"And I analyzed a thorough body of intelligence -- good, solid, sound intelligence -- that led me to come to the conclusion that it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
"We gave the world a chance to do it. Twelve times the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions in recognition of the threat that he posed. And the difference was, is that some were not willing to act on those resolutions. We were -- along with a lot of other countries -- because he posed a threat."
--President George W. Bush, July 30, 2003
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the intelligence cited by President Bush regarding Iraqi military capabilities in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq was in fact neither good, nor solid, nor sound and that the Iraqi regime – while, like a number of Middle East governments, undeniably repressive – was not actually a serious threat to the United States or any other country.
Perhaps of even greater significance, however, is that the president’s statements during his Wednesday press conference grossly distorted the role of the United Nations and the international community.
First of all, there was nothing in those twelve resolutions that implied that the Iraqi government had to be overthrown. While warning Iraq of “serious consequences” for noncompliance, the resolutions simply demanded that the Iraqi government needed to rid itself of its weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems, and related programs, and to have its disarmament verified by UN inspectors.
Second, the United Nations was already acting on alleged Iraqi noncompliance with these resolutions by targeting Iraq with the most rigorous international military and economic sanctions and the most invasive inspections regime in world history.
Third, UN Security Council resolution 1441, the most important resolution dealing with Iraq in recent years, declared that only the weapons inspectors -- not UN member states -- had the authority to report Iraqi violations. The inspectors did not report any violations of serious consequence. Furthermore, the resolution stated that the Security Council "remains seized of the matter," meaning that it alone had the authority to approve the use of force. The 1990 Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq applied only to the enforcement of previous resolutions calling for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait (which were fully met by the end of February 1991), nothing more. The United Nations never authorized the use of force to enforce any subsequent resolutions. According to the UN Charter, of which the United States is a signatory and is therefore bound by its provisions, UN resolutions cannot be enforced militarily without the explicit authorization of the UN Security Council.
Fourth, the centerpiece of U.S. accusations that Iraq was violating these resolutions was the Bush Administration's claims that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems and development programs that it was hiding from UN inspectors. So far, however, the United States has failed to show any evidence that Iraq actually has had any of the proscribed materials or development programs since the mid-1990s. Once the Iraqi government allowed UN inspectors to return in the fall of 2002, one could make the case that Iraq was no longer in violation of these resolutions.
Finally, it is important to remember that there are over ninety UN Security Council resolutions currently being violated by countries other than Iraq, most of which receive U.S. military, economic and diplomatic support, raising serious questions regarding the Bush Administration's actual commitment to the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions.
The distortions do not end here. At the same press conference, in response to the failure of UN inspectors and subsequent U.S. occupation forces to find evidence of an ongoing WMD program, President Bush stated that “I'm confident that our search will yield that which I strongly believe, that Saddam had a weapons program. I want to remind you, he actually used his weapons program on his own people at one point in time, which is pretty tangible evidence.”
No one, however, questions that Iraq had active biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs during the 1980s, the period when Saddam Hussein's regime used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq. The UN Security Council demanded an end to such programs in 1991 under resolution 687 and most evidence suggests that these programs were indeed eliminated by the mid-1990s. Ironically, the United States quietly supported Saddam Hussein's regime during this earlier period when the regime actually was developing weapons of mass destruction and invaded Iraq after these programs were apparently no longer in existence.
President Bush concluded by stating “I’m confident history will prove the decision we made to be the right decision.” That may only be possible however, if he continues to distort history and a compliant news media allows him to get away with it.
Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He serves as Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project , where this article first appeared, and is the author of 'Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism' .