This article was last modified on August 30, 2007.

Cheney’s Lies That Drove Us To War

On August 26, 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Many of his remarks were positive, but there is a great deal that some of us at the time felt was quite wrong, and looking back five years later, most of the world now sees as lies and possibly even criminal.

I present here the second half of the speech given that day, so that all can reflect on his words. I have made a few notes, which can be found beneath the text of his words. I present it all here, so no one accuses me of taking it out of context.

(I apologize that the notes aren’t linked for easy clicking access. I will address this in the future.)

Excerpts from the Speech

The case of Saddam Hussein, a sworn enemy of our country, requires a candid appraisal of the facts [1]. After his defeat in the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam agreed under to U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 to cease all development of weapons of mass destruction. He agreed to end his nuclear weapons program. He agreed to destroy his chemical and his biological weapons. He further agreed to admit U.N. inspection teams into his country to ensure that he was in fact complying with these terms.

In the past decade, Saddam has systematically broken each of these agreements. The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents. And they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago. [2] These are not weapons for the purpose of defending Iraq; these are offensive weapons for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale, developed so that Saddam can hold the threat over the head of anyone he chooses, in his own region or beyond.

On the nuclear question, many of you will recall that Saddam’s nuclear ambitions suffered a severe setback in 1981 when the Israelis bombed the Osirak reactor. [3] They suffered another major blow in Desert Storm and its aftermath.

But we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we’ve gotten this from the firsthand testimony of defectors — including Saddam’s own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam’s direction. [4] Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.

Just how soon, we cannot really gauge. Intelligence is an uncertain business, even in the best of circumstances. [5] This is especially the case when you are dealing with a totalitarian regime that has made a science out of deceiving the international community. Let me give you just one example of what I mean. Prior to the Gulf War, America’s top intelligence analysts would come to my office in the Defense Department and tell me that Saddam Hussein was at least five or perhaps even 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon. After the war we learned that he had been much closer than that, perhaps within a year of acquiring such a weapon.

Saddam also devised an elaborate program to conceal his active efforts to build chemical and biological weapons. And one must keep in mind the history of U.N. inspection teams in Iraq. Even as they were conducting the most intrusive system of arms control in history, the inspectors missed a great deal. Before being barred from the country, the inspectors found and destroyed thousands of chemical weapons, and hundreds of tons of mustard gas and other nerve agents. [6]

Yet Saddam Hussein had sought to frustrate and deceive them at every turn, and was often successful in doing so. I’ll cite one instance. During the spring of 1995, the inspectors were actually on the verge of declaring that Saddam’s programs to develop chemical weapons and longer-range ballistic missiles had been fully accounted for and shut down. Then Saddam’s son-in-law suddenly defected and began sharing information. Within days the inspectors were led to an Iraqi chicken farm. Hidden there were boxes of documents and lots of evidence regarding Iraq’s most secret weapons programs. That should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself. [7]

To the dismay of the inspectors, they in time discovered that Saddam had kept them largely in the dark about the extent of his program to mass produce VX, one of the deadliest chemicals known to man. And far from having shut down Iraq’s prohibited missile programs, the inspectors found that Saddam had continued to test such missiles, almost literally under the noses of the U.N. inspectors.

Against that background, a person would be right to question any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then our worries will be over. Saddam has perfected the game of cheat and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow “back in his box.”

Meanwhile, he would continue to plot. Nothing in the last dozen years has stopped him — not his agreements; not the discoveries of the inspectors; not the revelations by defectors; not criticism or ostracism by the international community; and not four days of bombings by the U.S. in 1998. [8] What he wants is time and more time to husband his resources, to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons programs, and to gain possession of nuclear arms.

Should all his ambitions be realized, the implications would be enormous for the Middle East, for the United States, and for the peace of the world. The whole range of weapons of mass destruction then would rest in the hands of a dictator who has already shown his willingness to use such weapons, and has done so, both in his war with Iran and against his own people. [9] Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and seated atop ten percent of the world’s oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. [10] There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors — confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today, and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no basis in Saddam Hussein’s conduct or history to discount any of the concerns that I am raising this morning. We are, after all, dealing with the same dictator who shoots at American and British pilots in the no-fly zone, on a regular basis, the same dictator who dispatched a team of assassins to murder former President Bush as he traveled abroad, the same dictator who invaded Iran and Kuwait, and has fired ballistic missiles at Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, the same dictator who has been on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism for the better part of two decades.

