And never mind the intent to restart the programs once the crumbling sanctions and UN inspections regime came to an end.
But WMD were not the sole rationale for the war.
When these other reasons are given, it is attacked as a "shifting rationale", as if the other reasons were dreamed up as an ex post facto justification after no WMD stockpiles were found. That too is wrong.
Or, even if the additional reasons are conceded to make sense, it is claimed they are being made by outside apologists, and that there is no evidence the administration itself actually had any of these ideas in mind, so Bush is not given credit for any obvious strategic advantages that may arise from the operation.
It is easy, however, to show that's all wrong.
The administration enunciated many complex and important reasons for the Iraq invasion, before the war even started.
Let's go right to the primary sources.
I will quote from a speech given by Bush himself on February 26, 2003 -- about a month before the invasion began. These remarkes were delivered at the Washington Hilton Hotel, apparently to an American Enterprise Institute audience.
I will also use a raw Vanity Fair interview transcript with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, considered one of the chief architects of the Iraq policy, conducted on May 9, 2003 -- just 7 weeks into the operation and before the lack of WMD stockpiles became an issue.
As a preamble, both stress that an entirely new strategy was needed in the Middle East after 9/11: we could no longer just respond to attacks after they happened, but rather had to transform the region:
Bush: On a September morning, threats that had gathered for years, in secret and far away, led to murder in our country on a massive scale. As a result, we must look at security in a new way, because our country is a battlefield in the first war of the 21st century.So basically they knew immediately that the Middle East and all the old strategic thinking had to be changed, and so somebody else in the region had to get taken down. Of the many candidates, Iraq seemed the best choice for several reasons, which they then elaborate upon.
We learned a lesson: The dangers of our time must be confronted actively and forcefully, before we see them again in our skies and in our cities. And we set a goal: we will not allow the triumph of hatred and violence in the affairs of men.
A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America's interests in security, and America's belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq.
Wolfowitz: You know it's completely out in the open who holds what views in this Administration. You couldn't be more transparent about what the arguments are. The most significant thing that has produced what is admittedly a fairly significant change in American policy is the events of September 11th which are going to count as one of the -- If you had to pick the ten most important foreign policy things for the United States over the last 100 years it would surely rank in the top ten if not number one. It's the reason why so much has changed, and people who refuse to look at that, for whatever reason, or are unwilling to face up to the implications of that then go around and look for some nefarious explanation. But it's shameful.
I know my thinking at that point was that the old approach to terrorism was not acceptable any longer. The old approach being you treat it as a law enforcement problem rather than a national security problem. You pursue terrorists after they've done things and bring them to justice, and to the extent states are perhaps involved, you retaliate against them but you don't really expect to get them out of the business of supporting terrorism completely. To me what September 11th meant was that we just couldn't live with terrorism any longer.
Throughout the '80s and '90s it was sort of, I've never found quite the right words because necessary evil doesn't describe it, but a sort of an evil that you could manage but you couldn't eliminate. And I think what September 11th to me said was this is just the beginning of what these bastards can do if they start getting access to so-called modern weapons, and that it's not something you can live with any longer. So there needs to be a campaign, a strategy, a long-term effort, to root out these networks and to get governments out of the business of supporting them. But that wasn't something that was going to happen overnight.
Q: Right. So Iraq naturally came to the top of the list because of its history and the weapons of mass terror and all the rest, is that right?
Wolfowitz: Yes, plus the fact which seems to go unremarked in most places, that Saddam Hussein was the only international figure other than Osama bin Laden who praised the attacks of September 11th.
1. One reason, of course, was Hussein's WMD aspirations:
Bush: In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world -- and we will not allow it. (Applause.) This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations, and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country -- and America will not permit it. The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away. The danger must be confronted. We hope that the Iraqi regime will meet the demands of the United Nations and disarm, fully and peacefully. If it does not, we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed.But there were many other recognized reasons.
The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat.
Wolfowitz: The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue [WMD] that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason....
2. Another reason -- tied directly to the 9/11 attacks as a stated grievance of bin Laden's -- was to be able to remove American troops from Saudi Arabia, where they were needed to enforce the terms of the First Gulf War:
Wolfowitz: There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed--but it's huge--is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. It's been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things.3. And to make progress on the Israel-Palestine issue:
I don't want to speak in messianic terms. It's not going to change things overnight, but it's a huge improvement.
Q: Was that one of the arguments that was raised early on by you and others that Iraq actually does connect, not to connect the dots too much, but the relationship between Saudi Arabia, our troops being there, and bin Laden's rage about that, which he's built on so many years, also connects the World Trade Center attacks, that there's a logic of motive or something like that? Or does that read too much into --
Wolfowitz: No, I think it happens to be correct.
