There [in FBI interviews] Saddam admitted that he intended to rebuild his WMD programs once he rid himself of the international sanctions imposed after 1991. He knew that WMD’s were the key to his future power, just as they had been in the past. Had he been allowed to remain Iraq’s dictator, he would have emerged as an even greater international menace than before the Gulf war.
Those who condemn Bush’s decision to go to war, bemoan its cost in material and human terms, and deplore the damage it has allegedly done to the American image around the world should consider what would have happened if there had been no war. It is not just that millions of Iraqis would still be in the iron grip of Saddam and his police state. The fact is that, by 2002, no inspection regime and no amount of international pressure, no matter how plumped up by yet another UN resolution, would have kept him contained any longer. The Oil-for-Food corruption would have continued to grow unrestrained, finding reliable co-conspirators in Europe and the Middle East. Rising oil prices over the next half-decade would have kept Saddam awash in cash, allowing him to rebuild his military and cement his connections with powers like Syria and Russia. He had called our bluff before; but this time it was no bluff.
Given the logic of the situation, at what point could Bush have avoided war? To have taken the military option off the table before going to the UN would have undercut everything his analysts and policy advisers, including at the CIA, had been saying since 9/11—and brought howls of protests from leading Democrats in Congress. Doing so after the passage of Resolution 1441 would have made a mockery of the rationale for going to the UN in the first place, and, as Powell explicitly recognized, undermined the resolution itself.