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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


January 05, 2004

Bush to America: 'So What's the Difference' If He Lied About Iraqi WMD?

Remember 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'? For Bush, They Are a Nonissue (12/18/03 - NY Times via CommonDreams)

President Bush told ABC News in an interview for broadcast that whether or not Iraq had WMD was irrelevant to his Administration's justification for invading.

"So what's the difference?" Bush said. "The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger."

By that logic, the US should immediately invade every nation with chemistry labs or nuclear reactors.

Bush made his remarks in an interview with ABC reporter Diane Sawyer. An edited version of the interview aired on the Dec. 18, 2003 edition of Primetime Thursday.

Of course, Bush's statements are in stark contrast to the categorical claims he and his entire Admin made during the pre-ordained lead up to the invasion. Iraq's alleged possession of WMD was the centerpiece of the Admin's case to the American public, Congress, the UN, and the entire world.

"This was a pre-emptive war, and the rationale was that there was an imminent threat," Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) told the NY Times.

Indeed. It was recently revealed that during the 2002 Congressional debate before the vote to approve in advance a unilateral invasion, Admin officials secretly told at least 75 members of Congress that Iraq had the capability to attack the US east coast with WMD using drone aircraft. According to those members of Congress, this utterly false information strongly influenced them to vote in favor of the measure.

As the Washington Post observed in a 12/19/03 editorial about Bush's remarks to Sawyer, "the degree of the threat, as described by Mr. Bush and his administration to Congress, the American public and the world, matters enormously. It matters because some in Congress and the public who supported the war might not have done so had they been given a more accurate account of Iraq's weapons. And it matters because the gap between the administration's words and the emerging truth has done serious damage to its credibility, both at home and abroad."

Uh...yeah, that and the fact that it may be a criminal offense, right?

Following below is a NY Times article about Bush's remarks, and relevant excerpts from the official ABC News transcript of the interview.

New York Times, 12/18/03:

Remember 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'? For Bush, They Are a Nonissue
by Richard W. Stevenson

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17 -- In the debate over the necessity for the war in Iraq, few issues have been more contentious than whether Saddam Hussein possessed arsenals of banned weapons, as the Bush administration repeatedly said, or instead was pursuing weapons programs that might one day constitute a threat.

On Tuesday, with Mr. Hussein in American custody and polls showing support for the White House's Iraq policy rebounding, Mr. Bush suggested that he no longer saw much distinction between the possibilities.

"So what's the difference?" he responded at one point as he was pressed on the topic during an interview by Diane Sawyer of ABC News.

To critics of the war, there is a big difference. They say that the administration's statements that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons that it could use on the battlefield or turn over to terrorists added an urgency to the case for immediate military action that would have been lacking if Mr. Hussein were portrayed as just developing the banned weapons.

"This was a pre-emptive war, and the rationale was that there was an imminent threat," said Senator Bob Graham of Florida, a Democrat who has said that by elevating Iraq to the most dangerous menace facing the United States, the administration unwisely diverted resources from fighting Al Qaeda and other terrorists.

The overwhelming vote in Congress last year to authorize the use of force against Iraq would have been closer "but for the fact that the president had so explicitly said that there were weapons of mass destruction that posed an imminent threat to citizens of the United States," Mr. Graham said in an interview on Wednesday.

As early as last spring, Mr. Bush suggested that the Iraqis might have dispersed their biological and chemical weapons so widely that they would be extremely difficult to find. And some weapons experts have suggested that Mr. Hussein may have destroyed banned weapons that he had in the early 1990's but left in place the capacity to produce more.

This week, at a news conference on Monday and in the ABC interview on Tuesday, Mr. Bush's answers to questions on the subject continued a gradual shift in the way he has addressed the topic, from the immediacy of the threat to an assertion that no matter what, the world is better off without Mr. Hussein in power.

Where once Mr. Bush and his top officials asserted unambiguously that Mr. Hussein had the weapons at the ready, their statements now are often far more couched, reflecting the fact that no weapons have been found -- "yet," as Mr. Bush was quick to interject during the interview.

