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A decision to use military force is never easy. No one with any sense considers war a first choice-it is the last thing that any rational person wants to do. And it is important that the issues surrounding this decision be discussed and debated.
In recent weeks, a number of questions have been surfaced by Senators, Members of Congress and former government officials. Some of the arguments raised are important. Just as there are risks in acting, so too there are risks in not acting.
Those risks need to be balanced, and to do so it is critical to address a number of the issues that have been raised:
Some have asked whether an attack on Iraq would disrupt and distract the U.S. from the Global War on Terror,
The answer to that is: Iraq is a part of the Global War on Terror-stopping terrorist regimes from acquiring weapons of mass destruction is a key objective of that war. We can fight all elements of this war simultaneously.
Our principal goal in the war on terror is to stop another 9/11-or a WMD attack that could make 9/11 seem modest by comparison--before it happens. Whether that threat comes from a terrorist regime or a terrorist network is beside the point. Our objective is to stop them, regardless of the source.
In his State of the Union address last January, President Bush made our objectives clear. He said: "by seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases the price of indifference would be catastrophic." Ultimately, history will judge us all by what we do now to deal with this danger.
Another question that has been asked is this: The Administration argues Saddam Hussein poses a grave and growing danger. Where is the “smoking gun?".
Mr. Chairman, the last thing we want is a smoking gun. A gun smokes after it has been fired. The goal must be to stop Saddam Hussein before he fires a weapon of mass destruction against our people. As the President told the United Nations last week, “The first time we may be completely certain he has nuclear weapons is when, God forbid, he uses one. We owe it to... our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming." If the Congress or the world wait for a so-called "smoking gun," it is certain that we will have waited too long.
But the question raises an issue that it is useful to discuss-about the kind of evidence we consider to be appropriate to act in the 21st century.
In our country, it has been customary to seek evidence that would prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" in a court of law. That approach is appropriate when the objective is to protect the rights of the accused. But in the age of WMD, the objective is not to protect the "rights" of dictators like Saddam Hussein- it is to protect the lives of our citizens. And when there is that risk, and we are trying to defend against the closed societies and shadowy networks that threaten us in the 21st century, expecting to find that standard of evidence, from thousands of miles away, and to do so before such a weapon has been used, is not realistic. And, after such weapons have been used it is too late.
I suggest that any who insist on perfect evidence are back in the 20th century and still thinking in pre-9/11 terms. On September 11th, we were awakened to the fact that America is now vulnerable to unprecedented destruction. That awareness ought to be sufficient to change the way we think about our security, how we defend our country- and the type of certainty and evidence we consider appropriate
In the 20th century, when we were dealing largely with conventional weapons, we could wait for perfect evidence. If we miscalculated, we could absorb an attack, recover, take a breath, mobilize, and go out and defeat our attackers. In the 21st century, that is no longer the case, unless we are willing and comfortable accepting the loss not of thousands of lives, but potentially tens of thousands of lives - a high price indeed.
We have not, will not, and cannot know everything that is going on in the world. Over the years, even our best efforts, intelligence has repeatedly underestimated the weapons capabilities of a variety of countries of major concern to us. We have had numerous gaps of two, four, six or eight years between the time a country of concern first developed a WMD capability and the time we finally learned about it.
We do know that the Iraqi regime has chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction and is pursuing nuclear weapons; that they have a proven willingness to use the weapons at their disposal; that they have proven aspirations to seize the territory of, and threaten, their neighbors; proven support for and cooperation with terrorist networks; and proven record of declared hostility and venomous rhetoric against the United States. Those threats should be clear to all.
In his UN address, the President said "we know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left?" To the contrary, knowing what we know about Iraq's history, no conclusion is possible except that they have and are accelerating their WMD programs.
Now, do we have perfect evidence that can tell us precisely the date Iraq will have a deliverable nuclear device, or when and where he might try to use it? That is not knowable. But it is strange that some seem to want to put the burden of proof on us-the burden of proof ought to be on bim-to prove he has disarmed; to prove he no longer poses a threat to peace and security. And that he cannot do.
Committees of Congress currently are asking hundreds of questions about what happened on September 11thpouring over thousands of pages of documents, and asking who knew what, when and why they didn't prevent that tragedy. ! suspect, that in retrospect, most of those investigating 9/11 would have supported preventive action to pre-empt that threat, if it had been possible to see it coming.
Well, if one were to compare the scraps of information the government had before September 17th to the volumes of information the government has today about Iraq's pursuit of WMD, his use of those weapons, his record of aggression and his consistent hostility toward the United States- and then factor in our country's demonstrated vulnerability after September 11th-the case the President made should be clear.
As the President said, time is not on our side. If more time passes, and the attacks we are concerned about come to pass, I would not want to have ignored all the warning signs and then be required to explain why our country failed to protect our fellow citizens.
We cannot go back in time to stop the September 11th attack. But we can take actions now to prevent some future threats.
Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent--that Saddam is at least 5-7 years away from having nuclear weapons.
