For The Record — WHY There Weren’t WMD In Iraq

A standard Republican talking point about Iraq is that “everyone thought there were WMD” and then they cite statements by President Clinton and others.
Here’s what they are leaving out. At the end of 1998, after Iraq expelled* UN weapons inspectors, President Clinton ordered a bombing campaign that completely wiped out Iraq’s weapons capabilities. For good.

Clinton statement to the nation, Dec 16, 1998:

“Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.

U.S. Strikes at Iraqi Targets

… Warplanes aboard the USS Enterprise combined with more than 200 cruise missiles from eight Navy warships to converge on Iraqi targets at 5:06 p.m. EST (1:06 a.m. Baghdad time).

U.S. Steps Up Attack on Iraq

The attack by U.S. and British forces against Iraq broadened and intensified yesterday, as salvos of missiles pounded scores of targets throughout the country and the skies over the Iraqi capital filled with the flash of huge explosions, the smoke of distant conflagrations and the brilliant red tracings of antiaircraft fire.
The second wave of strikes by allied cruise missiles – by far the heaviest attack against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein since the end of the Gulf War in 1991 – came as Washington continued to be roiled by the historic question of President Clinton’s possible impeachment. The twin crises, each compelling enough to transfix the nation, overlapped and crescendoed throughout an extraordinary day.
… Officials said the latest strikes included about 100 cruise missiles – about half as many as on Wednesday, but with 2,000-pound warheads that were twice as large as those used the first night. Among the targets of the raid were air fields, chemical plants, missile production and storage facilities, air defense systems and Iraq’s surface-to-air missile sites, according to Pentagon officials.

U.S. Halts Attacks on Iraq After Four Days

Not a single U.S. or British casualty has been reported in about 70 hours of intensive airstrikes involving 650 sorties against nearly 100 targets. A total of 415 cruise missiles were launched, Pentagon officials said, including 325 Tomahawks fired by U.S. Navy forces and 90 heavier cruise missiles deployed from Air Force B-52s.
… “Saddam may rebuild, and attempt to rebuild, some of this military infrastructure in the future, just as he has replaced many facilities, including lavish palaces, after Desert Storm,” Cohen said, referring to the aftermath of the Gulf War. “But we have diminished his ability to threaten his neighbors with both conventional and nonconventional weapons.”

And then, following that attack, “Between 1999 and 2001, the U.S. and British-led air forces in Iraq dropped 1.3 million pounds of bombs in response to purported violations of the no-fly zones and anti-aircraft fire from Saddam Hussein.” (Thanks to Raw Story)
And, of course, the Republican reaction to Clinton wiping out Iraq’s WMD capabilities? (Keep in mind as you read this all their bluster about the supposed threat of WMD as they ramped up the propaganda leading to the war…) Republicans skeptical of Iraq attack on eve of impeachment vote

“I cannot support this military action in the Persian Gulf at this time,” Lott said in a statement. “Both the timing and the policy are subject to question.”
“The suspicion some people have about the president’s motives in this attack is itself a powerful argument for impeachment,” Armey said in a statement.

*Update – there is controversy in the comments over whether Iraq “expelled” the UNSCOM weapons inspectors in 1998. I’ve researched this. Some say Iraq was right to expell them because they were nothing more than spies for the U.S. Others say the U.S. withdrew the inspectors so they could bomb.
Apparently the record is that in October of 1998 Iraq stopped cooperating with the UN inspectors (UNSCOM) and then began to physically block them from inspections, and the inspectors left Iraq. According to the UN,

31 Oct 1998 Iraq announces that it will cease all forms of interaction with UNSCOM and its Chairman and to halt all UNSCOM’s activities inside Iraq, including monitoring. The Security Council, in a statement to the press, unanimously condemn Iraq’s decision to cease all cooperation with UNSCOM.

15 Dec 1998 The Special Commission reports to the Security-General concerning UNSCOM’s activities and the status of Iraq’s cooperation with the Commission in the period since 14 November 1998. The Executive Chairman concludes that Iraq did not provide the full cooperation it had promised on 14 November 1998 (S/1998/1172)
16 Dec 1998 The Special Commission withdraws its staff from Iraq.

