to: [Louis Jacobson], [Keely Herring], email@example.com
cc: [Aaron Sharockman], [Angie Drobnic Holan]
date: Tue, Jun 16, 2015 at 4:19 PM
subject: Regarding "Meme says Bill Clinton, George W. Bush had basically the same policy on Iraq"
Mr. Jacobson, Ms. Herring, and Politifact:
I am writing to you regarding your June 16 article, "Meme says Bill Clinton, George W. Bush had basically the same policy on Iraq", at http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/jun/16/facebook-posts/meme-says-bill-clinton-george-w-bush-had-basically/.
Your article addresses a subject I have studied with some depth.
Your article looks at two issues based on a meme about President Clinton and Bush's Iraq policies. The first issue compares Presidents Clinton and Bush's positions on Iraqi WMD. The second issue compares Presidents Clinton and Bush's positions on regime change for Iraq.
1. Your conclusion that "while it’s true that both Clinton and Bush mentioned weapons of mass destruction in relation to Iraq, Bush’s claim was much more expansive [with an addition of nuclear and biological weapons issues]" is incorrect.
In fact, Presidents HW Bush, Clinton, and Bush (and Obama) enforced the same "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441) for the terms of the Gulf War ceasefire with emphasis on the disarmament and terrorism mandates of UNSCR 687 (1991) and the humanitarian mandates of UNSCR 688 (1991) and related resolutions. See, in particular, paragraphs 8 to 13 of UNSCR 687 regarding Iraq's obligations on WMD.
To wit, preceding Operation Desert Fox on November 5, 1998, President Clinton referred to paragraphs 8 to 13 of UNSCR 687, "After the Gulf War, the international community demanded and Iraq agreed to declare and destroy all of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capability and the missiles to deliver them, and to meet other U.N. Security Council resolutions. ... Now, the better part of a decade later, Iraq continues to shirk its clear obligations."
I am curious why the author of the meme chose to refer non-specifically to 1996 given that President Clinton was preoccupied with enforcing the UN mandates for Iraq for his entire presidency from 1993 to 2001. Clinton's enforcement efforts with Iraq peaked with correspondingly ominous statements in 1998.
Similarly, even granting the arbitrary limit of 1996, I am curious why Politifact chose to cite President Clinton's September 7, 1996 statement regarding the Chemical Weapons Convention to represent Clinton's position on Iraqi WMD. Clinton's September 7, 1996 statement on the CWC was not focused on Iraq's compliance with UNSCR 687 and, therefore, was not representative of Clinton's position on Iraqi WMD.
[Note: The 06MAY96 quote from President Clinton was italicized in the e-mail and block-quoted here.]
Meanwhile in 1996, per the periodic reporting mandate of Public Law 102-1 (1991), President Clinton made several statements focused on Iraq's noncompliance with UNSCR 687. For example, see http://clinton6.nara.gov/1996/05/1996-05-06-president-letter-to-congress-on-iraq.html:
The Government of Iraq remains far from compliance with its obligations under applicable Security Council resolutions. The U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) Chairman Ekeus remarked recently in Washington that Iraq may be hiding up to 16 SCUD missiles, possibly armed with biological warheads. Iraqi officials blatantly violated Security Council resolutions in March when they repeatedly obstructed UNSCOM officials attempting to search buildings in Baghdad for weapons of mass destruction material. Iraqi officials may have removed or destroyed incriminating material during the delay. In a report released on April 11, UNSCOM expressed its concern that Iraq may still be engaged in weapons activities prohibited under Security Council Resolution 687. Iraq continues to evade its duty to return looted Kuwaiti property and help account for hundreds of civilians who disappeared in Kuwait during the occupation. Iraq still provides refuge for known terrorists.President Clinton's 1996 reports on Iraq were not as detailed as his later [Public Law 102-1 mandated] reports to Congress on Iraq. Instead, Clinton's 1996 reports referred to UNSCOM's reports, which addressed the range of WMD-related mandates for Iraq, including the nuclear, biological, and chemical-related proscriptions under UNSCR 687. For UNSCOM's reports, see http://fas.org/news/un/iraq/s/index.html.
A better detailed statement of President Clinton's position on Iraqi WMD is found in his March 3, 1999 letter to Congress that explained the justification for Operation Desert Fox: see http://clinton6.nara.gov/1999/03/1999-03-03-text-of-a-letter-to-congress-on-iraq.html.
The March 3, 1999 letter to Congress is just one example of Clinton's position on Iraqi WMD from the last part of his administration before Clinton handed off the festering Saddam problem to his successor. See the primary sources for the "President Clinton Perspective" on Iraq compiled at http://operationiraqifreedomfaq.blogspot.com/2004/10/perspective-on-operation-iraqi-freedom.html#clinton.
Contrary to Politifact's conclusion, Presidents Clinton and Bush shared substantially the same position on Iraqi WMD based on enforcing the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" for disarmament mandated by UNSCR 687 and related resolutions. In March 2003, the UNMOVIC Cluster[s] Document finding of "about 100 unresolved disarmament issues" confirmed "Iraq [has been and] remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687" (UNSCR 1441) and triggered Operation Iraqi Freedom in the same way that the UNSCOM Butler Report confirmed Iraq's material breach and triggered Operation Desert Fox in December 1998.
