The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraqi
regime's own actions -- its history of aggression, and its drive toward
an arsenal of terror. Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the
Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons
of mass destruction, to cease all development of such weapons, and to
stop all support for terrorist groups. The Iraqi regime has violated
all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and
biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given
shelter and support to terrorism, and practices terror against its own
people. The entire world has witnessed Iraq's eleven-year history of
defiance, deception and bad faith.
We also must never forget the most vivid events of recent history.
On September the 11th, 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.
Members of the Congress of both political parties, and members of
the United Nations Security Council, agree that Saddam Hussein is a
threat to peace and must disarm. We agree that the Iraqi dictator must
not be permitted to threaten America and the world with horrible
poisons and diseases and gases and atomic weapons. Since we all agree
on this goal, the issues is : how can we best achieve it?
Many Americans have raised legitimate questions: about the nature
of the threat; about the urgency of action -- why be concerned now;
about the link between Iraq developing weapons of terror, and the wider
war on terror. These are all issues we've discussed broadly and fully
within my administration. And tonight, I want to share those
discussions with you.
First, some ask why Iraq is different from other countries or
regimes that also have terrible weapons. While there are many dangers
in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone -- because it gathers
the most serious dangers of our age in one place. Iraq's weapons of
mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant who has already
used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people. This same tyrant
has tried to dominate the Middle East, has invaded and brutally
occupied a small neighbor, has struck other nations without warning,
and holds an unrelenting hostility toward the United States.
By its past and present actions, by its technological capabilities,
by the merciless nature of its regime, Iraq is unique. As a former
chief weapons inspector of the U.N. has said, "The fundamental problem
with Iraq remains the nature of the regime, itself. Saddam Hussein is
a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction."
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?
In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the
head of Iraq's military industries defected. It was then that the
regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters
of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. The inspectors,
however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that
amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has
never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions.
We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical
agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, 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 the 11th.
And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding
facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological
weapons. Every chemical and biological weapon that Iraq has or makes
is a direct violation of the truce that ended the Persian Gulf War in
1991. Yet, Saddam Hussein has chosen to build and keep these weapons
despite international sanctions, U.N. demands, and isolation from the
Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds
of miles -- far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and
other nations -- in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians
and service members live and work. 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 or biological
weapons across broad areas. We're concerned that Iraq is exploring
ways of using these UAVS for missions targeting the United States.
And, of course, sophisticated delivery systems aren't 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
And that is the source of our urgent concern about Saddam Hussein's
links to international terrorist groups. Over the years, Iraq has
provided safe haven to terrorists such as Abu Nidal, whose terror
organization carried out more than 90 terrorist attacks in 20 countries
that killed or injured nearly 900 people, including 12 Americans. Iraq
has also provided safe haven to Abu Abbas, who was responsible for
seizing the Achille Lauro and killing an American passenger. And we
know that Iraq is continuing to finance terror and gives assistance to
groups that use terrorism to undermine Middle East peace.
We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common
enemy -- the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda
have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda
leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very
senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this
year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and
biological attacks. We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda
members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that
after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated
the terrorist attacks on America.
Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or
chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.
Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America
without leaving any fingerprints.
Some have argued that confronting the threat from Iraq could
detract from the war against terror. To the contrary; confronting the
threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror. When I
spoke to Congress more than a year ago, I said that those who harbor
terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves. Saddam Hussein
is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror, the instruments
of mass death and destruction. And he cannot be trusted. The risk is
simply too great that he will use them, or provide them to a terror
Terror cells and outlaw regimes building weapons of mass
destruction are different faces of the same evil. Our security
requires that we confront both. And the United States military is
capable of confronting both.
Many people have asked how close Saddam Hussein is to developing a
nuclear weapon. Well, we don't know exactly, and that's the problem.
