[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[February 17, 1998]
[Pages 231-235]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia
February 17, 1998

    Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President, for your remarks and your leadership. Thank you, 
Secretary Cohen, for the superb job you 
have done here at the Pentagon and on this most recent, very difficult 
problem. Thank you, General Shelton, for 
being the right person at the right time. Thank you, General 
Ralston, and the members of the Joint 
Chiefs, General Zinni, Secretary 
Albright, Secretary Slater, DCI Tenet, Mr. 
Bowles, Mr. Berger. Senator Robb, thank you for 
being here, and Congressman Skelton, thank you 
very much, and for your years of service to America and your passionate 
patriotism, both of you, and to the members of our Armed Forces and 
others who work here to protect our national security.
    I have just received a very fine briefing from our military 
leadership on the status of our forces in the Persian Gulf. Before I 
left the Pentagon I wanted to talk to you and all those whom you 
represent, the men and women of our military. You, your friends, and 
your colleagues are on the frontlines of this crisis in Iraq. I want you 
and I want the American people to hear directly from me what is at stake 
for America in the Persian Gulf; what we are doing to protect the peace, 
the security, the freedom we cherish; why we have taken the position we 
have taken.
    I was thinking, as I sat up here on the platform, of the slogan that 
the First Lady gave me for her project on the millennium, which was 
``Remembering the past, and imagining the future.'' Now, for that 
project, that means preserving the Star-Spangled Banner and the 
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

[[Page 232]]

and the Bill of Rights, and it means making an unprecedented commitment 
to medical research and to get the best of the new technology. But 
that's not a bad slogan for us when we deal with more sober, more 
difficult, more dangerous matters.
    Those who have questioned the United States in this moment, I would 
argue, are living only in the moment. They have neither remembered the 
past nor imagined the future. So, first, let's just take a step back and 
consider why meeting the threat posed by Saddam Hussein is important to our security in the new era we are 
    This is a time of tremendous promise for America. The superpower 
confrontation has ended on every continent; democracy is securing for 
more and more people the basic freedoms we Americans have come to take 
for granted. Bit by bit, the information age is chipping away at the 
barriers, economic, political, and social, that once kept people locked 
in and freedom and prosperity locked out.
    But for all our promise, all our opportunity, people in this room 
know very well that this is not a time free from peril, especially as a 
result of reckless acts of outlaw nations and an unholy axis of 
terrorists, drug traffickers, and organized international criminals. We 
have to defend our future from these predators of the 21st century. They 
feed on the free flow of information and technology. They actually take 
advantage of the freer movement of people, information, and ideas. And 
they will be all the more lethal if we allow them to build arsenals of 
nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver 
them. We simply cannot allow that to happen.
    There is no more clear example of this threat than Saddam Hussein's 
Iraq. His regime threatens the safety of his 
people, the stability of his region, and the security of all the rest of 
    I want the American people to understand, first, the past: How did 
this crisis come about? And I want them to understand what we must do to 
protect the national interest and, indeed, the interest of all freedom-
loving people in the world.
    Remember, as a condition of the cease-fire after the Gulf war, the 
United Nations demanded--not the United States, the United Nations 
demanded--and Saddam Hussein agreed to 
declare within 15 days--this is way back in 1991--within 15 days his 
nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver 
them, to make a total declaration. That's what he promised to do.
    The United Nations set up a special commission of highly trained 
international experts, called UNSCOM, to make sure that Iraq made good 
on that commitment. We had every good reason to insist that Iraq disarm. 
Saddam had built up a terrible arsenal, and 
he had used it, not once but many times. In a decade-long war with Iran, 
he used chemical weapons against combatants, against civilians, against 
a foreign adversary, and even against his own people. And during the 
Gulf war, Saddam launched Scuds against Saudi Arabia, Israel, and 
    Now, instead of playing by the very rules he agreed to at the end of 
the Gulf war, Saddam has spent the better 
part of the past decade trying to cheat on this solemn commitment. 
Consider just some of the facts. Iraq repeatedly made false declarations 
about the weapons that it had left in its possession after the Gulf war. 
When UNSCOM would then uncover evidence that gave lie to those 
declarations, Iraq would simply amend the reports. For example, Iraq 
revised its nuclear declarations 4 times within just 14 months, and it 
has submitted six different biological warfare declarations, each of 
which has been rejected by UNSCOM.
    In 1995, Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-
law and the chief organizer of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction 
program, defected to Jordan. He revealed that Iraq was continuing to 
conceal weapons and missiles and the capacity to build many more. Then 
and only then did Iraq admit to developing numbers of weapons in 
significant quantities and weapons stocks. Previously it had vehemently 
denied the very thing it just simply admitted once Saddam Hussein's son-
in-law defected to Jordan and told the truth.
    Now, listen to this. What did it admit? It admitted, among other 
things, an offensive biological warfare capability, notably 5,000 
gallons of botulinum, which causes botulism; 2,000 gallons of anthrax; 
25 biological-filled Scud warheads; and 157 aerial bombs. And I might 
say, UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq has actually greatly 
understated its production. As if we needed further confirmation, you 
all know what happened to his son-in-law when 
he made the untimely decision to go back to Iraq.
    Next, throughout this entire process, Iraqi agents have undermined 
and undercut

