In a speech yesterday, Vice-President Dick Cheney made the “two plank” WMD argument that I talked about in a previous post. Here is the relevant excerpt from the Vice-President’s speech (the parts in brackets are mine):
[1st Plank] Although our coalition has not found WMD stockpiles in Iraq, I repeat that we never had the burden of proof; Saddam Hussein did.
[2nd Plank] We operated on the best available intelligence gathered over a period of years and within a totalitarian society ruled by fear and secret police.
What this part of Cheny’s speech illustrates is that the Bush Administration’s WMD argument for the war had two planks. First, the administration argued that Iraq had failed to verify the destruction of its pre-1990 WMD stockpiles in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Second, the administration argued that it had intelligence that indicated that Iraq was seeking to reconstitute its WMD programs, including is nuclear weapon program.
The first plank was a slam dunk. Everyone agreed and still agrees today that Saddam never accounted for all his old WMD stockpiles. Cheney argues that this plank by itself was a sufficient casus belli. The second plank is where the intelligence failures come in—failures that Cheney acknowledges “are plain enough in hindsight.” Nevertheless, Cheney is correct to claim that the war was justified on the basis of the first plank alone.
The Bush administration needs to re-educate the American public about how it made the case for war in 2002 and early 2003. Vice-President Cheney is right on the mark in arguing that the “burden of proof” was on Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. resolutions (which he never did). Yet the President himself is going to have to make this case himself if he desires to penetrate popular public opinion.