Critics of the Iraq War have consistently claimed that George W. Bush misled the U.S. into an immoral and/or unnecessary conflict by lying repeatedly about an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that Saddam Hussein allegedly possessed and might supply these weapons to terrorists like those who had already attacked America on 9/11.
Democrat Senator Harry Reid spoke for a host of other opponents of the war in insisting that "the Bush White House manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq." Senator Ted Kennedy depicted the war as a sinister plot "made up in Texas" and sold to Congress because it "was going to be good politically" for President Bush. "The whole thing was a fraud," said Kennedy. Former Vice President Al Gore charged that Bush was "engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate the facts in service to a totalistic ideology," and that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with WMD, but rather had been "pre-ordained and planned before 9/11 ever took place."
In fact, however, George Tenet, George W. Bush's CIA director, assured the President that the case for Saddam possessing WMD was “a slam dunk.” In this assessment, Tenet had the backing of all fifteen agencies involved in gathering intelligence for the United States. The National Intelligence Estimate of 2002, where their collective views were summarized, asserted with “high confidence” that "Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions.
The intelligence agencies of Britain, Germany, Russia, China, Israel, and France all agreed with this judgment. Even Hans Blix—who headed the UN team of inspectors trying to determine whether Saddam had complied with the demands of the Security Council that he dispose of the WMD he was known to have had in the past—lent further credibility to the case in a report he issued only a few months before the invasion:
"The discovery of a number of ... chemical rocket warheads in a bunker at a storage depot 170 km southwest of Baghdad was much publicized. This was a relatively new bunker, and therefore the rockets must have been moved there in the past few years, at a time when Iraq should not have had such munitions.... They could also be the tip of a submerged iceberg. The discovery … points to the issue of several thousands of chemical rockets that are unaccounted for."
The consensus on which President Bush relied was first fully formed in the Clinton administration, as these statements indicate:
"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 [WMD] program." – Bill Clinton, 1998
"Iraq is a long way from [America], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risk that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face." – Secretary of State Madeline Albright, 1998
"[Saddam] will use those [WMD] again, as he has ten times since 1983." – Sandy Berger, Clinton’s National Security Adviser, 1998
Also in 1998, a group of Democratic Senators -- including such luminaries as Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, and John Kerry -- urged President Clinton "to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its [WMD] programs."
Nancy Pelosi, then a member of the House Intelligence Committee, stated: "Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of [WMD] technology, which is a threat to countries in the region, and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process."
This Democratic drumbeat continued and even intensified when George W. Bush succeeded Clinton in 2001. In a letter to the new President, a number of Senators led by Florida Democrat Bob Graham declared:
"There is no doubt that ... Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical, and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf war status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies."
Senator Carl Levin reaffirmed for Bush’s benefit what he had told Clinton some years earlier:
"Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations, and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them."
Senator Hillary Clinton agreed, speaking in October 2002:
"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical- and biological-weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members."
Senator Jay Rockefeller, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, concurred:
"There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years.... We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction."
Also in 2002, Al Gore said the following:
"We know that [Saddam] has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."
"Iraq’s search for [WMD] has proven impossible to deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power."
Senator John Kerry announced in 2002: "I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force—if necessary—to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security."
That same year, Senator Ted Kennedy said, "We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction."
Senator Robert Byrd put it this way: "We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has [since 1998] embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical- and biological-warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons."
William Cohen, who had served as President Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, remained “absolutely convinced” that Saddam possessed stockpiles of WMD even after the U.S. military had failed to find them in the wake of the invasion in March 2003.
Kenneth Pollack, who served in the National Security Council under President Clinton, recalls:
"In the late spring of 2002, I participated in a Washington meeting about Iraqi WMD. Those present included nearly twenty former inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), the force established in 1991 to oversee the elimination of WMD in Iraq. One of the senior people put a question to the group: did anyone in the room doubt that Iraq was currently operating a secret centrifuge plant? No one did."
Many who believed that Saddam did possess WMD accused Bush of having mischaracterized the threat of those weapons as “imminent.” But in fact, Bush consistently rejected imminence as a justification for war. In the State of the Union address he delivered three months after 9/11, Bush declared that he would “not wait on events while dangers gather,” and that he would “not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer.” In a speech at West Point six months later, he said: “If we wait for threats to materialize, we will have waited too long.” In his State of the Union address in 2003, Bush stated:
"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."