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Thursday, January 15, 2004

The Disarmament Mission

The news stories about Paul O'Neill have again raised questions about the importance of "regime change" to US Iraq policy. Was the US planning to topple Saddam Hussein from the beginning of the Bush administration? Or, did 9/11 change the way the US thought about Iraq, as the President often asserts? Why do so many of the President's supporters now fall back on the humanitarian argument? Were 9/11 and WMD truly important, or not?

I've done a little digging...

First, consider the responses of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who had the following exchange with Tim Russert on his October 20, 2002 interview on NBC's "Meet the Press." Powell said US Iraq policy was focused on disarmament, not regime change:
MR. RUSSERT: Some who support the Iraqi position of allow us more time, give us inspections, are saying, "Mr. United States, you're saying to us in Iraq, `Give us complete unfettered access. And guess what? Even if you do, there's going to be a regime change.'"

I asked you when you were on a month ago, could you have disarmament without regime change? You told the USA Today that is it perhaps possible that if Saddam Hussein disarmed completely he could stay in power. True?

SECRETARY POWELL: What I said was that if Saddam disarmed entirely and satisfied the international community, that, in effect, would be a change in attitude and a change in the way the regime is looking at its situation in the world, and it was consistent with what the President has said previously and subsequently.

MR. RUSSERT: So he can save himself, in effect, and remain in power --

SECRETARY POWELL: All we are interested in is getting rid of those weapons of mass destruction. We think the Iraqi people would be a lot better off with a different leader, a different regime, but the principal offense here are weapons of mass destruction, and that's what this resolution is working on. There are many other resolutions that he has violated, with respect to human rights, with respect to threatening his neighbors, with respect to return of prisoners. All of those, I think, have to be dealt with in due course. But the major issue before us is disarmament. And remember where regime change came from. It came out of the previous administration; it came out of the Congress in 1998 when it was thought the only way to get rid of weapons of mass destruction was to change the regime. And we will see whether they are going to cooperate or not.

The issue right now is not even how tough an inspection regime it is or isn't. The question is will Saddam and the Iraqi regime cooperate, really, really cooperate and let the inspectors do their job. If the inspectors do their job and we can satisfy the world community that they are disarmed, that's one path. If we can't satisfy the world community that they are disarmed, that takes us down another path.
Based on Powell's remarks, it seems like Saddam Hussein could have remained in power had he disarmed (which he apparently did).

The President himself was a little more ambiguous in his statements on this matter, implying that Hussein had to meet a larger number of goals:
However, if he [Hussein] were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I've described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed.
Bush said something very similar in the October 7, 2002, Cincinnati speech outlining alleged threats from Iraq.

There's more. In the famous "scripted" National Press Conference just before the war started in March 2003, President Bush pretty clearly focused on WMD as the primary justification for war. These are the responses to two questions (about whether Iraq might become like Vietnam and about the last-minute British proposal to set a deadline for Iraq to act:
Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament. And in order to disarm, it would mean regime change. I'm confident we'll be able to achieve that objective, in a way that minimizes the loss of life. No doubt there's risks in any military operation; I know that. But it's very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won't change. Our mission is precisely what I just stated.

Anything that's debated must have resolution to this issue. It makes no sense to allow this issue to continue on and on, in the hopes that Saddam Hussein disarms. The whole purpose of the debate is for Saddam to disarm. We gave him a chance. As a matter of fact, we gave him 12 years of chances. But, recently, we gave him a chance, starting last fall. And it said, last chance to disarm. The resolution said that. And had he chosen to do so, it would be evident that he's disarmed.
Feel free to refer to these statements next time someone says that the Iraq war wasn't "just" about WMD.

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