In Cheney's Words: The Administration Case for Removing Saddam Hussein
NY Times - August 27, 2002
Following are excerpts from a speech yesterday by Vice President Dick Cheney to a national convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville, as recorded by Federal News Service Inc. A full transcript is online at nytimes.com/international.
In the days of the cold war, we were able to manage the threat with strategies of deterrence and containment. But it's a lot tougher to deter enemies who have no country to defend, and containment is not possible when dictators obtain weapons of mass destruction and are prepared to share them with terrorists, who intend to inflict catastrophic casualties on the United States.
The case of Saddam Hussein, a sworn enemy of our country, requires a candid appraisal of the facts.
After his defeat in the gulf war in 1991, Saddam agreed 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 insure 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.
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. 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 first-hand testimony from defectors, including Saddam's own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam's direction.
Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. Just how soon, we cannot really gauge. Intelligence is an uncertain business, even in the best of circumstances. 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 would come to my office in the Defense Department and tell me that Saddam Hussein is at least 5 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.
Yet Saddam Hussein had sought to frustrate and deceive them at ever turn. . . .
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 shoot 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 solemn agreements, not the discoveries of inspectors, not the revelations by defectors, not criticism or ostracism by the international community and not four days of bombing by the United States in 1998.
What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.
Should all his ambitions be realized, the implications would be enormous for the Middle East and 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.
Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror and a seat at a top 10 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; there is no doubt that 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'm 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 a State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism for better than two decades.
In the face of such a threat, we must indeed 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 is now being 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. To the United States, that war began on Dec. 7, 1941, with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the near total destruction 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.
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 to give in to wishful thanking 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 risks of action.
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 eminence 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 pre-emptive action."
If the United States could have pre-empted 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.
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 pre-emptive 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. 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 a larger war against terror.
I believe the opposite is true. Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits for 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 in "the Arab street," the Middle East expert Prof. Fuad Ajami predicts that after liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy in the same way throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans.
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.
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.
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 has seen that America acts not to conquer but to liberate. It 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 talents, 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 know they have a friend and ally in the United States of America.