I was thinking about writing a rant about the current situation in Iraq. You all know what I think about the Iraq conflict—I think it was necessary. Unpleasant, yes, but necessary. I could write volumes about why I think we did the right thing.
But I decided that I might better make my point by reprinting the text of an address that the president made to the American people. Not everybody likes the president, and I understand that, but I would ask that all of you read what I’m reprinting here—from beginning to end—and judge the argument on its merits.
I have removed portions of the speech (it was a little redundant) to keep the length appropriate for the Front Page Rant. There’s a link to the full transcript at the end, along with my own closing statements.
Good evening. Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world.
Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.
Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference: He has used them. Not once, but repeatedly. Unleashing chemical weapons against Iranian troops during a decade-long war. Not only against soldiers, but against civilians, firing Scud missiles at the citizens of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iran. And not only against a foreign enemy but even against his own people, gassing Kurdish civilians in Northern Iraq.
The international community had little doubt [at the end of the Gulf War], and I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again. The United States has patiently worked to preserve UNSCOM as Iraq has sought to avoid its obligation to cooperate with the inspectors. On occasion, we’ve had to threaten military force, and Saddam has backed down. Faced with Saddam’s latest act of defiance . . . , we built intensive diplomatic pressure on Iraq backed by overwhelming military force in the region.
The U.N. Security Council voted 15 to zero to condemn Saddam’s actions and to demand that he immediately come into compliance . . . When Saddam still failed to comply, we prepared to act militarily. It was only then, at the last possible moment, that Iraq backed down. It pledged to the U.N. that it had made, and I quote, a clear and unconditional decision to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors.
Now over the past three weeks, the U.N. weapons inspectors have carried out their plan for testing Iraq’s cooperation. The testing period ended this weekend, and last night, UNSCOM’s chairman, Richard Butler, reported the results to U.N. Secretary General Annan.
The conclusions are stark, sobering and profoundly disturbing. In four out of the five categories set forth, Iraq has failed to cooperate. Indeed, it actually has placed new restrictions on the inspectors
So Iraq has abused its final chance.
As the UNSCOM reports concludes, and again I quote, “Iraq’s conduct ensured that no progress was able to be made in the fields of disarmament. In light of this experience, and in the absence of full cooperation by Iraq, it must regrettably be recorded again that the commission is not able to conduct the work mandated to it by the Security Council with respect to Iraq’s prohibited weapons program.”
In short, the inspectors are saying that even if they could stay in Iraq, their work would be a sham. Saddam’s deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, Saddam has disarmed the inspectors.
This situation presents a clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere. The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors. Saddam has failed to seize the chance. And so we had to act and act now. Let me explain why.
First, without a strong inspection system, Iraq would be free to retain and begin to rebuild its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs in months, not years.
Second, if Saddam can cripple the weapons inspection system and get away with it, he would conclude that the international community—led by the United States—has simply lost its will. He will surmise that he has free rein to rebuild his arsenal of destruction, and someday—make no mistake—he will use it again as he has in the past.
Third, . . . if we turn our backs on his defiance, the credibility of U.S. power as a check against Saddam will be destroyed. We will not only have allowed Saddam to shatter the inspection system that controls his weapons of mass destruction program, we also will have fatally undercut the fear of force that stops Saddam from acting to gain domination in the region.
That is why . . . I have ordered a strong, sustained series of air strikes against Iraq. They are designed to degrade Saddam’s capacity to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction, and to degrade his ability to threaten his neighbors.
The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he threatens the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the security of the world. The best way to end that threat once and for all is with a new Iraqi government—a government ready to live in peace with its neighbors, a government that respects the rights of its people.
Bringing change in Baghdad will take time and effort. We will strengthen our engagement with the full range of Iraqi opposition forces and work with them effectively and prudently.
The decision to use force is never cost-free. Whenever American forces are placed in harm’s way, we risk the loss of life. And while our strikes are focused on Iraq’s military capabilities, there will be unintended Iraqi casualties . . . We must be prepared for these realities . . . Heavy as they are, the costs of action must be weighed against the price of inaction.
Once more, the United States has proven that although we are never eager to use force, when we must act in America’s vital interests, we will do so. In the century we’re leaving, America has often made the difference between chaos and community, fear and hope. Now, in the new century, we’ll have a remarkable opportunity to shape a future more peaceful than the past, but only if we stand strong against the enemies of peace. Tonight, the United States is doing just that.
May God bless and protect the brave men and women who are carrying out this vital mission and their families.
And may God bless America.
President William Jefferson Clinton
December 19, 1998
Read the full transcript.
President Bush did not lie to the American people, any more than President Clinton did in the speech I’ve reprinted above. Perhaps they were both misled by our intelligence services, and if so that is a problem that must be dealt with.
But Republicans and Democrats in this country, as well as every intelligence service around the world, believed the Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to use them. It looks like that might not have been true, but would you—in a position of power—really have been willing to risk it?
Would you have been willing to risk Saddam developing nuclear weapons? Would you have been willing to risk an act of terrorism or an act of war that would have made September 11, 2001, look like a short, minor prelude to an American holocaust?
We must never lose sight of the simple fact that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein running Iraq. Things might look rough right now, and doing the right thing is most certainly not easy. But we are doing the right thing. I rest assured of that every night.
Every time I start to doubt our justification, I remember the towers falling in New York—and remember what President Saddam Hussein of Iraq had to say about it at the time. “Americans should feel the pain they have inflicted on other peoples of the world, so as when they suffer they will find the right solution and the right path.”
Saddam, oddly enough, had half the right idea. We did suffer; we did find the right path: the liberation of his people, freedom for his country, and hope for the future.
To waver in our support for a free Iraq now would turn us into the villains that so many seem to think we are already. To let murderers dictate the policies of free nations (hello, Spain) is to turn our backs on everything we hold dear. To negotiate or give in to terrorism in any form is to abandon what is right in favor of what is merely convenient.
We owe the people of Iraq a steady hand and continued support, as do our allies. There is unrest, and there is death. I wish there was not. But, as John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
That the revolution is proving violent does not mean that the revolution is wrong. Freedom is never wrong.