[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[December 16, 1998]
[Pages 2182-2185]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Address to the Nation Announcing Military Strikes on Iraq
December 16, 1998

    Good evening. Earlier today I ordered America's Armed Forces to 
strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British 
forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and 
biological programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. 
Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States 
and, indeed, the interest of people throughout the Middle East and 
around the world. Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his 
neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological 
    I want to explain why I have decided, with the unanimous 
recommendation of my national security team, to use force in Iraq; why 
we have acted now; and what we aim to accomplish.
    Six weeks ago Saddam Hussein announced that he would no longer 
cooperate with the United Nations weapons inspectors, called UNSCOM. 
They are highly professional experts from dozens of countries. Their job 
is to oversee the elimination of Iraq's capability to retain, create, 
and use weapons of mass destruction and to verify that Iraq does not 
attempt to rebuild that capability. The inspectors undertook this 
mission, first, 7\1/2\ years ago at the end of the Gulf war, when Iraq 
agreed to declare and destroy its arsenal as a condition of the cease-
    The international community had good reason to set this requirement. 
Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic 
missiles. With Saddam, there's one big difference: He has used them, not 
once but repeatedly, unleashing chemical weapons against Iranian troops 
during a decade-long war, not only against soldiers but against 
civilians; firing Scud missiles at the citizens of Israel, Saudi Arabia, 
Bahrain, and Iran, not only against a foreign enemy but even against his 
own people, gassing Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq.
    The international community had little doubt then, and I have no 
doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible 
weapons again.
    The United States has patiently worked to preserve UNSCOM, as Iraq 
has sought to avoid its obligation to cooperate with the inspectors. On 
occasion, we've had to threaten military force, and Saddam has backed 
down. Faced with Saddam's latest act of defiance in late October, we 
built intensive diplomatic pressure on Iraq, backed by overwhelming 
military force in the region. The U.N. Security Council voted 15 to zero 
to condemn Saddam's actions and to demand that he immediately come into 
compliance. Eight Arab nations--Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, 
Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Oman--warned that Iraq alone 
would bear responsibility for the consequences of defying the U.N.
    When Saddam still failed to comply, we prepared to act militarily. 
It was only then, at the last possible moment, that Iraq backed down. It 
pledged to the U.N. that it had made, and I quote, ``a clear and 
unconditional decision to resume cooperation with the weapons 
inspectors.'' I decided then to call off the attack, with

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our airplanes already in the air, because Saddam had given in to our 
demands. I concluded then that the right thing to do was to use 
restraint and give Saddam one last chance to prove his willingness to 
    I made it very clear at that time what ``unconditional cooperation'' 
meant, based on existing U.N. resolutions and Iraq's own commitments. 
And along with Prime Minister Blair of Great Britain, I made it equally 
clear that if Saddam failed to cooperate fully, we would be prepared to 
act without delay, diplomacy, or warning.
    Now, over the past 3 weeks, the U.N. weapons inspectors have carried 
out their plan for testing Iraq's cooperation. The testing period ended 
this weekend, and last night, UNSCOM's Chairman, Richard Butler, 
reported the results to U.N. Secretary-General Annan. The conclusions 
are stark, sobering, and profoundly disturbing.
    In four out of the five categories set forth, Iraq has failed to 
cooperate. Indeed, it actually has placed new restrictions on the 
inspectors. Here are some of the particulars:
    Iraq repeatedly blocked UNSCOM from inspecting suspect sites. For 
example, it shut off access to the headquarters of its ruling party and 
said it will deny access to the party's other offices, even though U.N. 
resolutions make no exception for them and UNSCOM has inspected them in 
the past.
    Iraq repeatedly restricted UNSCOM's ability to obtain necessary 
evidence. For example, Iraq obstructed UNSCOM's effort to photograph 
bombs related to its chemical weapons program. It tried to stop an 
UNSCOM biological weapons team from videotaping a site and photocopying 
documents and prevented Iraqi personnel from answering UNSCOM's 
questions. Prior to the inspection of another site, Iraq actually 
emptied out the building, removing not just documents but even the 
furniture and the equipment. Iraq has failed to turn over virtually all 
the documents requested by the inspectors; indeed, we know that Iraq 
ordered the destruction of weapons-related documents in anticipation of 
an UNSCOM inspection.
    So Iraq has abused its final chance. As the UNSCOM report concludes, 
and again I quote, ``Iraq's conduct ensured that no progress was able to 
be made in the fields of disarmament. In light of this experience and in 
the absence of full cooperation by Iraq, it must, regrettably, be 
recorded again that the Commission is not able to conduct the work 
mandated to it by the Security Council with respect to Iraq's prohibited 
weapons program.''
    In short, the inspectors are saying that, even if they could stay in 
Iraq, their work would be a sham. Saddam's deception has defeated their 
effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, Saddam has 
disarmed the inspectors.
    This situation presents a clear and present danger to the stability 
of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere. The 
international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume 
cooperation with the weapons inspectors. Saddam has failed to seize the 
    And so we had to act, and act now. Let me explain why.
    First, without a strong inspections system, Iraq would be free to 
retain and begin to rebuild its chemical, biological, and nuclear 
weapons programs in months, not years.
    Second, if Saddam can cripple the weapons inspections system and get 
away with it, he would conclude that the international community, led by 
the United States, has simply lost its will. He will surmise that he has 
free rein to rebuild his arsenal of destruction. And some day, make no 
mistake, he will use it again, as he has in the past.
     Third, in halting our airstrikes in November, I gave Saddam a 
chance, not a license. If we turn our backs on his defiance, the 
credibility of U.S. power as a check against Saddam will be destroyed. 
We will not only have allowed Saddam to shatter the inspections system 
that controls his weapons of mass destruction program; we also will have 
fatally undercut the fear of force that stops Saddam from acting to gain 
domination in the region.
    That is why, on the unanimous recommendation of my national security 
team, including the Vice President, Secretary of Defense, the Chairman 
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, and the National 
Security Adviser, I have ordered a strong, sustained series of 
airstrikes against Iraq. They are designed to degrade Saddam's capacity 
to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction, and to degrade his 
ability to threaten his neighbors. At the same time, we are delivering a 
powerful message to Saddam: If you act recklessly, you will pay a heavy 

