During a 10 year tribute to his show "Late Edition" this morning, Wolf Blitzer opened up the CNN vaults to revisit some of the most deceptive things Bush administration officials have said to him throughout the years about Iraq and the reasons for the invasion. Oh, memories...
Cheney in Jan 2007: You can go back and argue the whole thing all over again, Wolf, but what we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do.
Full transcript below the fold:
Over the past decade, the 09/11 terror attacks and the war in Iraq have certainly dominated the news. From thousands killed and wounded to tremendous and often unexpected changes in the balance of power in the Middle East, Iraq has been a central topic of many of this program's most significant interviews.
The subject of Iraq even came up in my first interview with then- Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush when I caught up with him on the campaign trail in Iowa in January 2000, a year before he entered the White House.
BLITZER: It's almost exactly nine years since your dad, the president of the United States, accepted a cease-fire with Saddam Hussein in Iraq in exchange for full Iraqi agreement to comply with U.N. weapons inspectors, but for the last year there have been no weapons inspection teams in Iraq at all.
If you were president today, what would you do about that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I would continue to keep the pressure on the Iraqi government. I would continue to insist that inspectors be left and allowed into the country. I would continue to insist that Iraq complied with the cease-fire arrangement.
BLITZER: But they are in violation of the agreement.
BUSH: Absolutely, and we shouldn't be sending mixed signals, and if any time I found the Iraqis were developing weapons of mass destruction, they wouldn't exist anymore.
BLITZER: Who wouldn't exist anymore?
BUSH: The weapons of mass destruction, yes. I'm not -- they need to hear that from a potential president, that if we catch them in violation of the agreement, if we in any way, shape or form find out that they are developing weapons of mass destruction, that there will be action taken, and they can just guess what that action might.
BLITZER: And you're not going to spell it out here today.
BUSH: No, sir.
BLITZER: And he didn't spell out his plans back in 2000, but as the years went by his administration made it clear its fears of what Saddam Hussein could do were growing amid what appeared at the time, officials said, to be solid evidence of a hidden Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
President Bush's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and I spoke about that in September 2002.
BLITZER: How close is Saddam Hussein's government, how close is that government to developing a nuclear capability?
SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: You will get different estimates about precisely how close he is. We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance -- into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to -- high-quality aluminum tubes that are only really sorted for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists, to make a nuclear weapon, and we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons, but we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
BLITZER: Tensions with Saddam Hussein continued to grow until march 2003 when the U.S. and a coalition of allies invaded Iraq and toppled his regime in a matter of only a few weeks, but no weapons of mass destruction were found.
Also cast into doubt was another reason given for the invasion, possible evidence of cooperation between the Iraqi government and the terrorists of Al Qaida.
I pressed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on this when we spoke almost two years after the invasion.
BLITZER: Listen to what you said on September 26th, 2002, several months before the war: Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DONALD RUMSFELD: We do have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad. We have what we consider to be very reliable reporting of senior-level contacts going back a decade, and of possible chemical and biological agent training, and when I say contacts I mean between Iraq and al Qaeda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was a mistake?
RUMSFELD: No, Zarqawi was in there. It was clearly -- there clearly were al Qaeda in and around Iraq.
BLITZER: You believe that to this day?
RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was physically in Baghdad. They were operating.
BLITZER: But was he then, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, associated directly with Al Qaida?
RUMSFELD: No, probably not.
BLITZER: Why would you say there was a connection between Iraq and Al Qaida?
RUMSFELD: Because the intelligence reported that there were al Qaeda that moved in and out of Iraq and had some connection with the Saddam Hussein regime. BLITZER: That was on September 26th, 2002. The intelligence, your intelligence in February 2002 said exactly the opposite. There was a DIA intelligence estimate that's now been declassified, Senator Levin released it, that said this: "It's possible he does not know any further details. It's more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.
In effect, the DIA concluded that this source, which alleged this Iraq/Al Qaida connection, was a fabricator.
RUMSFELD: There is no question but that there are fabricators that operate in the intelligence world, and that there's also no question, but you can find intelligence reports on every side of every issue. When you look at the reams of intelligence information that the United States develops from different agencies, they gather from other foreign, friendly foreign liaison services, you can find in any given week intelligence that conflicts with each other. The implication that there's something amazing about that is just ridiculous. We know intelligence is imperfect.
BLITZER: But the basis of the intelligence, that's why the U.S. went to war: The WMD and the Iraq/Al Qaida connection that you alleged?
RUMSFELD: The reason the United States went to war, the president has announced and said it repeatedly: There were 17 resolutions in the U.N. that were ignored by Saddam Hussein. Our planes were being shot at on a regular basis in the Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch. Saddam Hussein was giving $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers. Iraq was on the terrorist list.
BLITZER: By January of last year, after a four-year battle with insurgents, many Americans were seriously questioning the wisdom of the invasion, but the vice president, Dick Cheney, had no doubt it was the right course of action.
CHENEY: Saddam Hussein would still be in power. He would, at this point, be engaged in a nuclear arms race with Ahmadinejad, his blood enemy next door in Iran.
BLITZER: But he was being contained, as you well know, by the no-fly zones in the north and in the south.
CHENEY: He was not being contained, Wolf. Wolf, the entire sanctions regime had been undermined by Saddam Hussein.
BLITZER: But he didn't have stockpiles.
CHENEY: He had corrupted the entire effort to try to keep him contained. He was bribing senior officials of other governments. The oil-for-food program had been totally undermined, and he had in fact produced and used weapons of mass destruction previously, and he retained the capability to produce that kind of stuff in the future.
BLITZER: But that was in the '80s.
CHENEY: You can go back and argue the whole thing all over again, Wolf. But what we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do. The world is much safer today because of it.
There have been three national elections in Iraq. There's a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically- elected government. Saddam has been brought to justice and executed. His sons are dead. His government is gone and the world is better off for it.
You can argue about that all you want. That's history. That's what we did and you and I can have this debate. We've had it before.
But the fact of the matter is, in terms of threats to the United States from al-Qaida, for example, attacks on the United States, they didn't need an excuse.
We weren't in Iraq when they hit us on 9/11. The fact of the matter was...
BLITZER: But the current situation there is...
CHENEY: The fact of the matter was that al Qaeda was out to kill Americans before we ever went into Iraq.
BLITZER: The current situation there is very unstable. The president himself speaks about a nightmare scenario right now. He was contained, as you repeatedly said throughout the '90s after the first Gulf War, in a box, Saddam Hussein.
CHENEY: He was, after the first Gulf War, had managed to kick out all the inspectors. He was providing payments to the families of suicide bombers.
He was a safe haven for terrorism, one of the prime state sponsors of terrorism, designated by our State Department for a long time. He'd started two wars. He had violated 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions. If he were still there today, we'd have a terrible situation.
BLITZER: But there is a terrible situation there.
CHENEY: No, there is not. There is not. There's problems -- ongoing problems -- but we have, in fact, accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime...
BLITZER: And... CHENEY: ... and there is a new regime in place that's been there for less than a year, far too soon for you guys to write them off. They have got a democratically written constitution, the first ever in that part of the world. They've had three national elections. So there's been a lot of success.
BLITZER: How worried are you, Mr. Vice President...
CHENEY: We still have more work to do to get a handle on the security situation...