I would not be so certain. Before Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the best intelligence estimates were that Iraq was at least 5-7 years away from having nuclear weapons. The experts were flat wrong. When the U.S. got on the ground, it found the Iraqi's were probably six months to a year away from having a nuclear weapon - not 5 to 7 years.
We do not know today precisely how close he is to having a deliverable nuclear weapon. What we do know is that he has a sizable appetite for them, that he has been actively and persistently pursuing them for more than 20 years, and that we allow him to get them at our peril. Moreover, let's say he is 5-7 years from a deliverable nuclear weapon. That raises the question: 5-7 years from when? From today? From 1998, when he kicked out the inspectors? Or from earlier, when inspectors were still in country? There is no way of knowing except from the ground, unless one believes what Saddam Hussein says.
But those who raise questions about the nuclear threat need to focus on the immediate threat from biological weapons. From 1991 to 1995, Iraq repeatedly insisted it did not have biological weapons. Then, in 1995, Saddam's son-in-law defected and told the inspectors some of the details of Iraq's biological weapons program. Only then did Iraq admit it had produced tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other biological weapons. But even then, they did not come clean. UN inspectors believe Iraq had in fact produced two to four-times the amount of biological agents it had declared. Those biological agents were never found. Iraq also refused to account for some three tons of materials that could be used to produce biological weapons.
Iraq has these weapons. They are much simpler to deliver than nuclear weapons, and even more readily transferred to terrorist networks, who could allow Iraq to deliver them without fingerprints.
If you want an idea of the devastation Iraq could wreak on our country with a biological attack, consider the recent "Dark Winter" exercise conducted by Johns Hopkins University. It simulated a biological WMD attack in which terrorists released smallpox in three separate locations in the U.S. Within 22 days, it is estimated it would have spread to 26 states, with an estimated 6000 new infections occurring daily. Within two months, the worst-case estimate indicated one million people could be dead and another 2 million infected. Not a nice picture.
The point is this: we know Iraq possesses biological weapons, and chemical weapons, and is expanding and improving their capabilities to produce them. That should be of every bit as much concern as Iraq's potential nuclear capability.
Some have argued that even if Iraq has these weapons, Saddam Hussein does not intend to use WMD against the U.S. because he is a survivor, not a suicide bomber-that he would be unlikely to take actions that could lead to his own destruction.
Then why is Iraq pursuing WMD so aggressively? Why are they willing to pay such a high price for them to suffer a decade of economic sanctions that have cost them tens of billions in oil revenues-sanctions they could get lifted simply by an agreement to disarm?
One answer is that, as some critics have conceded, "he seeks weapons of mass destruction... to deter us from intervening to block his aggressive designs." This is no doubt a motivation. But consider the consequences if they were allowed to succeed.
Imagine for a moment that Iraq demonstrated the capacity to attack U.S. or European populations centers with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Then imagine you are the President of the United States, trying to put together an
international coalition to stop their aggression, after Iraq had demonstrated that capability. It would be a daunting task. His regime believes that simply by possessing the capacity to deliver WMD to Western capitals, he will be able to prevent-terrorize-the free world from projecting force to stop his aggressiondriving the West into a policy of forced isolationism.
That said, it is far from clear that he would not necessarily restrain from taking actions that could result in his destruction. For example, that logic did not stop the Taliban from supporting and harboring al-Qaeda as they planned and executed repeated attacks on the U.S. And their miscalculation resulted in the destruction of their regime. Regimes without checks and balances are prone to grave miscalculations. Saddam Hussein has no checks whatsoever on his decisionmaking authority. Who among us really believes it would be wise or prudent for us to base our security on the hope that Saddam Hussein, or his sons who might succeed him, could not make the same fatal miscalculations as Mullah Omar and the Taliban?
It is my view that we would be ill advised to stake our people's lives on Saddam Hussein's supposed "survival instinct."
Some have argued Iraq is unlikely to use WMD against us because, unlike terrorist networks, Saddam has a "return address."
Mr. Chairman, there is no reason for confidence that if Iraq launched a WMD attack on the U.S. it would necessarily have an obvious "return address." There are ways Iraq could easily conceal responsibility for a WMD attack. They could deploy "sleeper cells" armed with biological weapons to attack us from within-and then deny any knowledge or connection to the attacks. Or they could put a WMDtipped missile on a "commercial” shipping vessel, sail it within range of our coast, fire it, and then melt back into the commercial shipping traffic before we knew what hit us. Finding that ship would be like searching for a needle in a haystack-a bit like locating a single terrorist. Or they could recruit and utilize a terrorist network with similar views and objectives, and pass on weapons of mass destruction to them. It is this nexus between a terrorist state like Iraq with WMD and terrorist networks that has so significantly changed the U.S. security environment.
We still do not know with certainty who was behind the 1996 bombing the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia-an attack that killed 19 American service members. We still do not know who is responsible for last year's anthrax attacks. The nature of terrorist attacks is that it is often very difficult to identify who is ultimately responsible. Indeed, our consistent failure over the past two decades to trace terrorist attacks to their ultimate source gives terrorist states the lesson that using terrorist networks as proxies is an effective way of attacking the U.S. with impunity.