The differences between the presidents on Iraqi WMD are, one, the 9/11 attacks raised the urgency to make "Iraq fully comply with all of its obligations under Security Council resolutions" (Clinton) in light of Iraq's continued terrorism in breach of UNSCR 687 (see http://fas.org/irp/eprint/iraqi/) and, two, in his latter presentation of the public case against Saddam, President Bush deviated from President Clinton by citing to the intelligence in addition to Iraq's noncompliance, despite that the UNMOVIC confirmation of Iraq's "continued violations" (UNSCR 1441) - not the intelligence -
However, President Bush's error of presentation does not change that in Saddam's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441), Iraq was in material breach across the board with the terms of ceasefire, especially the disarmament and terrorism mandates of UNSCR 687 and humanitarian mandates of UNSCR 688, for casus belli.
2. Your conclusion "Clinton did sign a law backing regime change in Iraq, but it was limited to assistance to homegrown opposition groups, not to a ground war aimed at toppling Hussein" is partially correct, but elides the ceasefire enforcement context for Public Law 105-338, ie, bringing Iraq into compliance with UN mandates.
[The common misconception that the scope of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 was restricted to aid to Iraqi dissidents is dispelled by scrutinizing the statute's construction. The law plainly established regime change and US-led peace operations with post-Saddam Iraq as the solution to the Saddam problem. And it did spell out measures to aid Iraqi dissidents. However, the statutory text, “[n]othing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of United States Armed Forces” (P.L. 105-338), is not a restriction. Aside from its enumerated measures, P.L. 105-338 was daisy-chained to the standing laws authorizing the "use of all necessary means" (P.L. 102-190) to "bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations" (P.L. 105-235).]
While the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 did not call for (nor bar) regime change by invasion, the statute effectively established that, due to Saddam's intransigence, the solution to the ongoing threat posed by Iraq's noncompliance was regime change, which the Clinton administration actively fostered. In fact, the policy of regime change had begun under President HW Bush who supported the Iraqi National Congress [and "homegrown opposition groups" within Iraq] before President Clinton. The statute also committed the US to assisting post-Saddam Iraq (see section 7 of Public Law 105-338 and section 4 of Public Law 107-243).
In context, President Clinton's policy of 'containment' was not meant to be a substitute for Iraqi compliance with the terms of ceasefire. The 'containment' was fashioned as an ad hoc stopgap until either Saddam fully complied with the terms of ceasefire (unlikely, since Saddam had rejected the UN mandates in Iraqi law) or regime change. Part of the 'containment' policy that Clinton conveyed to Bush was the contingency for military response if Iraq showed any sign of breaking 'containment', which was the situation with Iraq by 2001.
Together with the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, Operation Desert Fox in December 1998 set the stage for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2002-2003. President Clinton's December 16, 1998 announcement for ODF laid out the case for regime change, and the bombing campaign cleared the penultimate enforcement step. After ODF, the only enforcement step remaining was the threat of regime change. [The sanctions were de facto neutralized by 2000-2001 and Saddam's attack on Irbil in August 1996 effectively broke the US-backed threat of "homegrown opposition groups".] Hans Blix stated and the Iraq Survey Group confirmed that, by 2002-2003, the only enforcement measure remaining that could compel Saddam to cooperate at all with the UN weapons inspections, even deficiently, was the credible threat of regime change.
In the end, Saddam responded to his "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) by calling our bluff with "about 100 unresolved disarmament issues" (UNMOVIC Cluster Document) in breach of UNSCR 687. At that point, the alternative to Operation Iraqi Freedom was compromising "the governing standard of Iraqi compliance" in order to free a noncompliant, unreconstructed Saddam who had, one, evident[ial]ly not disarmed as mandated, and two, was confirmed by the Iraq Survey Group to be rearming in violation of UNSCR 687 with an active program in the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
In summary, the Politifact conclusion that Presidents Clinton and Bush held substantially different positions on Iraqi WMD is incorrect. Both presidents enforced Iraq's compliance with the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" for disarmament mandated by UNSCR 687 and related resolutions. Your citation of Clinton's September 7, 1996 statement on the Chemical Weapons Convention to represent Clinton's position on Iraqi WMD is a curious choice that overlooks the body of Clinton's statements, including from 1996, that focused on Iraqi WMD.
The Politifact conclusion that Presidents Clinton and Bush held different positions on regime change is partially correct, but overlooks the ceasefire enforcement context for the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, including the circumstances with Iraq's noncompliance in 2002-2003.
For more, see my explanation of the law and policy, fact basis for Operation Iraqi Freedom:
Critical responses to pundits:
Explaining the grounds for Operation Iraqi Freedom to a law professor (Chibli Mallat);
Correcting Politifact's fundamental distortion of the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement;
Comments on Stephen Knott's "When Everyone Agreed About Iraq";
Augmenting William Inboden's critique of J.E. Smith's Bush biography regarding Iraq;
Objection to Paul Miller's characterization of OIF as an "outlier" in American Power and Liberal Order;
Critique of the Iraq portion of chapter one of Anne Pierce's A Perilous Path;
Critical response to John Rentoul's "Chilcot Report: Politicians".