Bush Officials Change Tune on Iraqi Weapons
Wed May 14, 2003 11:42 AM ET
By Alan Elsner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The
Bush administration has changed its tune on Iraqi weapons of mass
destruction, the reason it went to war there. Instead of looking for
vast stocks of banned materials, it is now pinning its hopes on
finding documentary evidence.
The change in rhetoric, apparently designed in part to dampen public
expectations, has unfolded gradually in the past month as special U.S.
military teams have found little to justify the administration's claim
that Iraq was concealing vast stocks of chemical and biological agents
and was actively working on a covert nuclear weapons program.
"The administration seems to be hoping that inconvenient facts will
disappear from the public discourse. It's happening to a large
degree," said Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Police Studies, a
liberal think-tank which opposed the war.
In a New York Times/CBS poll released on Tuesday, 49 percent said the
administration overestimated the amount of banned weapons in Iraq,
while 29 percent said its estimates were accurate and 12 percent said
they were low.
Still, 56 percent said the war would still have been worthwhile even if
weapons of mass destruction were never found, while 38 percent said it
would not have been worth it.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday, President Bush's national
security adviser, Condoleezza Rice said the United States was sending
a new team to Iraq to scour the country for evidence.
The new team will be "more expert" at following the paper trail and
other intelligence. She said Iraq appeared to have had a virtually
"inspections proof" system of concealing chemical and biological
weapons by developing chemicals and agents that could be used for more
than one purpose, but that could be put together as weapons at the
She said U.S. officials never expected that "we were going to open garages and find" weapons of mass destruction.
CHANGE IN RHETORIC
That statement represents a dramatic change from rhetoric from Bush and
other top officials before the war, backed up by a steady stream of
documents, all of which are still accessible on the White House web
In his March 17 speech giving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein 48 hours
to leave the country, Bush said: "Intelligence gathered by this and
other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to
possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
Earlier, in a speech last Oct. 7, Bush said: "The Iraqi regime ...
possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking
"We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical
agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas ... And
surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities
that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons."
In his State of the Union address last January, Bush accused Iraq of
having enough material "to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax --
enough doses to kill several million people ... more than 38,000
liters of botulinum toxin -- enough to subject millions of people to
death by respiratory failure ... as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard
and VX nerve agent."
In his dramatic presentation to the United Nations Security Council on
Feb. 6, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States "knew"
that Baghdad had dispersed rocket launchers and warheads containing
biological warfare agents to locations in western Iraq.
"We also have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have
recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction
facilities," Powell said. "There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein
has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more,
In Congressional testimony last month, Powell insisted that banned
weapons "will be found." He said of his U.N speech that, "everything
we had there had backup and double sourcing and triple sourcing."