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    We acted today because, in the judgment of my military advisers, a 
swift response would provide the most surprise and the least opportunity 
for Saddam to prepare. If we had delayed for even a matter of days from 
Chairman Butler's report, we would have given Saddam more time to 
disperse his forces and protect his weapons.
    Also, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins this weekend. For us 
to initiate military action during Ramadan would be profoundly offensive 
to the Muslim world and, therefore, would damage our relations with Arab 
countries and the progress we have made in the Middle East. That is 
something we wanted very much to avoid without giving Iraq a month's 
headstart to prepare for potential action against it.
    Finally, our allies, including Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great 
Britain, concurred that now is the time to strike.
    I hope Saddam will come into cooperation with the inspection system 
now and comply with the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. But 
we have to be prepared that he will not, and we must deal with the very 
real danger he poses. So we will pursue a long-term strategy to contain 
Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction and work toward the day when 
Iraq has a Government worthy of its people.
    First, we must be prepared to use force again if Saddam takes 
threatening actions, such as trying to reconstitute his weapons of mass 
destruction or their delivery systems, threatening his neighbors, 
challenging allied aircraft over Iraq, or moving against his own Kurdish 
citizens. The credible threat to use force, and when necessary, the 
actual use of force, is the surest way to contain Saddam's weapons of 
mass destruction program, curtail his aggression, and prevent another 
Gulf war.
    Second, so long as Iraq remains out of compliance, we will work with 
the international community to maintain and enforce economic sanctions. 
Sanctions have cost Saddam more than $120 billion, resources that would 
have been used to rebuild his military. The sanctions system allows Iraq 
to sell oil for food, for medicine, for other humanitarian supplies for 
the Iraqi people. We have no quarrel with them. But without the 
sanctions, we would see the oil-for-food program become oil-for-tanks, 
resulting in a greater threat to Iraq's neighbors and less food for its 
    The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he 
threatens the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the 
security of the world. The best way to end that threat once and for all 
is with a new Iraqi Government, a Government ready to live in peace with 
its neighbors, a Government that respects the rights of its people.
    Bringing change in Baghdad will take time and effort. We will 
strengthen our engagement with the full range of Iraqi opposition forces 
and work with them effectively and prudently.
    The decision to use force is never cost-free. Whenever American 
forces are placed in harm's way, we risk the loss of life. And while our 
strikes are focused on Iraq's military capabilities, there will be 
unintended Iraqi casualties. Indeed, in the past, Saddam has 
intentionally placed Iraqi civilians in harm's way in a cynical bid to 
sway international opinion. We must be prepared for these realities. At 
the same time, Saddam should have absolutely no doubt: If he lashes out 
at his neighbors, we will respond forcefully.
    Heavy as they are, the costs of action must be weighed against the 
price of inaction. If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond, we 
will face a far greater threat in the future. Saddam will strike again 
at his neighbors. He will make war on his own people. And mark my words, 
he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and he 
will use them. Because we are acting today, it is less likely that we 
will face these dangers in the future.
    Let me close by addressing one other issue. Saddam Hussein and the 
other enemies of peace may have thought that the serious debate 
currently before the House of Representatives would distract Americans 
or weaken our resolve to face him down. But once more, the United States 
has proven that, although we are never eager to use force, when we must 
act in America's vital interests, we will do so.
    In the century we're leaving, America has often made the difference 
between chaos and community, fear and hope. Now, in a new century, we'll 
have a remarkable opportunity to shape a future more peaceful than the 
past but only if we stand strong against the enemies of peace. Tonight, 
the United States is doing just that.
    May God bless and protect the brave men and women who are carrying 
out this vital mission, and their families. And may God bless America.

[[Page 2185]]

Note: The President spoke at 6 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq 
and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.