According to the Arms Control Association, Iraq Blocks UNSCOM Monitoring; Security Council Calls for Review,

ESCALATING ITS standoff with the UN Security Council, Iraq announced on October 31 that it would no longer allow inspectors from the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) to monitor sites in Iraq for prohibited weapons activities. On August 5, Baghdad suspended inspections by UNSCOM, which oversees chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missile programs, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which handles nuclear issues, into Iraq’s past weapons activities. Iraq’s announcement specified only UNSCOM’s monitoring activities, but will likely affect IAEA’s monitoring work as well, since the IAEA depends heavily on UNSCOM for logistical support. … The Security Council issued a statement on October 31 condemning Iraq’s action and demanding that Baghdad “rescind immediately and unconditionally” the bans on both monitoring and inspections.

“Expell” was the wrong word. “Forced out” might have been a better choice. (Iraq had agreed to allow inspectors as a condition of ending the Gulf war.)
Slactivist has some interesting additions.

30 thoughts on “For The Record — WHY There Weren’t WMD In Iraq

  1. Hm, well they were still looking into starting their nuclear program up again. Why do you think they were seeking (unsuccessfully) yellowcake from Niger? A fact which was confirmed by Joe Wilson’s official report.

  2. Well, that is a fact supported by the intelligence community. Lies (and hate) are what this site trafficks in/

  3. At the end of 1998, after Iraq expelled UN weapons inspectors, President Clinton ordered a bombing campaign that completely wiped out Iraq’s weapons capabilities.
    What’s your evidence for this, Dave? As far as all published evidence goes, all such capabilities were destroyed in the early 90’s. I know of no evidence that Clinton’s bombing campaign did anything other than cause the inspectors to leave Iraq.

  4. And, of course, I completely skipped over your biggest lie, the “big lie” that “Iraq expelled UN weapons inspectors,” debunked here. Why do you repeat right-wing talking points; I thought this was a progressive blog?

  5. You might try looking at Dave’s references, which are dated articles in the Washington Post. Or don’t you consider articles and news reports in reputable newspapers “evidence?” What’s your problem?

  6. It is BUSH who is lying when he said Iraq kicked out the weapons inspectors. Weapons inspectors were in Iraq and Bush ordered them out because he was starting the war.
    The CLINTON situation was because Iraq DID kick out the inspectors.
    There is a good timeline here. From the timeline:
    August 5, 1998
    * Iraq suspends all cooperation with UNSCOM teams.
    August 26, 1998
    * Scott Ritter resigns from UNSCOM, sharply criticized the Clinton administration and the U.N. Security Council for not being vigorous enough about insisting that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction be destroyed. Ritter also accused U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan of assisting Iraqi efforts at impeding UNSCOM’s work. “Iraq is not disarming,” Ritter said, and in a second statement, “Iraq retains the capability to launch a chemical strike.”
    September 9, 1998
    * The UN Security Council passes a resolution which once again condemns Iraq’s lack of cooperation with inspectors.
    October 31, 1998
    * Iraq ends all forms of cooperation with the UNSCOM teams and expels inspectors from the country.
    * U.S. President Clinton signed into law HR 4655, the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.
    November 13-14, 1998
    * US President Clinton orders airstrikes on Iraq. Clinton then calls it off at the last minute when Iraq promises once again to unconditionally cooperate with UNSCOM
    November 18, 1998
    * UNSCOM inspectors return to Iraq.
    November 23-26, 1998
    * According to UNSCOM, Iraq ends cooperation with UNSCOM inspectors, alternately intimidating and withholding information from them.
    November 30, 1998
    * Butler meets with US National Security Advisor Sandy Berger to coordinate timelines for a possible military strike against Iraq
    December 11, 1998
    * Iraq announces that weapons inspections will no longer take place on Friday, the Muslim day of rest. Iraq also refuses to provide test data from the production of missiles and engines.
    December 13, 1998
    * US President Clinton secretly approves an attack on Iraq.
    December 15, 1998
    * Richard Butler reports to the UN Security Council that Iraq is still blocking inspections.
    December 16-19, 1998
    * UNSCOM withdraws all weapons inspectors from Iraq.
    * Saddam Hussein’s failure to provide unfettered access to UN arms inspectors led Washington and London to hit 100 Iraqi targets in four days of bombing as part of Operation Desert Fox. The US government urged UNSCOM executive chairman Richard Butler to withdraw, and “[a] few hours before the attack began, 125 UN personnel were hurriedly evacuated from Baghdad to Bahrain, including inspectors from the UN Special Commission on Iraq and the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
    December 19, 1998
    * Iraqi vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan announces that Iraq will no longer cooperate and declares that UNSCOM’s “mission is over.”

