions program–Oil-for-Food Programme. No, I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that this world would be a better place with Saddam Hussein in power, and particularly if–and I’m sure the Iraqis would agree with that.

See, that’s the kind of attitude–he says, okay, let’s let them live under a tyrant, and I just don’t agree. I obviously thought he had weapons; he didn’t have weapons; the world thought he had weapons. It was a surprise to me that he didn’t have the weapons of mass destruction everybody thought he had, but he had the capacity at some point in time to make weapons. It would have been a really dangerous world if we had the Iranians trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and Saddam Hussein competing for a nuclear weapon. You can imagine what the mentality of the Middle East would have been like.

So the heart of your question is, shouldn’t you have left Saddam Hussein in power? And the answer is, no. And now that we’ve—-

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. —-well, that’s really the crux of it. And–let me finish, please, here. I’m on a roll here. And so now that we have, does it make sense to help this young democracy survive? And the answer is, yes, for a variety of reasons.

One, we want to make sure that this enemy that did attack us doesn’t establish a safe haven from which to attack again. Two, the ultimate success in a war against ideologues is to offer a different ideology, one based upon liberty–by the way, embraced by 12 million people when given the chance. Thirdly, our credibility is at stake in the Middle East. There’s a lot of Middle Eastern nations wondering whether the United States of America is willing to push back against radicals and extremists, no matter what their religion base–religious bases may be.

And so the stakes are high in Iraq. I believe they’re absolutely necessary for the security of this country. The consequences of failure are immense.


Q. So there was no choice–so there was no choice between the course we took and leaving Saddam Hussein in power? Nothing else that might have worked?

The President. Well, we tried other things. As you might remember back then, we tried the diplomatic route: 1441 was a unanimous vote in the Security Council that said disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. So, the choice was his to make. And he made–he made a choice that has subsequently left–subsequently caused him to lose his life under a system that he wouldn’t have given his own citizens. We tried diplomacy. As a matter of fact, not only did I try diplomacy; other Presidents tried diplomacy.

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