Bush: Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders. (Applause.) True leaders who strive for peace; true leaders who faithfully serve the people. A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful state that abandons forever the use of terror.4. And to remove instability in a vital region:
For its part, the new government of Israel -- as the terror threat is removed and security improves -- will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state -- (applause) -- and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end. (Applause.) And the Arab states will be expected to meet their responsibilities to oppose terrorism, to support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine, and state clearly they will live in peace with Israel.
Wolfowitz: The other thing is trying to get some progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I do think we have a better atmosphere for working on it now than we did before in all kinds of ways. Whether that's enough to make a difference is not certain, but I will be happy to go back and dig up the things I said a long time ago which is, while it undoubtedly was true that if we could make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue we would provide a better set of circumstances to deal with Saddam Hussein, but that it was equally true the other way around that if we could deal with Saddam Hussein it would provide a better set of circumstances for dealing with the Arab-Israeli issue.
Bush: Acting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long-term safety and stability of our world. The current Iraqi regime has shown the power of tyranny to spread discord and violence in the Middle East.5. And to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people under both the embargo and the tyranny:
Wolfowitz: I said on the record, I don't understand how people can really believe that removing this huge source of instability is going to be a cause of instability in the Middle East.
I understand what they're thinking about. I'm not blind to the uncertainties of this situation, but they just seem to be blind to the instability that that son of a bitch was causing. It's as though the fact that he was paying $25,000 per terrorist family and issuing regular threats to most friendly governments in the region and the long list of things was of no account and the only thing to think about was that there might be some inter-communal violence if he were removed.
Bush: The first to benefit from a free Iraq would be the Iraqi people, themselves. Today they live in scarcity and fear, under a dictator who has brought them nothing but war, and misery, and torture. Their lives and their freedom matter little to Saddam Hussein -- but Iraqi lives and freedom matter greatly to us.6. And to spread democracy, to reduce future conflict:
Wolfowitz: ...there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two.
Bush: The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East....A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.7. And to provide an ideological counterweight in Shia Islam to Iran:
Wolfowitz: We've understood very clearly that Iraq, especially the Shia population of Iraq, is both a source of danger and opportunity to the Iranians. I think it's more danger than it is opportunity. But the danger itself is incentive for them to try to intervene because the last thing they want to see, which I think is a real possibility, is an independent source of authority for the Shia religion emerging in a country that is democratic and pro-Western.8. And to strengthen the diplomacy of international institutions by backing up words with the credible threat of force:
Q: That's a --
Wolfowitz: There's going to be a huge struggle for the soul of Iraqi Shiism, there's no question about it.
Bush: In confronting Iraq, the United States is also showing our commitment to effective international institutions. We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We helped to create the Security Council. We believe in the Security Council -- so much that we want its words to have meaning.9. And to serve as a warning by making an example of someone:
High-minded pronouncements against proliferation mean little unless the strongest nations are willing to stand behind them -- and use force if necessary. After all, the United Nations was created, as Winston Churchill said, to "make sure that the force of right will, in the ultimate issue, be protected by the right of force."
Another resolution is now before the Security Council. If the council responds to Iraq's defiance with more excuses and delays, if all its authority proves to be empty, the United Nations will be severely weakened as a source of stability and order. If the members rise to this moment, then the Council will fulfill its founding purpose.
Q: And Iraq. When I think about it, these other three [North Korea, Syria, and Iran] that have now been brought up, being discussed, have actually been very kind of multinational and diplomatic and yet it's partly the threat of force that seems to strengthen the approach, doesn't it?
Wolfowitz: There's no question that in certain -- First of all, diplomacy that it's just words is rarely going to get you much unless you're dealing with people who basically share your values and your interests.
Bush: And by acting, we will signal to outlaw regimes that in this new century, the boundaries of civilized behavior will be respected.The war opponents have worked hard to make that strategic goal come to naught.
And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated.
10. And to sever links between Iraq and terrorists:
Bush: The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training, and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers.That makes 9 coherent reasons, other than the soundbite of WMD that has been myopically focused upon by the MSM, with an underlying long-term strategy stemming directly from the implications of 9/11.
Wolfowitz: That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there's the most disagreement within the bureaucracy, even though I think everyone agrees that we killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around, that we've arrested that al Qaeda guy in Baghdad who was connected to this guy Zarqawi whom Powell spoke about in his UN presentation.
So it's not like key administration officials didn't explain the whole thing three years ago!
Some critics have found something sinister in the idea that the administration considered removing Hussein right after 9/11, as if they were cynically using that as an excuse to do something they wished to do for nefarious reasons -- picking on poor old Saddam to get his oil!
Instead, we see it as an important cornerstone to a rational policy of long-term American interests and security.