CoOp 9

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WMD Again

D.B. Maxwell


Today George Tenet began his rounds of the talk circuit with a turn on "60 Minutes" to plug his new book, "At the Center of the Storm."

In it he asserts that the Bush administration rushed to war in Iraq without ever having a serious discussion on the merits of the war, and then made Tenet a scapegoat for bolstering the plan with "slam-dunk"-able intelligence on Iraq's possession of "Weapons of Mass Destruction."

While providing a glimpse into the incompetence and arrogance of those running the country, Tenet offered up a mild mea culpa for the wrongness of his best estimate regarding Iraq's capabilities.

This simply must stop.

The problem with all this hand-wringing over WMD by Tenet, the administration, the press, and the occasional taxi driver, is that intelligence regarding WMD was never a factor in the decision to invade Iraq.

Here is a little exercise to demonstrate the insignificance of WMD during the buildup to the invasion.

Q. During the 10 years after the Gulf war of 1991 and prior to 9/11/2001, what percentage of intelligent, informed U.S. citizenry presumed that Saddam Hussein had an arsenal of banned weapons?

A. 100%.

Q. During that same period, what percentage of intelligent, informed U.S. citizenry believed that those weapons justified an invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces?

A. 0% 

So, if Iraq was not perceived to be a serious threat on 9/10/2001, despite its presumed WMD arsenal, how is it that on 9/11/2001 Iraq catapulted to the top of the list in the soon to be named "Axis of Evil?" [1] [2] [3]

Such a leap would require a massive campaign of manipulation by a young Bush administration eager to explore the reach of its power.

What should have been clear to all from the beginning should now be convincingly clear. Bush chose to invade Iraq for reasons bearing no resemblance to those articulated thus far by the administration or its apologists. [4] The decision to invade was set in motion long prior to 9/11/2001 by those fanatical adherents to neoconservative dogma with whom G.W. Bush chose to surround himself. [5] [6] [7]

Clearly no one in government or the press was capable of determining with precision the truth regarding WMD in Iraq. But that lack of certainty should not have mattered. Without other more compelling arguments, the presumption of WMD in Iraq was simply insufficient to justify an invasion in 2003, as it had been for the previous decade. Without the WMD argument, the remaining arguments for invasion would collapse into a mass of conjecture and deliberate falsehood. Nevertheless, the administration was more than willing to make its case using those false arguments, and the Congress that authorized the invasion did so knowingly. [8] [9] [10]

Only one totally uneducated in Middle East politics, for example, could have heard the President and Vice President repeatedly link Iraq to the Al Quaida attacks without quickly concluding that the allegation must be deliberately false. The idea that a secular dictatorship in Iraq would ally itself with an out-of-control Islamic military organization was simply too outrageous to have been accepted without rigorous proof.

If the administration was willing to overreach so blatantly on the Al Quaida connection, its other reasons for invasion must have been equally flawed. The reasoning goes like this:

A prudent administration would not jeopardize the credibility of a group of sound policy arguments with a single demonstrably invalid argument. Therefore, if one can detect the inclusion of even a single falsehood into the discussion, one can reasonably conclude the administration believed the credibility of its other arguments to be unworthy of the protection afforded by avoiding falsehood in general. Because we knew that Bush lied about the Iraq-Al Quaida connection, or the yellow cake, or the aluminum centrifuge tubes, we knew that he also lied about his faith in the other reasons for invading Iraq.

But few of those in a position to know the truth spoke up; fewer still were heard. [11] Most just went along. The administration's network of political operatives was shameless in the means it would employ to suppress alternative viewpoints, sending official "reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say." [12]

Hillary Clinton, no neocon, voted to authorize the invasion, and continues to defend her decision to this day. [13]

It is against this background that George Tenet's tale must be evaluated.

Tenet's confessed culpability in the intelligence relating to WMD in Iraq seems little more than a red herring, a mere distraction, given the ultimate insignificance of the presumed arsenal, and unworthy of our attention. After all, an unsuspecting GI (or Halliburton subcontractor) may yet discover a hidden cache of toxic gas or biological agents in the vastness of Iraq. If and when that happens, the decision to invade Iraq will still have been wrong.

If any contrition is due from Tenet, perhaps it should be for failing in 2003 to impress upon the administration that, with or without WMD, any threat posed by Iraq did not warrant an invasion. Tenet insists that he made the case that Iraq posed no imminent threat, but no one was buying.

Quick to get out ahead of that issue on the Sunday morning broadcast interviews was Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, apparently anticipating an uproar over the revelations in Tenet's book, and hoping to spin the White House justification for invasion in yet another new direction.

Ms. Rice now plainly admits that the Iraq threat may not have appeared "imminent" in 2002. But, as she now explains, the threat from Iraq's imaginary arsenal was expected to grow, and conversely America's ability to counter that threat was expected to decline. To paraphrase the administration's 2007 rationale, the 2003 invasion provided an opportunity to prevent Iraq from becoming the "imminent" threat that the 2003 administration claimed Iraq already was. [14]

In their next books, perhaps George Tenet or Colin Powell will offer a discussion of how the world might now be different had they resigned their posts and spoken openly of a despotic administration aggressively misrepresenting its best intelligence in order to support an invasion decision that had already been made.

Perhaps that timely truth might have prevented 30,000 US military casualties and the decimation of U.S. military capability and readiness.

Perhaps that truth might have protected future generations from the trillion-dollar debt they will inherit from a war that served no purpose, and destabilized the Middle East for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps that truth might have encouraged others in government to act honorably, to take a path at odds with the frenzied flow of national emotion generated by a White House propaganda machine intent on serving its own agenda.

Or perhaps not.

Copyright 2007

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