[[Page 233]]

UNSCOM. They've harassed the inspectors, lied to them, disabled 
monitoring cameras, literally spirited evidence out of the back doors of 
suspect facilities as inspectors walked through the front door, and our 
people were there observing it and have the pictures to prove it.
    Despite Iraq's deceptions UNSCOM has, nevertheless, done a 
remarkable job. Its inspectors, the eyes and ears of the civilized 
world, have uncovered and destroyed more weapons of mass destruction 
capacity than was destroyed during the Gulf war. This includes nearly 
40,000 chemical weapons, more than 100,000 gallons of chemical weapons 
agents, 48 operational missiles, 30 warheads specifically fitted for 
chemical and biological weapons, and a massive biological weapons 
facility at Al Hakam equipped to produce anthrax and other deadly 
    Over the past few months, as they have come closer and closer to 
rooting out Iraq's remaining nuclear capacity, Saddam has undertaken yet another gambit to thwart their 
ambition by imposing debilitating conditions on the inspectors and 
declaring key sites which have still not been inspected off limits, 
including, I might add, one palace in Baghdad more than 2,600 acres 
large. By comparison--when you hear all this business about 
``Presidential sites reflect our sovereignty; why do you want to come 
into a residence?''--the White House complex is 18 acres, so you'll have 
some feel for this. One of these Presidential sites is about the size of 
Washington, DC. That's about--how many acres did you tell me it was--
40,000 acres. We're not talking about a few rooms here with delicate 
personal matters involved.
    It is obvious that there is an attempt here, based on the whole 
history of this operation since 1991, to protect whatever remains of 
his capacity to produce weapons of mass 
destruction, the missiles to deliver them, and the feedstocks necessary 
to produce them. The UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq still has 
stockpiles of chemical and biological munitions, a small force of Scud-
type missiles, and the capacity to restart quickly its production 
program and build many, many more weapons.
    Now, against that background, let us remember the past, here. It is 
against that background that we have repeatedly and unambiguously made 
clear our preference for a diplomatic solution. The inspection system 
works. The inspection system has worked in the face of lies, 
stonewalling, obstacle after obstacle after obstacle. The people who 
have done that work deserve the thanks of civilized people throughout 
the world. It has worked.
    That is all we want. And if we can find a diplomatic way to do what 
has to be done, to do what he promised to do at the end of the Gulf war, 
to do what should have been done within 15 days--within 15 days of the 
agreement at the end of the Gulf war--if we can find a diplomatic way to 
do that, that is by far our preference. But to be a genuine solution and 
not simply one that glosses over the remaining problem, a diplomatic 
solution must include or meet a clear, immutable, reasonable, simple 
standard: Iraq must agree, and soon, to free, full, unfettered access to 
these sites, anywhere in the country. There can be no dilution or 
diminishment of the integrity of the inspection system that UNSCOM has 
put in place.
    Now, those terms are nothing more or less than the essence of what 
he agreed to at the end of the Gulf war. The Security Council many times 
since has reiterated this standard. If he 
accepts them, force will not be necessary. If he refuses or continues to 
evade his obligation through more tactics of delay and deception, he, 
and he alone, will be to blame for the consequences.
    I ask all of you to remember the record here: what he promised to do within 15 days of the end of the Gulf 
war, what he repeatedly refused to do, what we found out in '95, what 
the inspectors have done against all odds.
    We have no business agreeing to any resolution of this that does not 
include free, unfettered access to the remaining sites by people who 
have integrity and proven competence in the inspection business. That 
should be our standard. That's what UNSCOM has done, and that's why I 
have been fighting for it so hard. That's why the United States should 
insist upon it.
    Now let's imagine the future. What if he 
fails to comply and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third 
route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of 
weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the 
sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made? 
Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its 
will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to 
rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I 

