Arkansas Fourth District Rep. Tom Cotton appeared on CNN’s State of the Nation yesterday along with his colleague Hawaii Second District Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (video below). Our friend Rep. Cotton set forth a few significant truths about the American effort in Iraq that should not be obscured by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and his media colleagues.
In the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, Naval War College professor of national security affairs Stephen Knott also sought to remind readers of a few truths that nicely complement Rep. Cotton’s. Professor Knott’s column is behind the Journal’s subscription paywall. Here it is:
At 5:34 a.m. on March 20, 2003, American, British and other allied forces invaded Iraq. One of the most divisive conflicts in the nation’s history would soon be labeled “Bush’s War.”
The overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime became official U.S. policy in 1998, when President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act—a bill passed 360-38 by the House of Representatives and by unanimous consent in the Senate. The law called for training and equipping Iraqi dissidents to overthrow Saddam and suggested that the United Nations establish a war-crimes tribunal for the dictator and his lieutenants.
The legislation was partly the result of frustration over the undeclared and relatively unheralded “No-Fly Zone War” that had been waged since 1991. Saddam’s military repeatedly fired on U.S. and allied aircraft that were attempting to prevent his regime from destroying Iraqi opposition forces in northern and southern Iraq.
According to former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Hugh Shelton, in 1997 a key member of President Bill Clinton’s cabinet (thought by most observers to have been Secretary of State Madeleine Albright) asked Gen. Shelton whether he could arrange for a U.S. aircraft to fly slowly and low enough that it would be shot down, thereby paving the way for an American effort to topple Saddam. Kenneth Pollack, a member of Mr. Clinton’s National Security Council staff, would later write in 2002 that it was a question of “not whether but when” the U.S. would invade Iraq. He wrote that the threat presented by Saddam was “no less pressing than those we faced in 1941.”
Radicalized by the events of 9/11, George W. Bush gradually concluded that a regime that had used chemical weapons against its own people and poison gas against Iran, invaded Iran and Kuwait, harbored some of the world’s most notorious terrorists, made lucrative payments to the families of suicide bombers, fired on American aircraft almost daily, and defied years of U.N. resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction was a problem. The former chief U.N. weapons inspector, an Australian named Richard Butler, testified in July 2002 that “it is essential to recognize that the claim made by Saddam’s representatives, that Iraq has no WMD, is false.”
In the U.S., there was a bipartisan consensus that Saddam possessed and continued to develop WMD. Former Vice President Al Gore noted in September 2002 that Saddam had “stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.” Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton observed that Saddam hoped to increase his supply of chemical and biological weapons and to “develop nuclear weapons.” Then-Sen. John Kerry claimed that “a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his [Saddam's] hands is a real and grave threat to our security.”
Even those opposed to using force against Iraq acknowledged that, as then-Sen. Edward Kennedy put it, “we have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing” WMD. When it came time to vote on the authorization for the use of force against Iraq, 81 Democrats in the House voted yes, joined by 29 Democrats in the Senate, including the party’s 2004 standard bearers, John Kerry and John Edwards, plus Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Sen. Joe Biden, Mrs. Clinton, and Sens. Harry Reid, Tom Harkin, Chris Dodd and Jay Rockefeller. The latter, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed that Saddam would “likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years.”
Support for the war extended far beyond Capitol Hill. In March 2003, a Pew Research Center poll indicated that 72% of the American public supported President Bush’s decision to use force.
If Mr. Bush “lied,” as the common accusation has it, then so did many prominent Democrats—and so did the French, whose foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, claimed in February 2003 that “regarding the chemical domain, we have evidence of [Iraq's] capacity to produce VX and yperite [mustard gas]; in the biological domain, the evidence suggests the possible possession of significant stocks of anthrax and botulism toxin.” Germany’s intelligence chief August Hanning noted in March 2002 that “it is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in three years.”
According to interrogations conducted after the invasion, Saddam’s own generals believed that he had WMD and expected him to use these weapons as the invasion force neared Baghdad.
The war in Iraq was authorized by a bipartisan congressional coalition, supported by prominent media voices and backed by the public. Yet on its 10th anniversary Americans will be told of the Bush administration’s duplicity in leading us into the conflict. Many members of the bipartisan coalition that committed the U.S. to invade Iraq 10 years ago have long since washed their hands of their share of responsibility.
We owe it to history—and, more important, to all those who died—to recognize that this wasn’t Bush’s war, it was America’s war.