  7. First of all, MJ, the Washington Post articles prove that the U.S. attacked Iraq. They most certainly do not prove that the Clinton bombing campaign wiped out Iraq’s weapons capabilities. Read the articles. Here’s what the first one says:
    Administration officials disclosed few details about the attacks, which they said were aimed at Iraq’s military command and control, air defenses and weapons production facilities.
    Here’s from the second:
    Among the targets of the raid were air fields, chemical plants, missile production and storage facilities, air defense systems and Iraq’s surface-to-air missile sites, according to Pentagon officials.
    Nothing about WMD, until we get to this assertion:
    As some details of the operation were revealed, it emerged that the airstrikes were aimed at the apparatus that makes it possible for Iraq to produce, store, guard and control weapons of mass destruction.
    Note the ambiguity: “makes it possible for Iraq…” No evidence that there were WMD, or WMD programs, because there is no evidence those existed after the early 90’s. The second article further reveals some of the other targets: “the headquarters of the Iraqi security police..the military intelligence services headquarters.” These attacks were aimed at softening up Iraq for a future invasion, but had nothing to do with WMD.
    As far as kicking out the inspectors, read the linked FAIR article. Here’s the only relevant timeline: “On December 15, 1998, the head of the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq, Richard Butler, released a report accusing Iraq of not fully cooperating with inspections. The next day, Butler withdrew his inspectors from Iraq, in anticipation of a U.S.-British bombing campaign, and that evening, a four-day bombing campaign (using targets specified by some of the inspectors, whose role as spies was later revealed) began, under orders from President Bill Clinton.

  8. By the way, the timeline above is not correct. Take a look at this link which provides a day by day detailed coverage of events (the link takes you through Oct. 31; for some reason you have to go through November one day at a time). What you’ll find is that Iraq did “suspend cooperation with UNSCOM” on Oct. 31 (hardly surprising since Clinton signed the “Iraq Liberation Act” into law that day), but they did not expel the inspectors as the timeline above (from says they did.

  9. Changing the subject once again, the key attack on the standard “Republican talking point” is this: Everyone did not say that Iraq had WMD. Everyone said it was possible or probable that Iraq had WMD, or that Iraq hadn’t proved conclusively that they had destroyed all their WMD, but only the Bush administration (and, most especially Cheney) said Iraq DID have WMD, NO DOUBT about it. And that is a HUGE difference.
    And, of course, only the Bush Administration (and the Blair government) said that the danger was SO GREAT and SO IMMINENT that the inspectors couldn’t be allowed to complete their work and the war had to begin IMMEDIATELY in March, 2003. And that is another HUGE difference.


  11. Here are the three things listed on Oct. 31, none of them refer to the “expulsion” of inspectors from Iraq. Nor do any of the news fragments from Nov. 1 on when you look at those.
    Iraq Suspends UNSCOM Monitoring Iraq News 31 October 1998 — Yesterday, the UNSC reached agreement on a reply to Iraq’s demand for a comprehensive review. Today, the RCC and Ba’th party leadership met and announced the suspension of UNSCOM monitoring.
    STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT 31 October 1998 — Today I am signing into law H.R. 4655, the “Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.” This Act makes clear that it is the sense of the Congress that the United States should support those elements of the Iraqi opposition that advocate a very different future for Iraq.

