This coming week, President Bush will head to the United Nations to try to rally international support for his Iraq endeavor. After addressing the General Assembly, he is scheduled to stick around to lobby various heads of state–particularly France’s Jacque Chirac and Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder–in an attempt to win commitments of troops and money. Bush’s targets ought to view this effort warily. For if Bush’s last speech to the UN is any guide, he can be expected to mangle the truth in order to get his way.
A year ago, Bush kicked off his public campaign against Iraq with a much-anticipated General Assembly address. Shortly before the speech, White House chief of staff Andrew Card quipped, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” And Bush’s appearance at the UN did seem to mark the rollout of his latest product: confrontation with Iraq. It was a launch that just happened to coincide with the emotion-rich first anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
In the speech, Bush fingered Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as the home of the “most lethal and aggressive forms” of dangers threatening the United States and international security. He accurately described the brutality of Hussein’s regime and recounted Hussein’s history of defying UN resolutions. But he also depicted Iraq as an immediate threat that was loaded with chemical and biological weapons and close to developing nuclear weapons. UN inspectors, Bush said, had “revealed that Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.”
This was sleight of hand. UN inspections had ended four years earlier. How could they have “revealed” the present-day “rebuilding and expanding” of chemical weapons facilities? More seriously, Bush was misrepresenting the findings of the inspectors. The inspectors had not declared that Iraq was maintaining WMD stockpiles. The UN inspection force that searched Iraq in the 1990s–the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM)–had reported that it had dismantled the key facilities Iraq used to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and that it had destroyed significant amounts of chemical and biological weapons. But the UNSCOM inspectors had encountered major discrepancies in the accounting of Iraq’s weapons and WMD material. They found that Iraq could have produced more weapons than the inspectors had uncovered or Iraq had acknowledged. That did not mean, though, Iraq was maintaining large WMD reserves. Bush deceptively turned unaccounted-for material into here-and-now weapons.
On the subject of biological weapons, Bush said that “UN inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared.” That was an inaccurate description of the inspectors’ view. For example, Iraq claimed it had produced 8,445 liters of anthrax and then had destroyed this supply. The UN inspectors deduced that Hussein’s regime had maintained the production capacity to manufacture 22,000 to 39,000 liters. Had Iraq used its full capacity and produced all that anthrax? The inspectors were not sure. It was a possibility that required further examination. The UN’s WMD-searchers also suspected that 10,000 liters of anthrax had not been destroyed and might still exist. But to the UN inspectors, this was an unresolved question–a serious one–but not an established fact.