Background: Words of War
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KWAME HOLMAN: Members of Congress, invited guests, those watching and listening across the country, indeed worldwide, waited through 40 minutes of the president’s domestic concerns before his first mention of Iraq.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq’s regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president did not reveal new evidence that might have strengthened the case for going to war against Iraq, but his tone was somber, his delivery emphatic.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks, to build and keep weapons of mass destruction, but why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons is to dominate, intimidate, or attack. With nuclear arms or a full and this Congress and the American people must recognize another threat: Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaida.
KWAME HOLMAN: There was no declaration of war. The president approached that line and stopped just short of it.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, our friends, and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on Feb. 5 to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world. Sec. of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups. We will consult, but let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: As soon as the president and his motorcade departed the capital for the trip back to the White House dozens of members of Congress converged on Statuary Hall to deliver instant reaction to the news media. Senate Republican Don Nickles of Oklahoma:
SEN. DON NICKLES: I think he made a very strong case that we are going to disarm Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein agreed to disarm in 1991. He hasn’t complied. He got away with that with the previous president. This president is saying he will comply. This president is saying he will comply.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Tennessee Republican Zach Wamp still held out hope that war could be averted.
REP. ZACH WAMP: Now I am still prayerfully hoping that we will avoid a conflict there. We can possibly bring our troops back home without a conflict, but I thought the president was reassuring tonight. And he was forceful, but not brash and not so bold as to say to the world, “we’re in your face.” We’re not. I do believe he is going to have to continue to be that way to have the American people with him.
KWAME HOLMAN: Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said the president could be doing more.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: We have a large amount of information, very little of which has been shared with U.N. inspectors. They’ve asked us for information but only a tiny fraction of the information relative to suspect sites has shared with those inspectors, and if we’re serious about working through the U.N., we will share the information that we have with the inspectors, with the world and of course with the American public.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, Denise Majette, a freshman Democrat from Georgia, believed war was inevitable.
REP. DENISE MAJETTE: His remarks in that regard were pretty sobering. It seems to me I have the impression that it’s just going to be a matter of a very short time before we actual do go to war. That concerns me and having been in my home district for the last ten days I can tell you that the mood of the people there is that they do not want us to go to war. They want the process to continue with regard to the inspections. They want to get more information and have the case made to show why we need to do this at this time. And the American people deserve more than they’ve gotten at this point.