by Jeffrey Steinberg
On Sunday, March 16, 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney emerged from his cave to appear on the NBC News "Meet the Press" show, for a one-hour interview with Tim Russert. In the course of the hour, Cheney all-but-announced that there was nothing that Saddam Hussein could do to avert an unprovoked and unjustifiable American military invasion of Iraq. Cheney repeatedly referred to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the "historic watershed" that, for the first time, justified an American unilateral preventive war. Yet Cheney himself, a dozen years earlier, had embraced the idea of preventive war—not against a Saddam Hussein who had been armed by the Reagan and Bush Administrations with weapons of mass destruction, but against any nation or combination of nations that challenged American global military primacy in the post-Soviet world. On the pivotal issue of preventive war, Cheney was lying, willfully. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Cheney's extraordinary hour-long pronouncement was composed, almost exclusively, of disinformation, which had either already been publicly discredited, or would soon be exposed as lies.
Cheney asserted that Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons, when, days earlier, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief weapons inspector Mohammed El-Baradei had testified before the UN Security Council that the allegations were based on documents determined to be forgeries. Indeed, in the March 31 issue of The New Yorker magazine, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh detailed how IAEA investigators had determined, in just several hours of research, that purported Niger government communiqués confirming the sale of 500 tons of "yellow cake" uranium precursor to Baghdad, were shoddy forgeries, drawn up on outdated Niger government letterheads. Hersh wrote that the forgeries were passed to the Bush Administration, through British MI6, and had probably originated with the British intelligence service, with the Mossad, or with Iraqi oppositionists affiliated with the Iraqi National Congress (INC) of Dr. Ahmed Chalabi.
Cheney also repeated the by-then-thoroughly-discredited charge that Saddam Hussein had "longstanding" ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, and that it was "only a matter of time" before Saddam Hussein provided the bin Laden gang with weapons of mass destruction—biological, chemical, and, ultimately, nuclear. As Cheney well knew, an October 2002 assessment from Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet, delivered to the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee, had pointedly stated that Saddam Hussein would only resort to WMD, or engage with al-Qaeda, if he felt that he was backed into a corner and facing imminent American military attack. Repeated efforts by "war party" operatives, like former Director of Central Intelligence and Iraqi National Congress lobbyist R. James Woolsey, had failed to turn up any credible evidence of Saddam-al-Qaeda links, particularly prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
Perhaps Cheney's biggest lie—which flew in the face of all assessments from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and State Department Middle East experts—was that the military conquest of Iraq would be a "cakewalk." Cheney told Russert, "Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."