Following are Secretary Rumsfeld’s opening remarks (as delivered) from his Pentagon press conference this afternoon with Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Good afternoon folks.
A few days ago, President Bush noted that some critics seem to want to rewrite the history of the Coalition’s involvement in Iraq. It might be useful to take a moment to retrace the actual history.
In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed, the Iraq Liberation Act. That law specified 10 findings of Saddam Hussein’s violations of international norms, and stated, “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”
That legislation passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 360 to 38, and it passed the Senate without a single vote in opposition.
In December of that year -- 1998 -- President Clinton ordered military action in response to Iraq’s decision to expel the UN weapon inspectors. In an address to the nation he stated, “Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference: He has used them … The international community had little doubt then, and I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.”
Justifying President Clinton’s decision, then-Vice President Gore asked, “If you allow someone like Saddam Hussein to get nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, biological weapons, how many people is he going to kill with such weapons?”
The then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “Iraq is a long way from Ohio, but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risk that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.”
And the then-National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said, “He will rebuild his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and some day, some way, I am certain he will use that arsenal again, as he has 10 times since 1983.”
Four years later, in October 2002, by a large margin, a bipartisan majority of the Congress authorized President Bush to use force if necessary to deal with the continued threat posed by Saddam Hussein. In the legislation, the U.S. Congress stated that Iraq, “Poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States … [by] continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations.”
These assessments were echoed by foreign intelligence agencies from countries that included Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia, and by the United Nations Security Council in more than a dozen different Security Council resolutions between 1990 and the year 2002.
In early 2004, weapons inspector David Kay, while acknowledging he had not found weapons of mass destruction, testified that Iraq, “Maintained programs and activities, and they certainly had the intentions at a point to resume their programs.”
Later that year, weapons inspector Charles Duelfer noted, “Saddam Hussein … wanted to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction when (the) sanctions were lifted.”
This is the history that brought us where we are today. These are simply facts. The times we live in are serious. We are in the midst of a global war that threatens free people across the world, as evidenced by attacks here in Washington, D.C.; in New York City; in Bali; London; Madrid; Beslan; Jerusalem; Riyadh; and most recently, at a wedding reception in Amman, Jordan.
Innocent people – mothers, fathers, children -- have been murdered by a network of Islamic extremists -- Islamo-fascists, if you will -- seeking to impose their dark vision on free people. They seek to build in Iraq what they once had in Afghanistan – a safe haven -and then to expand throughout the region and beyond. Their terms are not negotiable.
While the American people understandably want to know when our forces can leave Iraq, I believe they do not want them to leave until our mission is accomplished and the Iraqis are able to sustain their fledgling democracy.
As the President has said, one cannot set cannot set arbitrary deadlines. Timing of the handover of responsibility to Iraqis depends on conditions on the ground, and already some responsibilities are being assumed by the Iraqi Security Forces. We must be careful not to give terrorists the false hope that if they can simply hold on long enough that they can outlast us.