[[Page 234]]

you, he'll use the arsenal. And I think every one of you who has really 
worked on this for any length of time believes that, too.
    Now, we have spent several weeks building up our forces in the Gulf 
and building a coalition of like-minded nations. Our force posture would 
not be possible without the support of Saudi Arabia, of Kuwait, Bahrain, 
the GCC States, and Turkey. Other friends and allies have agreed to 
provide forces, bases, or logistical support, including the United 
Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Portugal, Denmark and The Netherlands, 
Hungary and Poland and the Czech Republic, Argentina, Iceland, 
Australia, New Zealand, and our friends and neighbors in Canada. That 
list is growing, not because anyone wants military action but because 
there are people in this world who believe the United Nations resolution 
should mean something, because they understand what UNSCOM has achieved, 
because they remember the past, and because they can imagine what the 
future will be, depending on what we do now.
    If Saddam rejects peace and we have to 
use force, our purpose is clear: We want to seriously diminish the 
threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. We want to 
seriously reduce his capacity to threaten his neighbors. I am quite 
confident from the briefing I have just received from our military 
leaders that we can achieve the objectives and secure our vital 
strategic interests.
    Let me be clear: A military operation cannot destroy all the weapons 
of mass destruction capacity. But it can and will leave him significantly worse off than he is now in terms of the 
ability to threaten the world with these weapons or to attack his 
neighbors. And he will know that the international community continues 
to have the will to act if and when he threatens again.
    Following any strike, we will carefully monitor Iraq's activities 
with all the means at our disposal. If he 
seeks to rebuild his weapons of mass destruction, we will be prepared to 
strike him again. The economic sanctions will remain in place until 
Saddam complies fully with all U.N. resolutions.
    Consider this: Already these sanctions have denied him $110 billion. Imagine how much stronger his armed 
forces would be today, how many more weapons of mass destruction 
operations he would have hidden around the country if he had been able 
to spend even a small fraction of that amount for a military rebuilding.
    We will continue to enforce a no-fly zone from the southern suburbs 
of Baghdad to the Kuwait border and in northern Iraq, making it more 
difficult for Iraq to walk over Kuwait again or threaten the Kurds in 
the north.
    Now, let me say to all of you here, as all of you know, the 
weightiest decision any President ever has to make is to send our troops 
into harm's way. And force can never be the first answer. But sometimes 
it's the only answer.
    You are the best prepared, best equipped, best trained fighting 
force in the world. And should it prove necessary for me to exercise the 
option of force, your commanders will do everything they can to protect 
the safety of all the men and women under their command. No military 
action, however, is risk-free. I know that the people we may call upon 
in uniform are ready. The American people have to be ready as well.
    Dealing with Saddam Hussein requires 
constant vigilance. We have seen that constant vigilance pays off, but 
it requires constant vigilance. Since the Gulf war we have pushed back 
every time Saddam has posed a threat. When Baghdad plotted to 
assassinate former President Bush, we struck 
hard at Iraq's intelligence headquarters. When Saddam threatened another 
invasion by massing his troops in Kuwait, along the Kuwaiti border in 
1994, we immediately deployed our troops, our ships, our planes, and 
Saddam backed down. When Saddam forcefully occupied Irbil in northern 
Iraq, we broadened our control over Iraq's skies by extending the no-fly 
    But there is no better example, again I say, than the U.N. weapons 
inspections system itself. Yes, he has tried 
to thwart it in every conceivable way. But the discipline, 
determination, the year-in, year-out effort of these weapons inspectors 
is doing the job. And we seek to finish the job.
    Let there be no doubt, we are prepared to act. But Saddam 
Hussein could end this crisis tomorrow, 
simply by letting the weapons inspectors complete their mission. He made 
a solemn commitment to the international community to do that and to 
give up his weapons of mass destruction a long time ago, now. One way or 
the other, we are determined to see that he makes good on his own 
    Saddam Hussein's Iraq reminds us of what 
we learned in the 20th century and warns us of what we must know about 
the 21st. In this century we learned through harsh experience

[[Page 235]]

that the only answer to aggression and illegal behavior is firmness, 
determination, and, when necessary, action. In the next century, the 
community of nations may see more and more the very kind of threat Iraq 
poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use 
them or provide them to terrorists, drug traffickers, or organized 
criminals, who travel the world among us unnoticed.
    If we fail to respond today, Saddam and 
all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow 
by the knowledge that they can act with impunity, even in the face of a 
clear message from the United Nations Security Council and clear 
evidence of a weapons of mass destruction program. But if we act as one, 
we can safeguard our interests and send a clear message to every would-
be tyrant and terrorist that the international community does have the 
wisdom and the will and the way to protect peace and security in a new 
    That is the future I ask you all to imagine. That is the future I 
ask our allies to imagine. If we look at the past and imagine that 
future, we will act as one together. And we still have, God willing, a 
chance to find a diplomatic resolution to this and, if not, God willing, 
a chance to do the right thing for our children and grandchildren.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:37 p.m. in the auditorium. In his 
remarks, he referred to Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, USMC, commander in chief, 
U.S. Central Command; and President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.