In the face of such a threat, we must proceed with care, deliberation, and consultation with our allies. I know our president very well. I’ve worked beside him as he directed our response to the events of 9/11. I know that he will proceed cautiously and deliberately to consider all possible options to deal with the threat that an Iraq ruled by Saddam Hussein represents. And I am confident that he will, as he has said he would, consult widely with the Congress and with our friends and allies before deciding upon a course of action. He welcomes the debate that has now been joined here at home, and he has made it clear to his national security team that he wants us to participate fully in the hearings that will be held in Congress next month on this vitally important issue.

We will profit as well from a review of our own history. There are a lot of World War II veterans in the hall today. For the United States, that war began on December 7, 1941, with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the near-total destruction of our Pacific Fleet. Only then did we recognize the magnitude of the danger to our country. Only then did the Axis powers fully declare their intentions against us. By that point, many countries had fallen. Many millions had died. And our nation was plunged into a two-front war resulting in more than a million American casualties. To this day, historians continue to analyze that war, speculating on how we might have prevented Pearl Harbor, and asking what actions might have averted the tragedies that rate among the worst in human history. [11]

America in the year 2002 must ask careful questions, not merely about our past, but also about our future. The elected leaders of this country have a responsibility to consider all of the available options. And we are doing so. What we must not do in the face of a mortal threat is give in to wishful thinking or willful blindness. We will not simply look away, hope for the best, and leave the matter for some future administration to resolve. As President Bush has said, time is not on our side. Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together, constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined. The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action. [12]

Now and in the future, the United States will work closely with the global coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction. We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack. And the entire world must know that we will take whatever action is necessary to defend our freedom and our security.

As former Secretary of State Kissinger recently stated: “The imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, and the demonstrated hostility of Saddam Hussein combine to produce an imperative for preemptive action.” If the United States could have preempted 9/11, we would have, no question. Should we be able to prevent another, much more devastating attack, we will, no question. This nation will not live at the mercy of terrorists or terror regimes. [13]

I am familiar with the arguments against taking action in the case of Saddam Hussein. Some concede that Saddam is evil, power-hungry, and a menace — but that, until he crosses the threshold of actually possessing nuclear weapons, we should rule out any preemptive action. That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed. The argument comes down to this: yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is, we just need to let him get stronger before we do anything about it. [14]

Yet if we did wait until that moment, Saddam would simply be emboldened, and it would become even harder for us to gather friends and allies to oppose him. As one of those who worked to assemble the Gulf War coalition, I can tell you that our job then would have been infinitely more difficult in the face of a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein. And many of those who now argue that we should act only if he gets a nuclear weapon, would then turn around and say that we cannot act because he has a nuclear weapon. At bottom, that argument counsels a course of inaction that itself could have devastating consequences for many countries, including our own.

Another argument holds that opposing Saddam Hussein would cause even greater troubles in that part of the world, and interfere with the larger war against terror. I believe the opposite is true. [15] Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace. As for the reaction of the Arab “street,” the Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami predicts that after liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are “sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans.” [16] Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of Jihad. Moderates throughout the region would take heart. And our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced, just as it was following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. [17]

The reality is that these times bring not only dangers but also opportunities. In the Middle East, where so many have known only poverty and oppression, terror and tyranny, we look to the day when people can live in freedom and dignity and the young can grow up free of the conditions that breed despair, hatred, and violence. [18]

In other times the world saw how the United States defeated fierce enemies, then helped rebuild their countries, forming strong bonds between our peoples and our governments. Today in Afghanistan, the world is seeing that America acts not to conquer but to liberate, and remains in friendship to help the people build a future of stability, self-determination, and peace.

We would act in that same spirit after a regime change in Iraq. With our help, a liberated Iraq can be a great nation once again. Iraq is rich in natural resources and human talent, and has unlimited potential for a peaceful, prosperous future. Our goal would be an Iraq that has territorial integrity, a government that is democratic and pluralistic, a nation where the human rights of every ethnic and religious group are recognized and protected. In that troubled land all who seek justice, and dignity, and the chance to live their own lives, can know they have a friend and ally in the United States of America.


1. Saddam Hussein may be a “sworn enemy” of the United States, but how does it help international relations to declare such a thing? Furthermore, a look at the record makes one curious: compare what Iraq has done to America compared to what America has done to Iraq. Even though Saddam was a threat to some of his neighbors (though not America), does this justify the sanctions put on Iraq, leading to the deaths of a half million children? (Madeleine Albright would say yes. I would beg to differ.)

