President Bush lied us into war and the revelations produced by the Scooter Libby indictment only confirm this terrible scandal.
That’s the essence of the vicious slur Democrats are hurling at the GOP these days, with Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) shutting down the U.S. Senate to dramatize the charge.
The White House, as the Democrats would now have it, had virtually no evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, but the President, Dick Cheney and their gang were so intent on removing Saddam from power they invented facts. And when critics such as Joe Wilson spoke truth to power, the “Scooters” in the administration slimed their reputations.
The episode involving Libby and Wilson, summed up Reid, “is about how the Bush White House manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq and to discredit anyone who dared to challenge the President.”
This is unpatriotic mud-slinging, with a touch of Black Helicopter looniness tossed in. To believe that the White House concocted a fable about WMD in Iraq, you would have to believe in a massive conspiracy involving not only the Bush people, but both Bill Clinton’s and George Bush’s CIA director, George Tenet; Bush’s first term secretary of state, Colin Powell; Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright; Clinton’s key NSC Persian Gulf adviser, Kenneth Pollack; and numerous WMD experts at the United Nations.
How many people, for instance, know that Wilson himself, the Democrats’ big stick to beat up on Bush, believed that when the war began Saddam had weapons of mass destruction?
Here is what he wrote in his now infamous July 6, 2003, column in the New York Times, attempting to disprove, unsuccessfully, that the Bush Administration was wrong when it insisted Iraq had been seeking nuclear materials in Niger:
“I was convinced before the war that the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein required a vigorous and sustained international response to disarm him. Iraq possessed and had used chemical weapons; it had an active biological weapons program and quite possibly a nuclear research program—all of which were in violation of U.N. resolutions.”
What Wilson said in this column, of course, contained the core rationale the administration gave as to why this country went to war. Was Wilson in on the White House conspiracy, too?
Even though Wilson argued that his oral report to the CIA refuted Bush’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger—the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence forcefully asserted quite the opposite—he did believe what virtually the whole world believed: that Saddam Hussein had plenty of WMD and was energetically attempting to acquire more.
Madeleine Albright, appearing on the Sept. 21, 2003, edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” had been certain that Saddam had stockpiled those terrible weapons. She admitted she was very “surprised” that they hadn’t yet been discovered, adding: “But what worries me most now,” is “where is it [WMD], and could it be in the hands of terrorists?”
From 1995 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2001, Kenneth M. Pollack served as director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council, where he was the principal working-level official responsible for implementation of Clinton’s policy toward Iraq.
Prior to serving Clinton, he spent seven years in the CIA as a Persian Gulf military analyst.
Was Clinton’s seasoned expert on the Gulf also in on the Bush plan to fabricate evidence? The conspiracy buffs may think so, for in 2002, when Bush was in office and worrying about what to do about Saddam, Pollack wrote a book titled The Threatening Storm. The subtitle was more provocative: The Case for Invading Iraq.
After analyzing all the WMD evidence at his command, and Saddam Hussein’s career as an aggressor, a mass murderer and a political thug who could not be trusted to keep his word, Pollack concluded: “Unfortunately, the only prudent and realistic course of action left to the United States is to mount a full-scale invasion of Iraq to smash the Iraqi armed forces.”
When the WMD weren’t found, Pollack wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly for its first issue in 2004.
He was critical of the Bush Administration’s handling of the war, but he made several informative observations in his critique. Among them:
- “The U.S. intelligence community’s belief that Saddam was aggressively pursuing weapons of mass destruction pre-dated Bush’s inauguration and therefore cannot be attributed to political pressure.”
“In October of 2002, the National Intelligence Council, the highest analytical body in the U.S. intelligence community, issued a classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD representing the consensus of the intelligence community. Although after the war some complained that the NIE had been a rush job and that the NIE should have been more careful in its choice of language, in fact, the report accurately reflected what intelligence analysts had been telling Clinton Administration officials like me for years in verbal briefings.”
A declassified version of the 2002 NIE was released to the public in July 2003. Among its findings:
- “Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions.”
- “Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions. . . .”
“Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program and invested more heavily in biological weapons; most analysts assess [that] Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.”
Pollack, citing this crucial report, then said: “U.S. government analysts were not alone in these views. In the late spring of 2002, I participated in a Washington meeting about Iraq WMD. Those present included nearly 20 former inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), the force established in 1991 to oversee the elimination of WMD in Iraq.
“One of the senior people put a question to the group. Did anyone in the room doubt that Iraq was currently operating a secret centrifuge plant? No one did. Three people added that they believed Iraq was also operating a secret calutron plant (a facility for separating uranium isotopes.)
“Other nations’ intelligence services were similarly aligned with U.S. views. Somewhat remarkably, given how adamantly Germany would oppose the war, the German Federal Intelligence Service held the bleakest view of all, arguing that Iraq might be able to build a nuclear weapon within three years [without outside fissile material]. Israel, Russia, Britain, China and even France held positions similar to that of the United States.”
Pollack’s account alone puts the lie to the charge that Bush took us to war on “manufactured” intelligence.
And does anyone seriously believe that Bush’s then-Secretary of State Colin Powell was deliberately deceiving the American people when he made his spectacularly convincing speech against Saddam before the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, just weeks prior to the war?
Powell’s major accusation, that Iraq was awash in WMD, came from CIA Director George Tenet, who had also served as Bill Clinton’s CIA director in the last four years of the Clinton presidency.
George Bush had been assured by Tenet that there was “slam dunk” evidence against Saddam, so the secretary of State descended upon the CIA in Mclean, Va., spending four difficult days sifting through the intelligence, sometimes with his deputy, Richard Armitage.
After the final rehearsal in Washington, Tenet, according to Bob Woodward’s most thorough report, “announced that he thought their case was ironclad and he believed that they had vetted each sentence.”
Powell then informed Tenet that the CIA director would have to sit behind him at the UN, a visible sign that he was backing the secretary of State’s findings.
Powell’s presentation on Feb. 5, 2003, was a tour de force, with even ultra-liberal Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory succumbing. “I can only say,” she wrote, “that he persuaded me, and I was as tough as France to convince.”
History will determine whether the Bush Administration did the right thing in invading Iraq and we may yet discover definitively why so many experts appeared to have misjudged the WMD threat. But we can conclude that the President took us to war based on convincing, uncooked data compiled by intelligence analysts in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.
Those who say Bush “lied us into war” based on “manufactured” intelligence are either ignorant or malicious. Either way, they are dangerously undermining whatever chance we still have of rescuing Iraq from chaos and catastrophe.