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Context of 'September 16, 2002: Bush: Iraq a ‘Grave and Gathering Danger’ to World'

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Bush addresses the nation from the White House.
Bush addresses the nation from the White House. [Source: White House]From the White House Oval Office, President Bush gives a seven-minute address to the nation on live television. [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 31] He says, “I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice.” In what will later be called the Bush Doctrine, he states, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” [US President, 9/17/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Washington Post reporter Dan Balz will later comment that this “those who harbor them” statement “set the tone for where the administration was going both with Afghanistan and, I think, with Iraq.” Bush’s speechwriter at the time, David Frum, will later say: “When he laid down those principles, I don’t know whether he foresaw all of their implications, how far they would take him. I don’t know if he understood fully and foresaw fully the true radicalism of what he had just said.” Neoconservatives see hope that the words could lead to an invasion of Iraq. Author and former National Security Council staffer Kenneth Pollack will comment, “It does seem very clear that after September 11th, this group seized upon the events of September 11th to resurrect their policy of trying to go after Saddam Hussein and a regime change in Iraq.” [PBS Frontline, 2/20/2003] Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived back from Peru too late to influence the content of this pivotal speech (see (Between 7:40 p.m. and 8:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Dan Balz, Colin Powell, Kenneth Pollack, David Frum, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will, in 2008, write: “As soon as [President] Bush decided to confront Iraq, the groundwork for a public campaign began to be laid. The new doctrine on preemption (see Fall 2002) was part of the elaborate effort. So was the gradual ratcheting up of the rhetoric from late 2001 into 2002. Before 9/11, our rhetoric about Iraq had focused on warning Saddam Hussein not to develop weapons of mass destruction, while the policy centered on containing him with enhanced sanctions (see February 2001).… But by late November, the president was not ruling out military action against Iraq and he was saying that Iraq would be held accountable if it was found to be developing WMD.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 135-136]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In the lead-up to the war, top Bush administration officials make strong statements asserting that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. The administration claims that it has incontrovertible evidence, though no such evidence is disclosed to the public—neither before nor after the invasion. [Chicago Tribune, 2/7/2002; Daily Telegraph, 8/21/2002; Guardian, 8/22/2002; White House, 8/26/2002; US Department of Defense, 9/3/2002; Associated Press, 9/3/2002; United Press International, 9/3/2002; Associated Press, 9/8/2002; NewsMax, 9/8/2002; PBS, 9/12/2002; US President, 9/16/2002; US President, 10/14/2002; CBC News, 12/5/2002; Associated Press, 1/7/2003; White House, 1/9/2003; US President, 2/3/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; White House, 3/21/2003; US President, 3/24/2003; Age (Melbourne), 6/7/2003; Village Voice, 6/18/2003; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/13/2003; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 7/17/2003; Fox News, 8/20/2003; Associated Press, 12/5/2003] Then-deputy press secretary Scott McClellan later observes: “[A]s the campaign [to sell the Iraq war to the American public] accelerated, caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded. Evidence based on high confidence from the intelligence community was lumped together with intelligence of lesser confidence. A nuclear threat was added to the biological and chemical threats to create a greater sense of urgency. Support for terrorism was given greater weight by playing up dubious al-Qaeda connections to Iraq. When it was all packaged together, the case constituted a ‘grave and gathering danger’ (see September 16, 2002) that needed to be dealt with urgently.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 144-145]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House deputy press secretary, will write of President Bush’s lowering of accepted standards to allow for a pre-emptive war. McClellan will write: “Bush was now lowering the bar for engaging in pre-emptive war, a step that might have been more widely viewed as radical had it occurred prior to 9/11. The [Bush] doctrine (see 8:30 p.m. September 11, 2001) unambiguously stated that while the United States would always proceed deliberately and carefully weigh the consequences of actions, it would not hesitate to use force if necessary to preempt not just an ‘imminent’ threat but a ‘grave and gathering’ one if need be (see September 16, 2002). It was based on the assumption that waiting for a threat to become imminent before acting would likely mean that we would respond too late. And this new principle encoded in our new national security strategy was clearly aimed in part in paving the way to removing Saddam Hussein from power by force.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 134]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In a speech in Davenport, Iowa, President Bush reiterates his talking points against Iraq: Saddam Hussein’s harsh treatment of his citizens, its disregard and duplicity regarding United Nations resolutions, and its support for Islamist terrorism. Together, these make Iraq into “a grave and gathering danger” that must be dealt with. Bush says: “My nation will work with the UN Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced—the just demands of peace and security will be met—or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose his power.” Scott McClellan, currently the deputy White House press secretary, will later write, “In a White House that prided itself on message discipline, Bush’s speech provided the new talking points for ‘educating the public about the threat’ (as we described our campaign to sell the war).” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 119-120] In the morning press gaggle, McClellan softpedals the president’s message somewhat: “The president will continue to consult with the international community and Congress as we move forward, and he will continue to talk to the American people as we move forward on any particular course of action. That is something he is doing now, and that is something he will continue to do. But what needs to happen right now is that the UN needs to act, and they need to back up their actions with enforcement. And that’s where our focus is, and we’re pleased with the emerging consensus from the international community around the president’s call for the UN to act.” [White House, 9/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, United Nations, Scott McClellan, United Nations Security Council

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

According to a poll just released by Dartmouth professor Benjamin Valentino, 63 percent of self-identified Republicans still believe that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when the US invaded in March 2003 (see March 19, 2003). Twenty-seven percent of self-identified independents and 15 percent of self-identified Democrats hold that view. The question was: “Do you believe that the following statement is true or not true? ‘Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.’” Reporter Dan Froomkin, commenting on the poll results, writes: “The Bush administration’s insistence that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and might give them to terrorists was a key selling point in its campaign to take the country to war (see September 30, 2001, 2002-2003, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 21, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 23, 2003, March 24, 2003, March 30, 2003, Late March 2003 and After, April 10, 2003, April 20, 2003, Between April 20, 2003 and April 30, 2003, May 28, 2003, May 29, 2003, June 2003, June 1, 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11, 2003, July 31, 2003, September 14, 2003, January 22, 2004, and March 24, 2004). It turned out to be untrue.… There is no reality-based argument that Iraq actually had WMD, after extensive searches found none (see 2002-March 2003, 2002, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, May 2002-September 2002, September 2002, Late September 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, Before October 7, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, December 3, 2002, January 9, 2003, January 28-29, 2003, February 20, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 4, 2003, May 25, 2003, May 30, 2003, June 2003, Early June 2003-Mid-June 2003, Between June 3, 2003 and June 17, 2003, Mid-June 2003, Early July 2003, July 11, 2003, July 20, 2003, July 29, 2003, July 30, 2003, August 16, 2003, October 2, 2003, October 2003, November 2, 2003, December 2003, December 2003, December 17, 2003, Mid-January 2004, January 20, 2004, January 23, 2004, January 27, 2004, January 28, 2004, February 8, 2004, and July 9, 2004), but this is hardly the first time many Americans have been certain of something that simply wasn’t true” (see May 14, 2003-May 18, 2003). The 65-question poll was conducted by YouGov from April 26 through May 2, 2012, and surveyed 1,056 respondents. It has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.18 percent. [Valentino, 6/20/2012 pdf file; Jim Lobe, 6/20/2012; Huffington Post, 6/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Dan Froomkin, Saddam Hussein, Benjamin Valentino

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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