(continued from the previous post)
The Bush administration wanted to make a statement about its determination to fight terrorism. And officials acknowledge that Saddam had all the requirements to make him, from their standpoint, the perfect target.
Other countries have such weapons, yet the United States did not go to war with them. And though Saddam oppressed and tortured his own people, other tyrants have done the same without incurring U.S. military action. Finally, Saddam had ties to terrorists — but so have several countries that the United States did not fight.
But Saddam was guilty of all these things and he met another requirement as well — a prime location, in the heart of the Middle East, between Syria and Iran, two countries the United States wanted to send a message to.
That message: If you collaborate with terrorists, you do so at your own peril.
Officials said that even if Saddam had backed down and avoided war by admitting to having weapons of mass destruction, the world would have received the same message; Don't mess with the United States.
Former CIA Director James Woolsey said on Nightline this week that although he believed Saddam was a serious threat and had dangerous weapons, going to war to prove a point was wrong.
"I don't think you should go to war to set examples or send messages," Woolsey said. Get the transcript of the Woolsey interview.
Sept. 11, 2001
But what if Sept. 11 had never happened? Would the United States have gone to war with Iraq? Administration officials and others say no, at least not now.
The Bush administration could probably have lived with the threat of Saddam and might have gone after him eventually if, for example, the Iraqi leader had become more aggressive in pursuing a nuclear program or in sponsoring terrorism.
But again, Sept. 11 changed all that.
Listen closely, officials said, to what Bush was really saying to the American people before the war.
"I hope they understand the lesson of September the 11th," Bush said on March 6. "The lesson is, is that we're vulnerable to attack, wherever it may occur, and we must take threats which gather overseas very seriously. We don't have to deal with them all militarily, but we have to deal with them."
(continued in the next post)