In the interview, Mr. Bush said removing Mr. Hussein from power was justified even without the recovery of any banned weapons. As he has since his own weapons inspector, David Kay, issued an interim report in October saying he had uncovered extensive evidence of weapons programs in Iraq but no actual weapons, Mr. Bush said the existence of such programs, by violating United Nations Security Council resolutions, provided ample grounds for the war.

"If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger," Mr. Bush continued, referring to Mr. Hussein. "That's what I'm trying to explain to you. A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be dealt with, and it was done after 12 long years of the world saying the man's a danger."

Pressed to explain the president's remarks, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said Mr. Bush was not backing away from his assertions about Mr. Hussein's possession of banned weapons.

"We continue to believe that he had weapons of mass destruction programs and weapons of mass destruction," Mr. McClellan said on Wednesday.

Mr. Bush has always been careful to have multiple reasons ready for his major policy proposals, and his administration has deployed them deftly to adapt to changing circumstances.

In trying to build public and international support for toppling Mr. Hussein, the administration cited, with different emphasis at different times, the banned weapons, links between the Iraqi leader and terrorist organizations, a desire to liberate the Iraqi people and a policy of bringing democracy to the Middle East.

When it came to describing the weapons program, Mr. Bush never hedged before the war. "If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today -- and we do -- does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?" Mr. Bush asked during a speech in Cincinnati in October 2002.

In the weeks after the fall of Baghdad in April, the White House was equally explicit. "One of the reasons we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction," Ari Fleischer, then the White House spokesman, told reporters on May 7. "And nothing has changed on that front at all."

On Wednesday Mr. McClellan, when pressed, only restated the president's belief that weapons would eventually be found. Mr. Bush, despite being asked repeatedly about the issue in different ways by Ms. Sawyer, never did say it, except to note Mr. Hussein's past use of chemical weapons. He emphasized Mr. Hussein's capture instead.

"And if he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction?" Ms. Sawyer asked the president, according to a transcript provided by ABC.

"Diane, you can keep asking the question," Mr. Bush replied. "I'm telling you -- I made the right decision for America because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait. But the fact that he is not there is, means America's a more secure country."

[Read the source...]

Excerpts From Diane Sawyer's Interview With President Bush

Following are excerpts from the official ABC transcript of Diane Sawyer's Dec. 16 interview with President Bush, his first one-on-one since the capture of Saddam Hussein on Dec. 13. An edited version of the interview aired Dec. 18, 2003 on ABC's Primetime Thursday. Ellipses in brackets [...] denote edits made by Subliminal Media; otherwise the transcript is as released by ABC News.

DIANE SAWYER: Was this [the day Hussein was captured] the best day of your presidency?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No. The best day of my presidency was when I was sworn in as President and -- because it gave me a chance to assume this high office and implement a strategy that would make the world more peaceful and more free and a country more compassionate. That's so far been the best day of my presidency.


Weapons of Mass Destruction

SAWYER: We read that he [Saddam Hussein] has already said no weapons of mass destruction.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. You've read that for many, many years.

SAWYER: But that he is talking. Has he said anything that is new? ...

PRESIDENT BUSH: I wouldn't trust a word he said. He -- he's deceived and lied to the world in the past. He's not going to change his stripes. And I wouldn't -- I wouldn't hold much account to the word of Saddam Hussein.

SAWYER: Do you think he was directing the raids on Iraq now that you've seen him, now that you see where he was hiding ?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I don't think we know enough yet, and what we do know is that he's a dangerous man who gassed his own people, who murdered people, who invaded Kuwait, and -- and that the world is safer without him. And the Iraqi people can now close that chapter, that ugly, brutal chapter of their history, and show the world they can govern themselves.


DIANE SAWYER: One of the questions that I guess people have is: Does your confidence come from feeling that -- that God is behind you?