  12. Eli – You come to my site and call me a liar. Classy.
    What is your point here? On the one hand you seem to be saying that Clinton shouldn’t have bombed Iraq’s WMD facilities. But then you seem to be saying that Clinton didn’t do enough to destroy Iraq’s WMD.
    You also seem to have confused Clinton with Bush. Bush started a war. Clinton avoided a war.
    Are you just trolling for hits on your site, or what? What are you trying to accomlish?

  13. You don’t seem to be reading what I’m writing very carefully. I didn’t say Clinton shouldn’t have bombed Iraq’s WMD faciliites. I didn’t say he didn’t do enough to destroy Iraq’s WMDs. What I said was THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THERE WERE ANY WMDs IN 1998 TO BE DESTROYED, and that Clinton’s bombing raids destroyed all sorts of things, but THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT ANY OF WHAT WAS DESTROYED WAS EITHER WMDs OR WMD FACILITIES.
    Furthermore, I said nothing about who started a war. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, although Clinton’s bombing raids (heavy for that brief period in 1998), but almost continuous throughout the period in terms of the “no-fly zones” did plenty of damage. We’re talking about whether Saddam “kicked out” the inspectors, either under Clinton or under Bush. And I’ve pointed you to evidence that the answer is NO in both cases, that in both cases the inspectors were withdrawn, in advance of Clinton’s bombing in on case, and in advance of an invasion in Bush’s case.
    And, to be clear, I have never called you a “liar.” I posted here to correct misinformation which you posted. I assume you were just mistaken; I hardly called you a liar nor do I think you are one.
    As far as hits on my site, I have plenty of those, I hardly need to troll on your site for them. I posted here for one reason and one reason only, to try to set the record straight (and, in my later posts, to try to help you and your readers understand the real way to attack the Republican talking points, without relying on distorted or misunderstood history).

  14. UN inspectors withdrew in December 1998 because they knew the US was about to bomb Iraq. I know of no evidence which proves that the bombings ended Iraqi programs and the Iraq Survey Group did conclude that Iraq’s chemical and nuclear programs basically ended in 1991. The bio program ended a few years later, but before 1998.
    Now, about this “everyone thought they had WMD” argument:
    An ugly truth is that chemical arms are incredibly easy to manufacture. A country with a pesticide factory or a really good lab can make some very bad stuff. Mustard gas was used in the first World War (roughly 90 years ago) and killed 1000s of people.
    This is why very many analysts thought Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction,” though the terminology is misleading since delivery of chemicals isn’t nearly as easy as manufacture.
    If the US attacked every country that could make chemical weapons, it would have to bomb dozens of nation-states.
    In contrast, by the time the IAEA reported in March 2003, very few people thought Iraq had an extensive nuclear program.
    Many Dems who voted for the Iraq war resolution in October 2002 were quite skeptical about the urgency of war in March 2003. After all, the inspections were proceeding and no weapons had been found.
    Republicans want to pretend as if the evidence from 1990 or 1998 or even 2002 (there was no new evidence gathered from 1998 through 2002) is as meaningful as the evidence the UN and IAEA gathered in early 2003.

  15. Harry Reid forces the US Senate into a closed session and suddenly becomes a nuclear (option) bomb squad

    It was a move that left Bill Frist personally affronted and took Republicans by surprise, yet was foretold by Senator Jay Rockefeller in a statement he released on October 28th. Harry Reid closed down the US Senate in a special session to discuss the a…

  16. You just wrote: “And, to be clear, I have never called you a “liar.”
    In an earlier comment you wrote: “And, of course, I completely skipped over your biggest lie

  17. I stand corrected and I apologize. I definitely meant to characterize that CHARGE as “the big lie”, but I didn’t mean to say (which I did, I’m afraid) that YOU were a liar. Merely mistaken. My dander was raised by the fact that this is such an old, oft-repeated misstatement. If you read the FAIR analysis of it, you’ll find that even the New York Times has had to apologize in print for printing this claim.

  18. Now that Eli has apologized for calling you a liar, maybe you (Dave Johnson) could go back and correct your post, because Eli is right. Bush’s lies built on Clinton’s lies. Bush’s lies were worse, of course, because he actually took us to war over them and went further in his claims, but some of the groundwork was laid by Clinton. That’s what’s so regrettable about the current political situation–we have to support the Democrats in their much delayed push to get Bush to come clean, but unfortunately the Democrats aren’t completely pure either.

