By James D. Agresti
February 16, 2016
During Saturday night’s GOP presidential debate in North Carolina, Donald Trump asserted that former president George W. Bush and his administration deliberately misled the world about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Trump declared: “They lied! They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none.”
This claim that Bush lied about Iraq’s weaponry has been a repeated accusation of his political opponents. The same individuals have also ascribed various motives to Bush, including the desire to take Iraq’s oil, enrich the military-industrial complex, and settle a vendetta with Saddam Hussein on behalf of Bush’s father.
Conspiracies aside, the notion that Bush purposely deceived anyone about this matter conflicts with a broad range of verifiable facts. Even before Bush took office, Bill Clinton, high-ranking members of his administration, and many prominent Democrats assessed the evidence and arrived at the same conclusion that Bush reached. For example:
- “So there was an organization that is set up to monitor whether Saddam Hussein had gotten rid of his weapons of mass destruction. And that organization, UNSCOM, has made clear it has not.”
– Madeline Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, November 10, 1999
- “The UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq still has stockpiles of chemical and biological munitions, a small force of Scud-type missiles, and the capacity to restart quickly its production program and build many, many more weapons.”
– President Bill Clinton, February 17, 1998
- “Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”
– Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, December 16, 1998
- “There is a very easy way for this problem to be resolved, and that is for Saddam Hussein to do what he said he would do … at the end of the Gulf War when he signed the cease-fire agreement: destroy his weapons of mass destruction and let the international community come in and see that he has done that. Period.”
– Samuel Berger, Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor, February 18, l998
- “We urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.”
– Letter to Bill Clinton signed by 27 U.S. Senators, including Democrats John Kerry, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Mikulski, Carl Levin, Chris Dodd, Tom Daschle, and others, October 9, 1998
- “Saddam has delayed; he has duped; he has deceived the inspectors from the very first day on the job. I have another chart which shows exactly what I’m talking about. From the very beginning, he declared he had no offensive biological weapons programs. Then, when confronted with evidence following the defection of his son-in-law, he admitted they had produced more than 2100 gallons of anthrax. … But the UN inspectors believe that Saddam Hussein still has his weapons of mass destruction capability—enough ingredients to make 200 tons of VX nerve gas; 31,000 artillery shells and rockets filled with nerve and mustard gas; 17 tons of media to grow biological agents; large quantities of anthrax and other biological agents.”
– William Cohen, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, February 18, l998
Democrats made many other similar statements to this effect both before and after Bush took office. Yet, Snopes.com, a website ostensibly dedicated to debunking urban legends, has tried to diminish their import by noting that some of them “were offered in the course of statements that clearly indicated the speaker was decidedly against unilateral military intervention in Iraq by the U.S.”
That line of reasoning is an irrelevant distraction from the issue at hand. Such quotes were not brought forward to show that these people supported military action but that Democrats had no legitimate grounds for accusing Bush of lying. The chain email that Snopes critiqued for sharing these quotes makes this abundantly clear in its concluding words: “Now the Democrats say President Bush lied, that there never were any WMD’s and he took us to war for his oil buddies??? Right!!!”
In the same piece, Snopes also whitewashed these quotes by declaring that several of them predate military strikes in 1998 that the Clinton administration said “degraded Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.”
That is a classic half-truth, for on the day that Bill Clinton ordered this action, he stated that these strikes will “significantly” degrade Hussein’s programs, but they “cannot destroy all the weapons of mass destruction capacity.”
In addition to the facts above, in 2004, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a 500+ page report about “Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” The committee members—including eight Republicans and seven Democrats—unanimously concluded:
The Committee did not find any evidence that intelligence analysts changed their judgments as a result of political pressure, altered or produced intelligence products to conform with Administration policy, or that anyone even attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to do so.
This statement appears on page 273 of the report, and the next 10 pages of the report provide detailed documentation that proves it.
Significantly, this report is not dismissive of the intelligence failures that preceded the Iraq war. It declares that “most of the major key judgments” made by the intelligence community in its “most authoritative” prewar report were “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” However, as the quote above reveals, the committee found no malfeasance on the part of Bush or his appointees.
A 2005 report from United Nations inspectors found that by the time Bush sent U.S. soldiers to disarm Saddam Hussein, all evidence indicated there was nothing to support claims of nuclear or biological weapons.
The hyperlink above leads to a 2005 Washington Post article about the Robb-Silberman report, which was commissioned by President Bush himself. These ThinkProgress and Washington Post articles both fail to provide a link to the actual report and any indication that the following statement appears on its opening page:
After a thorough review, the Commission found no indication that the Intelligence Community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. What the intelligence professionals told you about Saddam Hussein’s programs was what they believed. They were simply wrong.
The same ThinkProgress article, written by Zack Ford, also mischaracterizes a 2006 report from 60 Minutes. According to Ford:
In 2006, Tyler Drumheller, former chief of the CIA’s Europe division, revealed that in 2002, Bush, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice were informed that Iraq had no active weapons of mass destruction program.
In reality, 60 Minutes found that a lone source, an Iraqi foreign minister who “demonized the U.S. and defended Saddam,” had claimed this was the case. It is no mystery that such a person would be greeted with skepticism.
In summary, Trump’s allegation that Bush lied has no demonstrable basis in fact. Instead, it is grounded in proven falsehoods.