PRESIDENT BUSH: My confidence comes from a lot of sources. I do -- I am sustained by the prayers of the people in this country. [...] I'm confident because I've got assembled a great team. ... I'm confident in my management style. I'm a delegator because I trust the people I've asked to join the team. I'm willing to delegate. That makes it easier to be president. ...


WMD Intelligence

DIANE SAWYER: Fifty percent of the American people have said that they think the administration exaggerated the evidence going into the war with Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, connection to terrorism. Are the American people wrong? Misguided?

PRESIDENT BUSH: The intelligence I operated one was good sound intelligence, the same intelligence that my predecessor operated on. The -- there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a threat. The -- otherwise the United Nations might -- wouldn't a passed, you know, resolution after resolution after resolution, demanding that he disarm. ... I first went to the United Nations, September the 12th, 2002, and said you've given this man resolution after resolution after resolution. He's ignoring them. You step up and see that he honor those resolutions. Otherwise you become a feckless debating society. ... And so for the sake of peace and for the sake of freedom of the Iraqi people, for the sake of security of the country, and for the sake of the credibility of institu -- in -- international institutions, a group of us moved, and the world is better for it.

DIANE SAWYER: But let me try to ask -- this could be a long question. ... ... When you take a look back, Vice President Cheney said there is no doubt, Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, not programs, not intent. There is no doubt he has weapons of mass destruction. Secretary Powell said 100 to 500 tons of chemical weapons and now the inspectors say that there's no evidence of these weapons existing right now. The yellow cake in Niger, in Niger. George Tenet has said that shouldn't have been in your speech. Secretary Powell talked about mobile labs. Again, the intelligence -- the inspectors have said they can't confirm this, they can't corroborate.


DIANE SAWYER: -- an active --


DIANE SAWYER: Is it yet?

PRESIDENT BUSH: But what David Kay did discover was they had a weapons program, and had that, that -- let me finish for a second. Now it's more extensive than, than missiles. Had that knowledge been examined by the United Nations or had David Kay's report been placed in front of the United Nations, he, he, Saddam Hussein, would have been in material breach of 1441, which meant it was a causis belli. And look, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person, and there's no doubt we had a body of evidence proving that, and there is no doubt that the president must act, after 9/11, to make America a more secure country.

DIANE SAWYER: Again, I'm just trying to ask, these are supporters, people who believed in the war who have asked the question.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you can keep asking the question and my answer's gonna be the same. Saddam was a danger and the world is better off 'cause we got rid of him.

DIANE SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still --

PRESIDENT BUSH: So what's the difference?


PRESIDENT BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger. That's, that's what I'm trying to explain to you. A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be de -- dealt with, and it was done after 12 long years of the world saying the man's a danger. And so we got rid of him and there's no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.

DIANE SAWYER: But, but, again, some, some of the critics have said this combined with the failure to establish proof of, of elaborate terrorism contacts, has indicated that there's just not precision, at best, and misleading, at worst.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. Look -- what -- what we based our evidence on was a very sound National Intelligence Estimate. ...

DIANE SAWYER: Nothing should have been more precise?

PRESIDENT BUSH: What -- I, I -- I made my decision based upon enough intelligence to tell me that this country was threatened with Saddam Hussein in power.

DIANE SAWYER: What would it take to convince you he didn't have weapons of mass destruction?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a threat and the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.

DIANE SAWYER: And if he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction...?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Diane, you can keep asking the question. I'm telling you -- I made the right decision for America --


PRESIDENT BUSH: -- because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait. ... But the fact that he is not there is, means America's a more secure country.


Following the News

DIANE SAWYER: First of all, I just want to ask about reading. Mr. President, you know that there was a great deal of reporting about the fact that you said, first of all, that you let Condoleezza Rice and Andrew Card give you a flavor of what's in the news.


DIANE SAWYER: That you don't read the stories yourself.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes. I get my news from people who don't editorialize. [sic] They give me the actual news, and it makes it easier to digest, on a daily basis, the facts.



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