Before the Gulf War, the best intelligence indicated that Iraq was
eight to ten years away from developing a nuclear weapon. After the
war, international inspectors learned that the regime has been much
closer -- the regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nuclear
weapon no later than 1993. The inspectors discovered that Iraq had an
advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a
workable nuclear weapon, and was pursuing several different methods of
enriching uranium for a bomb.
Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic
Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities,
including three uranium enrichment sites. That same year, information
from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed
that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his
nuclear program to continue.
The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear
weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi
nuclear scientists, a group he calls his "nuclear mujahideen" -- his
nuclear holy warriors. Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is
rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear
program in the past. Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength
aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which
are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of
highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it
could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. And if we allow that
to happen, a terrible line would be crossed. Saddam Hussein would be
in a position to blackmail anyone who opposes his aggression. He would
be in a position to dominate the Middle East. He would be in a
position to threaten America. And Saddam Hussein would be in a
position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists.
Some citizens wonder, after 11 years of living with this problem,
why do we need to confront it now? And there's a reason. We've
experienced the horror of September the 11th. We have seen that those
who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of
innocent people. Our enemies would be no less willing, in fact, they
would be eager, to use biological or chemical, or a nuclear weapon.
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. As President Kennedy said in October of 1962,
"Neither the United States of America, nor the world community of
nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the
part of any nation, large or small. We no longer live in a world," he
said, "where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient
challenge to a nations security to constitute maximum peril."
Understanding the threats of our time, knowing the designs and
deceptions of the Iraqi regime, we have every reason to assume the
worst, and we have an urgent duty to prevent the worst from occurring.
Some believe we can address this danger by simply resuming the old
approach to inspections, and applying diplomatic and economic
pressure. Yet this is precisely what the world has tried to do since
1991. The U.N. inspections program was met with systematic
deception. The Iraqi regime bugged hotel rooms and offices of
inspectors to find where they were going next; they forged documents,
destroyed evidence, and developed mobile weapons facilities to keep a
step ahead of inspectors. Eight so-called presidential palaces were
declared off-limits to unfettered inspections. These sites actually
encompass twelve square miles, with hundreds of structures, both above
and below the ground, where sensitive materials could be hidden.
The world has also tried economic sanctions -- and watched Iraq use
billions of dollars in illegal oil revenues to fund more weapons
purchases, rather than providing for the needs of the Iraqi people.
The world has tried limited military strikes to destroy Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction capabilities -- only to see them openly
rebuilt, while the regime again denies they even exist.
The world has tried no-fly zones to keep Saddam from terrorizing
his own people -- and in the last year alone, the Iraqi military has
fired upon American and British pilots more than 750 times.
After eleven years during which we have tried containment,
sanctions, inspections, even selected military action, the end result
is that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is
increasing his capabilities to make more. And he is moving ever closer
to developing a nuclear weapon.
Clearly, to actually work, any new inspections, sanctions or
enforcement mechanisms will have to be very different. America wants
the U.N. to be an effective organization that helps keep the peace.
And that is why we are urging the Security Council to adopt a new
resolution setting out tough, immediate requirements. Among those
requirements: the Iraqi regime must reveal and destroy, under U.N.
supervision, all existing weapons of mass destruction. To ensure that
we learn the truth, the regime must allow witnesses to its illegal
activities to be interviewed outside the country -- and these witnesses
must be free to bring their families with them so they all beyond the
reach of Saddam Hussein's terror and murder. And inspectors must have
access to any site, at any time, without pre-clearance, without delay,
The time for denying, deceiving, and delaying has come to an end.
Saddam Hussein must disarm himself -- or, for the sake of peace, we
will lead a coalition to disarm him.
Many nations are joining us in insisting that Saddam Hussein's
regime be held accountable. They are committed to defending the
international security that protects the lives of both our citizens and
theirs. And that's why America is challenging all nations to take the
resolutions of the U.N. Security Council seriously.
And these resolutions are clear. In addition to declaring and
destroying all of its weapons of mass destruction, Iraq must end its
support for terrorism. It must cease the persecution of its civilian
population. It must stop all illicit trade outside the Oil For Food
program. It must release or account for all Gulf War personnel,
including an American pilot, whose fate is still unknown.
