Okay, so the much-awaited results of our imminent threat contest.
In recent weeks a number of conservative commentators have tried mightily to make the case that because administration leaders seldom used the phrase âimminent threatâ that they didnât argue that this was the situation we faced.
Yet, as I said
in The Hill
on Wednesday, their argument is really just a âcrafty verbal dodge â sort of like âI didnât accuse you of eating the cake. All I said was that you sliced it up and put it in your mouth.ââ
Democrats aren't responsible for disentangling this mumbo-jumbo if they want to talk about the president's record and responsibility.
Part of the administrationâs effort to float the imminent threat argument was based on redefining what such a threat would mean in the face of terrorism and inadequate intelligence information. Many of the presidentâs defenders refer to this statement in the presidentâs State of the Union address
in his defense â¦
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late.
But what the president is saying here is that in the context of rogue states in alliance with terrorists weâll never have the sort of advance warning which used to count as the evidence of an imminent threat. And thus what we had in Iraq actually amounted to an imminent threat. In fact, the administration anticipated this line of reasoning in its National Security Strategy document
when it said âWe must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of todayâs adversaries.â
Condi Rice made a similar point in September 2002 when she said on Nightline: âWell, the President talked about a direct threat. And a threat that might materialize at a certain time. And after the experience of September 11th, the question of what is imminent is a different question because, at any time a threat that has been brewing, a threat that has been developing, can suddenly strike you from the blue.â
But enough of this, because on numerous occasions administration leaders dispensed with this nuancing entirely and just said it was a plain old imminent threat -- and progressively more often as we moved toward war.
The key is the claim that it is a present threat that could come at any moment and which the country has to confront now or risk potential disaster. I made my argument about the bogusness of the âwe never said it was an imminent threatâ argument in my last column
in The Hill
. And if youâre interested you can read it there.
But now, letâs get down to who won the super-slick TPM T-shirt.
Some people sent in quotes like this one
from Richard Perle:
And the only point I want to make is that as long as Saddam is there, with everything we know about Saddam, as long as he possesses the weapons that we know he possesses, there is a threat, and I believe it's imminent because he could choose at any time to take an action we all very much hope he won't take.
Thatâs pretty clear, ainât it?
Throughout the build-up to the war, Perle was acting as a de facto
spokesman for the war-hawks in the administration. And he had an office in the Pentagon. But at the end of the day he wasnât a principal in the administration. So, although his statements typified the administration line, his canât be the winning quote.
More in contention are the quotes from the presidentâs spokesmen at the time. Did they think the president was arguing there was an imminent threat? The evidence here is awfully clear. Three examples from my Hill
Last October, a reporter put this to Ari Fleischer: âAri, the president has been saying that the threat from Iraq is imminent, that we have to act now to disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, and that it has to allow the U.N. inspectors in, unfettered, no conditions, so forth.â
Fleischerâs answer? âYes.â
In January, Wolf Blitzer asked Dan Bartlett: âIs [Saddam] an imminent threat to U.S. interests, either in that part of the world or to Americans right here at home.â
Bartlettâs answer? âWell, of course he is.â
A month after the war, another reporter asked Fleischer, âWell, we went to war, didnât we, to find these â because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isnât that true?â
Fleischerâs answer? âAbsolutely.â
Any of those could be winners in my book.
But others are still in contention.
What always struck me as the most egregious statement at the time was the president's claim
on the very eve of the war that we "will not live at the mercy
of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder." (italics added)
Administration leaders also called the threat âurgent
â (Bush), âmortal
â (Cheney), âimmediate
â (Rumsfeld) and a bunch of other similar lines.
But the most important enunciator of the presidentâs argument is the president himself.
So first prize in the TPM Imminent Threat T-Shirt Contest (TPMITTSC) goes for this quote from the presidentâs October 7th 2002 speech
in Cincinnati Ohio ...
Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.
The first runner up goes to another line from a few moments later in the same speech
Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
And the second runner-up goes to this exchange
from May 7th 2003 with then-presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer:
Question: Well, we went to war, didn't we, to find these -- because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?
Fleischer: Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction. And nothing has changed on that front at all.
Now, we had almost 500 entries. So many people sent in the same quotations. And the only fair way to sort them out was to go with the entrant who came up with the quote first.
(BTW, a special thanks to TPM editorial assistant and all-around helper Zander Barnes for processing, organizing and reviewing all the entries.)
So, with that in mind, the winners are â¦
1st Place â¦ Jason Barnosky (Winner of a finely-crafted TPM T-Shirt)
2nd Place â¦ Anita Krasno (Winner of a finely-crafted TPM Mug)
3rd Place â¦ Jon Rey (Winner of a finely-crafted TPM Mug)
Now, in these trying times, itâs important for all of us to keep our morale up. So if youâre hit especially hard by not winning the contest, keep in mind that you can buy your own TPM apparel, mugs and carry-alls in the TPM Shop