NY Times and Washington Post Commit Huge Flip-Flop on Iraq WMD

It’s become almost too commonplace of late – an article by a major, mainstream newspaper suggesting that President Bush misled the American people, as well as Congress, concerning the existence of WMD in Iraq, and the threat Iraq represented to America. For instance, just yesterday, the New York Times published an editorial with such a premise:

“To avoid having to account for his administration's misleading statements before the war with Iraq, President Bush has tried denial, saying he did not skew the intelligence. He's tried to share the blame, claiming that Congress had the same intelligence he had, as well as President Bill Clinton. He's tried to pass the buck and blame the C.I.A.”

And, a front-page Washington Post article this past Saturday by Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus asserted this same theme:

“President Bush and his national security adviser have answered critics of the Iraq war in recent days with a two-pronged argument: that Congress saw the same intelligence the administration did before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence.”

Yet, neither of these two publications was so convinced about this issue before Bush was first inaugurated in January 2001, and both took rather strong positions about the existence of such WMD in Iraq, and the threat that country represented to America. In fact, as our friend at EU Rota masterfully pointed out yesterday, the New York Times had been publishing editorials for at least two years concerning the presence of WMD in Iraq, and why the United States, to protect America’s national security interests, must do something about it:

  • “The past few years have been discouraging ones for efforts to check the spread of nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan have abruptly pushed their way into the club of states possessing such arms. North Korea, Iraq and Iran are pressing against the door.” 4/24/00
  • “More than eight years after American-led military forces triumphed in the Persian Gulf war, Saddam Hussein still rules Iraq and continues to cheat on the surrender terms that require him to eliminate all biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering them. His galling defiance and America's frustrations in dealing with him have again made Iraq an issue in a United States presidential campaign.” 10/12/99
  • “Saddam Hussein would clearly prefer to have no U.N. arms inspectors snooping around as he tries to rebuild his biological and chemical arsenals and continues his pursuit of nuclear weapons. He has already had more than 13 months to work on these programs unobserved.” 12/25/99
  • “When Richard Holbrooke takes over as America's representative to the United Nations, one of the most important issues he will face is the stalemate over Iraq. The Security Council has been in disarray on Iraq, and Saddam Hussein has been taking advantage. With no international arms inspectors present, he has been free to rebuild his purchasing networks and resume production of toxic and nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them.” 8/15/99
  • “If the United Nations were to end sanctions against Iraqi oil exports and let the proceeds flow through the hands of Saddam Hussein, there is little doubt what would happen. He would use the oil money to rebuild his arsenal of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and extended-range missiles.” 1/15/99
  • “If Saddam Hussein were not such a recidivist, it might be possible to fashion a less confrontational approach to restrain Iraq and prevent it from producing and using weapons of mass destruction.” 12/27/98
  • “Initial Pentagon assessments of the four-day air campaign against Iraq suggest that Saddam Hussein suffered heavy but not irretrievable losses. It may take Iraq as long as a year to restore its ability to deliver biological and chemical weapons against potential targets in the Middle East.” 12/21/98
  • “The Security Council must also insist on unhindered access to all sites that Iraq promised to provide. Washington can quickly renew the threat of military force. Additional American troops and equipment are continuing to arrive in the Persian Gulf region. Inspections, if they can proceed freely, are still the most effective way to track down and eliminate Iraq's terror weapons. But if Iraq will not permit the inspectors to do their jobs, Washington will have no choice but to reduce Iraq's arsenal of deadly germs and chemicals by military force.” 11/24/98
  • “After Iraq's defeat in the Persian Gulf war, Baghdad accepted peace terms that required it to identify and destroy all elements of its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs and all but its shortest-range missiles. Iraq never fully complied with these obligations.” 11/10/98
  • “With an American strike against Iraq seemingly imminent, the Clinton Administration must clearly define its goals and the best military tactics for achieving them. Although diplomacy now seems exhausted, there is a faint hope that Saddam Hussein will blink at the last minute and start honoring his international obligations. But if Baghdad remains defiant, President Clinton would be fully justified in ordering an attack. The world cannot leave Mr. Hussein free to manufacture horrific germs and nerve gases and use them to terrorize neighboring countries.  The primary purpose of military action should be to compel the return of United Nations weapons inspectors and assure their access to all locations suspected of harboring evidence of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons or missiles.” 11/13/98
  • “Emboldened by its past successes in curtailing United Nations arms inspections, Iraq has now virtually banned all monitoring efforts. Before Saddam Hussein will let this vital work resume, he unreasonably demands that the Security Council guarantee an early end to international economic sanctions against Iraq"Such a commitment would relieve Baghdad of its obligation to prove it has eliminated all illegal biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and missiles that can deliver them."The threat of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons is too grave to treat exclusively as a diplomatic matter, as the White House now seems belatedly to recognize. If diplomacy backed by the threat of force does not budge Mr. Hussein, military action itself may be needed.” 11/3/98

And, the Washington Post published the following on November 3, 1998:

  •  “In the end, though, sources here say, no one really has much faith that anyof these expedients will deter Iraq from its present course. In that case,the sources add, it no longer would be possible to avoid choosing betweenallowing Iraq's defiance to go unchallenged or turning to the threat and, ifnecessary, the reality of air and missile strikes to compel its compliance.""The latest Iraqi move is the second stage of a confrontation that began onAug. 5 when Baghdad blocked U.N. field inspections. At the time, the UnitedStates, in contrast to its responses in earlier showdowns, did not threatenforce because of awareness that military strikes would get no internationalsupport and would prove controversial domestically. This time, manydiplomats here believe, Washington would have to act, with or withoutsupport, or forfeit its credibility in dealing with Iraq.”
  • “Saddam Hussein now has taken the final step in breaking his promises of cooperation with the United Nations. He had for three months been blocking surprise inspections by U.N. arms experts trying to ferret out his clandestine nuclear- biological- and chemical-weapons programs. Now he has said he will block even the regular, announced visits by U.N. monitors whose work had been continuing. Absent a response from the Clinton administration and the United Nations, nothing now will impede Saddam Hussein's ambitions to maintain and rebuild the weapons of mass destruction he promised to give up."
  • “The United States must respond with force if Iraq does not allow U.N. teams -- passive monitors and surprise inspectors alike -- to resume their work. It should respond as part of a U.N.-backed alliance if possible, alone if necessary. Its bombing campaign should not be symbolic but designed to destroy as much of Saddam Hussein's capability to make and use weapons of mass destruction as possible. Yes, even such a serious military effort might end with Saddam Hussein still in and U.N. inspectors still out. That is why a serious strategy to deal with Iraq must include a willingness to bomb more than once, if Saddam Hussein again tries to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction.”

These articles all raise an important question: If the New York Times and the Washington Post believed before Bush was inaugurated in January 2001 that Iraq had WMD and posed such a serious threat to America that military attacks were warranted, what has changed their minds now? If the president was guilty of misleading America, aren’t they? Maybe more important, aren’t they just Monday morning quarterbacking, and changing their view now that it appears that they, too, might have been wrong?

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.