2. As we now know, the threat of a renewed chemical, biological or nuclear weapons program was minimal or non-existent. But we also had good reason to suspect this even then, in 2002. I had my doubts, and shared these doubts with my representative, Mark Green. Green assured me there was a weapons program and sent me reports from the United Nations inspectors, including a report from Charles Duelfer. What is interesting is that the report makes it rather clear that the inspectors found no such program. So Cheney’s claims that inspectors were not let in and that programs were continuing and growing were false. Compliance may not have been 100%, but this is hardly proof of contraband.

3. I don’t dispute that nuclear ambitions were likely hurt by the destruction of the reactor. However, there continues to be a distortion in the media that somehow nuclear power equals nuclear weaponry. There is nothing criminal about generating electricity.

4. I cannot find information about the son-in-law, his alleged claims or his alleged murder. If anyone can point me to them, I would appreciate it. Another high-profile defector, Hussein Kamel, claimed the weapons had been destroyed many years before. Reports and inspections supported that claim. (Unfortunately for Iraq, the reports had to prove the weapons didn’t exist, rather than the UN proving they did, which is basically an impossible standard.)

5. When intelligence is an uncertain business, shouldn’t the facts be examined cautiously, rather than jumping to the most dangerous of conclusions?

6. United Nations inspector Scott Ritter stated that the WMDs had long since turned to harmless substances. Sarin and tabun have a shelf life of five years, VX lasts a bit longer (but not much longer), and finally botulinum toxin and liquid anthrax last about three years. So, in essence, they had been destroyed. (And, keep in mind, these things were sold to Saddam by the Americans via Donald Rumsfeld in the first place!)

7. The chicken farm story is not entirely accurate, but basically true. The person running it did admit they were making botulism-based weapons. The son-in-laws role I still can not find a trace of.

8. What were the purpose of these bombings? What was the outcome? (See note 1)

9. Again, it was America who armed Saddam with the chemical weapons during the war with Iran, so using this as any justification only implicates America as an accomplice.

10. Again, there is plenty of doubt. Making a case of suspicions and guesses does not constitute proof.

11. This analogy would be respectable if countries were falling, but the only country that ever really came close was Kuwait, which we dealt with. So, the analogy here implies we should have attacked Hitler before he invaded Austria or Poland or Czechoslovakia, which I think is a hard sell to make. Invading anyone before they actually do anything is a huge mistake (essentially making the invader what the invaded country would have been — making us Hitler and Iraq the same as Poland, if we want to use bold rhetoric).

12. I think this has proven to be a very false motto for reasons I need not explain.

13. As suggested in note 11, “preemptive action” is a foolish and illegal doctrine. We can pick any country that might pose a threat and attack them. Likewise, by logic, any country that sees America as a threat would then have the right to attack us. Given the vocal threats our leaders have spoken against Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and more… any number of countries should have the right to invade us. Furthermore, the problem with 9/11 wasn’t a lack of “preemptive action, but a lack of “preventive action” — it was stoppable.

14. I laid out the problem with preemptive action in note 13. But Cheney shows he doesn’t understand logic very well. By not invading or preferring an invasion, this doesn’t imply that we wish him to become stronger or that other actions aren’t available. That’s rather simplistic. Clearly, we’ve had inspections, sanctions and no-fly zones. They aren’t perfect, but other options could be worked out — why must drastic actions be made at this time when they were never needed before (especially now that it’s come to light Cheney was opposed to an Iraq invasion in 1994, citing many of the facts war critics cited in 2003).

15. The facts post-invasion speak for themselves. Cheney was wrong.

16. This same professor called Scooter Libby a “fallen soldier” and was an adviser to Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz, so he’s hardly an objective source. More telling, though, I think is another thing he said in 2003 prior to the invasion of Iraq (though, admittedly, after Cheney’s speech): “There should be no illusions about the sort of Arab landscape that America is destined to find if, or when, it embarks on a war against the Iraqi regime. There would be no “hearts and minds” to be won in the Arab world, no public diplomacy that would convince the overwhelming majority of Arabs that this war would be a just war. An American expedition in the wake of thwarted UN inspections would be seen by the vast majority of Arabs as an imperial reach into their world, a favor to Israel, or a way for the United States to secure control over Iraq’s oil. No hearing would be given to the great foreign power.”

17. The connection between Iraq or Kuwait and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is uncertain. The peace process could move forward regardless of other countries in the region, as the primary problems are internal. Basic things such as water access and land ownership are the key issues, regardless of how Saddam may have felt about them.

18. Are hate, despair and violence breeding less now that Saddam is gone?

Also try another article under Political
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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