Alexander Haig, secretary of state under former President Ronald Reagan; NATO supreme allied commander; and Nixon chief of staff, falsely asserted that Iraq's purported possession of weapons of mass destruction did not become the United States' major rationale for going to war until the U.S. presented its case to the United Nations. In fact, President Bush used WMD as his primary rationale while seeking the American public's support for the war -- well before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell laid out the administration's case to the U.N.
On the January 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews asked Haig if he "would have supported [the war in Iraq] had you known there was no WMD." He responded:
No, I don't think the weapons of mass destruction was the key issue from the beginning. It became that when we brought it to the United Nations and the British made -- insisted that they had to have something besides just getting rid of [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam. And so we brought that in and it distorted the whole thing, as going to the U.N. did. We should have acted first with NATO and a consensus of our European alliance and then turned to the United Nations.
But the Bush administration's insistence that Iraq possessed and was prepared to use WMD was the "key issue" in the case for war -- prior to their seeking U.N. approval. Bush began laying out his case for invading Iraq more than a year before Powell's February 5, 2003, presentation to the U.N. (which was riddled with dubious and false information). In his January 29, 2002, State of the Union address, Bush highlighted WMD as the primary argument for action against Iraq, labeling the country as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and North Korea:
Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.
We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction.
We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack.
And all nations should know: America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security.
We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.
As The Washington Post reported on January 30, 2002, Bush's speech "sharply increase[d] both the immediacy and the gravity of the threat they [Iraq, Iran, and North Korea] pose, along with his own determination to do something about it sooner rather than later."