  19. Thanks Eli and Rodger! Refuting the Republican BS needn’t require us to create, or buy into, other BS.

    Even Pericles, who was shut down, has a point — the Senate report Did Say that the intelligence community felt that part of Wilson’s report (the part where he said Nigerian officials had been approached about ‘expanding trade’ with Iraq) tended to support the view that Iraq was Seeking uranium — though Wilson’s Other Conclusion, that Iraq couldn’t Get unranium from Niger, even if it Tried, remains valid.

    Dave, thanks for the site — but don’t be so eager to leap on others for calling ‘liar’ — you did it too…

  20. Dave,
    This whole issue is smoke and noise.
    Bush lied, and lied his ass off big time. The use of President Clinton at this late date is little more than the last refuge for cornered Bushists.
    Marsh Wittman is dumping a smelly load of *#+! about Iraq as well, and you ought to see that one over at American Prospect! (hattip to Atrios)
    Dave, there is so much dis-information, and mis-information out there that I think even Rove is confused now.
    Blame Clinton….bah. Talk about your false pathos at the end of the day for cornered Bushists!

  21. Don’t know enough to completely endorse Eli Stephens claims above, but he’s right about WMD—all evidence I’ve heard about is that WMD were gone by 1995 (probably earlier).
    And IIRC inspectors were withdrawn because of the bombing, but I’m not so clear on that.
    The big difference between Clinton’s and Bush’s records is indeed that the latter took us to full-scale war. But Clinton’s record isn’t anything to be proud about—it just stands out in comparison to the complete strategic disaster initiated by Bush.

  22. For all of the above claims that there is “no evidence” that Clinton’s ’98 WMD-focused bombing destroyed Iraq’s WMD capabilities:
    Most of Saddam’s WMD programs were dismantled in ’92-’93. There was significant evidence that some facilities/capabilities were being reinstated by the late ’90s – as attested above by UNSCOM (“Iraq retains the capability to launch a chemical strike.” – if you refuse to treat UNSCOM’s on-the-ground assessment as valid, then we can have no discussion). And as we all know, when the inspectors went in in the fall of ’02, they found nothing.
    Do you have trouble with math? WMD in 2002=0. WMD in 1998= >0. So something happened to the WMD between the inspectors being in Iraq in the summer and early fall of 1998 and returning in the fall of 2002. Occam’s razor suggests that millions of tons of ordnance directed at potential WMD sites just might have had something to do with it.

  23. I think I can cut this to the chase here. If Bush hadn’t gone to War in March 2002 then he never would have been able to go to war because we would all know what we know now, which is that Iraq didn’t have WMD’s. The WMD lie was about to be found out by the fact that Iraq had been allowing the Weapons Inspectors to do their work. Hussain was about to win this 12 year stand-off and get Sanctions finally lifted for being WMD free. This was more than an Iraq-War-Obsessed administration could deal with. A March 2002 invasion was the last chance for a WMD lie to work. Also, its been bugging me that the story has been that Valarie Plame was outed to get back at Wilson, which although I do think these Republicans can be that petty I can’t help but think something more has been going on here. Valarie Plam was working on the WMD issue and probably had her curiosity aroused when the CIA appointed Wilson to go to Niger to investigate. They probably outed her and shut down her whole clandistine operation because Valarie began looking at the same Italian connection to the forged documents that Fitzgerald has become interested in. It looks to me like the outing was more to stop an undercover CIA NOC from finding the truth then to “get even” with Wilson. This is only one of many examples of Bush having good CIA opps removed and replaced with loyalists willing to propagandize for Bush instead of speaking truth to power. Now who wants to call me a lier for saying that the CIA was who sent Wilson and not his wife?

  24. Eli’s point is that in 1998 there wasn’t necessarily anything left TO bomb.
    Bottom line is that after 1998, there was no WMD justification, as demonstrated by the 2003 inspections.

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