The following is a partial transcript of the second presidential debate between President Bush (R) and Sen. John F. Kerry (D). The debate was held in Washington University in St. Louis and was moderated by Charles Gibson of ABC News. Because Kerry did such a miserable job of holding George accountable for the debacle in Iraq, we threw him out of the debating hall. In his place, we invited a worthier opponent to challenge the incumbent candidate, the honorable Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary of Great Britain.
It would have been nice to have John Kerry watch this mano a mano exchange between Bush and Robin Cook. Unfortunately, he was busy rehearsing sound bites for his stale encounter with Bush.
Rest assured that none of the content of this fictional debate is fictional. Bush said every word quoted below in St. Louis. And Robin Cook has also been quoted accurately from an article he wrote for the Guardian on July 12, 2004. Note that when Bush addressed his answer to ‘Robin’, he was acknowledging a member of the audience -” not the former British Foreign secretary.
To cut down on the amount of time wasted on this heated exchange, we cut to the chase and asked both Bush and Cook to simply debate the merits of the Iraq war.
President Bush in St. Louis: After 9/11, we had to look at the world differently. After 9/11, we had to recognize that when we saw a threat, we must take it seriously before it comes to hurt us. And I saw a unique threat in Saddam Hussein because we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. And the unique threat was that he could give weapons of mass destruction to an organization like Al Qaida, and the harm they inflicted on us with airplanes would be multiplied greatly by weapons of mass destruction. And that was the serious, serious threat.
So I tried diplomacy, went to the United Nations. But as we learned in the same report I quoted, Saddam Hussein was gaming the oil-for-food program to get rid of sanctions. He was trying to get rid of sanctions for a reason: He wanted to restart his weapons programs.
We all thought there was weapons there, Robin. I wasn’t happy when we found out there wasn’t weapons, and we’ve got an intelligence group together to figure out why. But Saddam Hussein was a unique threat. And the world is better off without him in power. Saddam Hussein was a threat because he could have given weapons of mass destruction to terrorist enemies. Sanctions were not working. We didn’t find out he didn’t have weapons until we got there. The war on terror is to make sure that these terrorist organizations do not end up with weapons of mass destruction. That’s what the war on terror is about.
Robin Cook responds in The Guardian: It seems almost cruel to remind those who sold the case for the Iraq war of what they claimed at the time. But it is necessary, because they appear to be forgetting it themselves. President Bush was definite and apocalyptic: "Saddam is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to intimidate the civilised world." Donald Rumsfeld went one better: "We know where they are." On the eve of war, Tony Blair was equally specific that Saddam Hussein had the real thing: "Saddam has chemical and biological weapons."
The case that George Bush and Tony Blair made for war was that containment had failed and that we must launch a pre-emptive strike before Saddam used his imaginary weapons. Indeed, the claim that Saddam already had weapons of mass destruction ready for use was central to their argument that military action must be taken urgently. As Donald Rumsfeld warned in alarmist terms, "within a week, or a month, Saddam could give his WMD to al-Qaida".
If Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, there was no urgent need to invade Iraq. George Bush and Tony Blair could have given Hans Blix the extra few months for which he pleaded to finish his job and prove Saddam was no threat. What created real urgency in Washington to start the invasion may have been the dawning realisation that Hans Blix was about to remove their pretext for war.
(Author’s Note: Robin Cook was not invited to the debate in St. Louis. But he made the following comments after reviewing Charles Duelfer’s Report that confirmed that the CIA had found no WMDs in Iraq. Earlier findings by the 9/11 commission had already established that Iraq had no links to Al Qaida or Bin Laden.)
Robin Cook comments on Deulfer’s report: "It establishes that Iraq had no stockpile, no biological agents, no chemical feedstocks, no plants to manufacture them and no delivery systems to fire them. Saddam was no threat to us and had no weapons of mass destruction to pass to terrorists. Brushing the UN inspectors aside in order to go to war on false intelligence was a colossal blunder."