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Context of 'August 26, 2002: Cheney Says Hussein Has WMDs, Must Be Countered'

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Cheney speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars.Cheney speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. [Source: White House]In a speech to the Nashville convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vice President Dick Cheney says Saddam Hussein will “seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.” He also states unequivocally that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.… What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.… Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined,” he says. “The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.… The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents, and they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.” Therefore he argues, the answer is not weapons inspections. “Against that background, a person would be right to question any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then our worries will be over. Saddam has perfected the game of shoot and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions.” He also says: “Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace.” [White House, 8/26/2002]
First White House Assertion of Iraq's Nuclear Program - Cheney’s speech marks the first major statement from the White House regarding the Bush administration’s Iraq policy following a flood of criticisms from former officials. Significantly, the speech was not cleared by the CIA or the State Department. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002] Furthermore, Cheney’s comments dismissing the need for the return of inspectors, were not cleared by President Bush, according to White House chief of staff Andrew Card. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002] The speech creates a media stir because it is the first time a senior US official has asserted Iraq has nuclear capabilities with such certainty. The CIA is astonished by the claim. CIA official Jami Miscik will later recall: “He said that Saddam was building his nuclear program. Our reaction was, ‘Where is he getting that stuff from? Does he have a source of information that we don’t know about?’” CIA analysts redouble their efforts to collect and review evidence on Iraq and nuclear weapons, but analysts know very little. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 167-169] Cheney’s assertions are contradicted by a broad base of military experts. [Dean, 2004, pp. 138]
Powell 'Blindsided' by Cheney - Three days after the speech, a State Department source tells CNN that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s view clashes with that which was presented in Cheney’s speech, explaining that the secretary of state is opposed to any military action in which the US would “go it alone… as if it doesn’t give a damn” what other nations think. The source also says that Powell and “others in the State Department were ‘blindsided’ by Cheney’s ‘time is running out’ speech… and were just as surprised as everyone else.” [CNN, 8/30/2002] Author and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will later describe Powell as “dumbfounded.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 145] Cheney did, however, inform President Bush he would be speaking to the VFW. He did not provide Bush a copy of his speech. Bush merely told Cheney, “Don’t get me into trouble.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 175]
'Off Script' - Current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe that it was always a tactic of the Iraq campaign strategy for Cheney to “lean a little more forward in his rhetoric than the president.” However, McClellan will go on to say that Cheney did not always “stay on message,” and will blame Cheney’s “deep-seated certitude, even arrogance” that sometimes operates “to the detriment of the president.” Cheney’s assertion to the VFW that it would be pointless to send UN inspectors back to Iraq is, McClellan will reflect, “off script.” Bush wants to continue to “show that he [is] exhausting all diplomatic options” before invading Iraq. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, US Department of State, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Scott McClellan, Jami Miscik, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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