As previously noted, a current talking point among the apologists is that no one ever claimed that Saddam actually posed an imminent threat but rather, we had to invade because he might someday become a threat.
Well, it seems to be true that the Bush administration never used the word “imminent” in much the same way they never claimed that Saddam Hussein was literally the mastermind behind 9/11 but in the latter case, they certainly linked the two together at every opportunity, and in the former, the administration and its various mouthpieces certainly did everything possible to indicate that time was of the essence and we had to act now and we simply couldn’t wait blah blah blah.
Case in point: a speech by the President on October 8, 2002. First, let’s get a little 9/11 linkage in there:
We also must never forget the most vivid events of recent history. On September 11, 2001, America felt its vulnerability even to threats that gather on the other side of the earth. We resolved then, and we are resolved today, to confront every threat, from any source, that could bring sudden terror and suffering to America.
Okay, now let’s make sure people understand that time is of the essence.
Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world. The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today and we do does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?
Okay, not imminent, exactly but it sure doesn’t sound like we can afford to wait much longer! What kind of threat are we talking about, exactly?
We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, and VX nerve gas. Saddam Hussein also has experience in using chemical weapons. He has ordered chemical attacks on Iran, and on more than forty villages in his own country. These actions killed or injured at least 20,000 people, more than six times the number of people who died in the attacks of September 11.
We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas. We are concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using UAVs for missions targeting the United States.
And, of course, sophisticated delivery systems are not required for a chemical or biological attack all that might be required are a small container and one terrorist or Iraqi intelligence operative to deliver it.
And that is the source of our urgent concern about Saddam Hussein’s links to international terrorist groups.
So there are various ways in which Saddam could attack us at any moment with his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, which we know he has! It’s no wonder our concern is “urgent!”
Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
Okay, we “cannot wait.” We have a “gathering” threat. Our concern is “urgent.” We are facing “clear evidence of peril.” There’s a consistent message here, and if you think it is, “there’s no hurry, time is on our side,” then you are, perhaps, not the sharpest knife in the proverbial drawer.
My point is, imminence as both a specific and general concept was undeniably in the air in the buildup to war. For instance, here’s a Denver Post editorial from Sept. 26, 2002 (via Lexis, so I don’t have a link for you):
Iraq’s Saddam Hussein can unleash chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes of his command, according to a 50-page dossier released by the British government.
The new information, released by Prime Minister Tony Blair, is precisely what we’ve been waiting to hear.
Iraq poses an imminent threat to world safety. Imminent being the key word.
Okay, you say, but the editorial writer only comes up with the word “imminent” in reference to the British government’s 45-minute claim. Well, yes but those of you with longer memories than, say, Andrew Sullivan, will recall that our President was not above mentioning that claim a time or two himself:
The White House, in the run-up to war in Iraq, did not seek CIA approval before charging that Saddam Hussein could launch a biological or chemical attack within 45 minutes, administration officials now say.
The claim, which has since been discredited, was made twice by President Bush, in a September Rose Garden appearance after meeting with lawmakers and in a Saturday radio address the same week. Bush attributed the claim to the British government, but in a “Global Message” issued Sept. 26 and still on the White House Web site, the White House claimed, without attribution, that Iraq “could launch a biological or chemical attack 45 minutes after the order is given.”
That’s from the Washington Post, July 20, 2003. (The “Global Message” mentioned is still available on the White House website, as of this writing). As I say, the Bushies may never have specifically used the word “imminent” but that’s just a matter of splitting hairs so fine, you’re almost working on a subatomic level. Because they sure as hell implied it at every possibility, and anyone who claims not to understand that is either an outright liar or simply so stupid it’s hard to imagine that they are able to get up in the morning and remember to put their socks on before their shoes.
One other point. People have been quoting this bit from the State of the Union address lately:
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late.
Yes, it’s a denial but it’s an after the fact denial. At the point in time when he says this, he’s already been using the 45-minute claim for months, as well as giving speeches like the one I quote above. This line is a response to critics, pure CYA. “Imminent? I never said ‘imminent’!” This has no more bearing on the discussion than any other Bush administration after-the-fact denial what Josh Marshall frequently calls “up-is-downism.” As simply as possible, for the comprehension-impaired amoung you: this one paragraph does not negate the fact that he spent the previous several months implying precisely the opposite.
Well then. I’m certainly glad we had this little chat.
(Slight editing for even more cogency.)