By taking these steps, and by only taking these steps, the Iraqi
regime has an opportunity to avoid conflict. Taking these steps would
also change the nature of the Iraqi regime itself. America hopes the
regime will make that choice. Unfortunately, at least so far, we have
little reason to expect it. And that's why two administrations -- mine
and President Clinton's -- have stated that regime change in Iraq is
the only certain means of removing a great danger to our nation.
I hope this will not require military action, but it may. And
military conflict could be difficult. An Iraqi regime faced with its
own demise may attempt cruel and desperate measures. If Saddam Hussein
orders such measures, his generals would be well advised to refuse
those orders. If they do not refuse, they must understand that all war
criminals will be pursued and punished. If we have to act, we will
take every precaution that is possible. We will plan carefully; we
will act with the full power of the United States military; we will act
with allies at our side, and we will prevail. (Applause.)
There is no easy or risk-free course of action. Some have argued
we should wait -- and that's an option. In my view, it's the riskiest
of all options, because the longer we wait, the stronger and bolder
Saddam Hussein will become. We could wait and hope that Saddam does
not give weapons to terrorists, or develop a nuclear weapon to
blackmail the world. But I'm convinced that is a hope against all
evidence. As Americans, we want peace -- we work and sacrifice for
peace. But there can be no peace if our security depends on the will
and whims of a ruthless and aggressive dictator. I'm not willing to
stake one American life on trusting Saddam Hussein.
Failure to act would embolden other tyrants, allow terrorists
access to new weapons and new resources, and make blackmail a permanent
feature of world events. The United Nations would betray the purpose
of its founding, and prove irrelevant to the problems of our time. And
through its inaction, the United States would resign itself to a future
That is not the America I know. That is not the America I serve.
We refuse to live in fear. (Applause.) This nation, in world war and
in Cold War, has never permitted the brutal and lawless to set
history's course. Now, as before, we will secure our nation, protect
our freedom, and help others to find freedom of their own.
Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create
instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly
get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of
Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no
longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan's citizens improved
after the Taliban. The dictator of Iraq is a student of Stalin, using
murder as a tool of terror and control, within his own cabinet, within
his own army, and even within his own family.
On Saddam Hussein's orders, opponents have been decapitated, wives
and mothers of political opponents have been systematically raped as a
method of intimidation, and political prisoners have been forced to
watch their own children being tortured.
America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human
rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. People
everywhere prefer freedom to slavery; prosperity to squalor;
self-government to the rule of terror and torture. America is a friend
to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime
that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the
first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children.
The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi'a, Sunnis and others
will be lifted. The long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new
hope will begin.
Iraq is a land rich in culture, resources, and talent. Freed from
the weight of oppression, Iraq's people will be able to share in the
progress and prosperity of our time. If military action is necessary,
the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild
their economy, and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq
at peace with its neighbors.
Later this week, the United States Congress will vote on this
matter. I have asked Congress to authorize the use of America's
military, if it proves necessary, to enforce U.N. Security Council
demands. Approving this resolution does not mean that military action
is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the United
Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is
determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean something.
Congress will also be sending a message to the dictator in Iraq: that
his only chance -- his only choice is full compliance, and the time
remaining for that choice is limited.
Members of Congress are nearing an historic vote. I'm confident
they will fully consider the facts, and their duties.
The attacks of September the 11th showed our country that vast
oceans no longer protect us from danger. Before that tragic date, we
had only hints of al Qaeda's plans and designs. Today in Iraq, we see
a threat whose outlines are far more clearly defined, and whose
consequences could be far more deadly. Saddam Hussein's actions have
put us on notice, and there is no refuge from our responsibilities.
We did not ask for this present challenge, but we accept it. Like
other generations of Americans, we will meet the responsibility of
defending human liberty against violence and aggression. By our
resolve, we will give strength to others. By our courage, we will give
hope to others. And by our actions, we will secure the peace, and lead
the world to a better day.