So, people have criticised the decision of the “Coalition of the Willing” to go to war with Iraq. Said criticism is often based on the fact that Iraq did not pose an imminent threat. From this, a conclusion is drawn by some anti-war types that the Coalition misled us, because the Coalition based their argument for war on the idea that Iraq was an imminent threat, when it wasn’t.
The jump in the reasoning here is pretty obvious. As the pro-war pundits ask, when did anyone in the Coalition say Iraq was an imminent threat? Indeed, said pundits do even better, citing this quote from George Bush’s State of the Union address:
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.
On this evidence, they say, Bush is “clearly conceding that the threat from Saddam was not imminent”, therefore, anti-war types are wrong to say we were misled.
Except “clearly conceding” may perhaps be overstating it. Indeed, it’s kind of fun to apply somewhat pedantic standards to the Bush quote. Bush did not say that “Iraq is an imminent threat”. He did not say that in the State of the Union speech, and he in fact never said that. However, Bush at no point said that “Iraq is not an imminent threat”. The State of the Union quote is not a clear statement on what the administration thought with respect to the imminence of any Iraqi threat; it’s merely a representation as to what “some have said”.
Splitting those hairs, I think that you can cite the State of the Union quote to show that, at least in that address, Bush did not explicitly base his case for war on the imminence of the threat. But the quote is equivocal on the question of whether the Coalition did in fact characterise Iraq as an imminent threat. Those are quite different issues.
On my reading, the quote simply says that, since “terrorists and tyrants” do not in general put “us on notice before they strike”, the only way to find out if the threat is imminent is the hard way. In other words, this quote is a variation on Bush’s “mushroom cloud” remark:
Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
This quote is about Iraq, and it would appear to indicate an imminent threat.
Furthermore, it’s not the only such quote. There’s more in that same “mushroom cloud” speech of October 7, 2002:
Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.
He goes on to say that Iraq is “a threat whose outlines are far more clearly defined” than Al Qaeda.
Donald Rumsfeld, testifying on September 18, 2002 before the House Armed Services Committee:
There are a number of terrorist states pursuing weapons of mass destruction — Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria to name but a few. But no terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent, that Saddam Hussein is at least five to seven years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain.
But we should be just as concerned about the immediate threat from biological weapons. Iraq has these weapons. They’re simpler to deliver and even more readily transferred to terrorist networks, who could allow Iraq to deliver them without Iraq’s fingerprints.
You’ll remember this from the first British “dossier“:
Iraq’s military forces are able to use chemical and biological weapons, with command, control and logistical arrangements in place. The Iraqi military are able to deploy these weapons within 45 minutes of a decision to do so.
Which sounds fairly imminent to me. Also, from the White House press briefing of May 7, 2003:
Q Well, we went to war, didn’t we, to find these — because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn’t that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Or maybe you prefer October 16, 2002:
Q Ari, the President has been saying that the threat from Iraq is imminent, that we have to act now to disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, and that it has to allow the U.N. inspectors in, unfettered, no conditions, so forth.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
While the Ari Fleischer quotes don’t show that Bush said the threat was imminent, they do show a certain ease in allowing people to make this assumption.
In view of this, it’s no surprise that, as Tim Blair puts it [referring to an “‘imminent threat’ myth”]:
Jesse Jackson believes it…So does Gary Sauer-Thompson…And, going back a few months, Tim Dunlop, too.
Indeed, many people think “…the Bush Administration believe[d] that [Saddam] posed an imminent danger”, or that Bush and Blair “certainly articulated” a “case for urgency”. Or so said David Horowitz and William Kristol. Will Andrew Sullivan add them to his “imminence watch“?
Also, a funny compendium of the Bush administration’s greatest hits.