The opponents of the Bush administration’s possible military action against Iraq make the following arguments: “He’s simply trying to finish the job his father started”; “No blood for oil”; “Iraq poses no imminent threat”; “Wars kill innocent women and children”; “Allow the United Nations inspections to proceed”; “Containment works”; “Avoid unilateralism, and proceed only with the United Nations’ approval”; and the all-encompassing “No smoking gun exists demonstrating that Saddam possesses weapons of mass destruction.”
But Bill Clinton, four years ago, took to the airwaves and explained his authorization of non-U.N.-approved missile strikes against Iraq, using the very same arguments now advanced by President Bush. Yet the silence was deafening.
Clinton, Dec. 19, 1998: “Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. … Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. … Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.”
George W. Bush, Jan. 28, 2003: “Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks, to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons is to dominate, intimidate or attack. With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region.”
Clinton: “Six weeks ago, Saddam Hussein announced that he would no longer cooperate with the United Nations weapons inspectors called UNSCOM. … Their job is to oversee the elimination of Iraq’s capability to retain, create and use weapons of mass destruction, and to verify that Iraq does not attempt to rebuild that capability. … Iraq has failed to turn over virtually all the documents requested by the inspectors. Indeed, we know that Iraq ordered the destruction of weapons-related documents in anticipation of an UNSCOM inspection.”
Bush: “The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary, he is deceiving. From intelligence sources, we know for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves.”
Clinton: “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. … I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.”
Bush: “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. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option. The dictator who is assembling the world’s most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages, leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind or disfigured.”
Clinton: “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. … Heavy as they are, the costs of action must be weighed against the price of inaction. If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond, we will face a far greater threat in the future. Saddam will strike again at his neighbors. He will make war on his own people. … But 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.”
Bush: “Sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a president can make. The technologies of war have changed; the risks and suffering of war have not. For the brave Americans, this nation fights reluctantly because we know the cost and we dread the days of mourning that always come. We seek peace. We strive for peace. And sometimes, peace must be defended. A future lived at the mercy of terrible threats is no peace at all. If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means, sparing, in every way we can, the innocent. And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military.”
What a difference an administration makes.