Saddam Abused His Last Chance, Clinton Says
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 1998 A month ago, the United States called off its war planes to give Saddam Hussein one last chance to cooperate. When he failed to do so, the United States took action.
President Clinton ordered air strikes Dec. 16 against Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. Warships and combat aircraft began bombarding the defiant Gulf state at 5 p.m. EST - - 1 a.m. in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
"The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors," Clinton said. "Saddam has failed to seize the chance. So we had to act and act now."
Less than an hour after American and British forces launched Operation Desert Fox, the president addressed the nation to explain his decision. He said the attack was designed to protect the national interests of the United States and the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world.
"Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons," Clinton said. The Iraqi dictator has used these weapons against his neighbors and his own people, he said, and "left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again."
The strikes culminated the second showdown with Iraq in the past month. Clinton turned back U.S. warplanes bound for Iraq Nov. 14 when Hussein backed down in the face of intense diplomatic pressure backed by overwhelming military force. At the time, the Iraqi leader agreed to cooperate unconditionally with the U.N. Special Commission.
"I concluded then that the right thing to do was to use restraint and give Saddam one last chance to prove his willingness to cooperate," the president said. The confrontation wasn't over, but simply on hold -- Clinton said at the time that the United States would be prepared to act "without delay, diplomacy or warning" if Saddam failed again.
Over the next three weeks, U.N. weapons inspectors tested Iraq's willingness to cooperate. UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler reported Dec. 15 to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Butler's conclusions, Clinton said, proved to be "stark, sobering and profoundly disturbing." Instead of living up to its agreement, he said, "Iraq has abused its final chance."
He said Iraq had placed new restrictions on the inspectors, further obstructed inspections and failed to turn over all requested documents. In one instance, the Iraqis removed all documents, furniture and equipment from a building prior to a U.N. inspection.
Butler's report concluded Iraq has ensured U.N. inspectors could make no progress toward disarmament. Even if the inspectors could stay in Iraq, Clinton said, their work would be a sham.
"Saddam's deception has defeated their effectiveness," he said. "Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, the Iraqi dictator has disarmed the inspectors."
Clinton said he and his national security advisers agreed that Hussein presented a clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere. He said he deemed military action necessary to prove the international community, led by the United States, had not lost its will. Failure to act, Clinton said, would have "fatally undercut the fear of force that stops Saddam from acting to gain domination in the region."
In a Pentagon briefing immediately following the president's address to the nation, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed reporters.
Cohen said he was ordering a sharp increase in U.S. Gulf forces to limit the risk to U.S. and allied troops. Deploying forces include an air expeditionary wing with about 36 combat aircraft and the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson battle group, to join the 201 planes and USS Enterprise battle group already in the region.
Shelton noted that deploying more elements of the crisis response force would add flexibility and allow military leaders to increase the intensity and tempo of strike operations if necessary.
The chairman also recognized those called upon to enforce the national defense leaders' decisions -- America's men and women in uniform. "We can be particularly proud tonight of those that are answering the call in the skies over Iraq and the Persian Gulf," he said.