kinsley calls it
Michael Kinsley's Slate column sums it up in a nutshell: the steadfast refusal of the Bush--and even Blair--administrations to provide fresh, convincing information on Iraq makes the question of whether citizens should decide to support their policy of regime-change-by-preemptive-force one of whether they trust their claims.
So, how is a citizen of a democracy supposed to decide the most important question any nation must decide: Should we go to war?
In this case the issues are mainly factual. That is not always so. In Vietnam, though there were factual disputes, the big disagreements were about moral and strategic issues on which the government's policy had no home-team advantage. With Iraq, by contrast there would be almost no opposition to imposing what is being called, with comic delicacy, a "regime change" if Blair and Bush are right that Western nations are in imminent peril. But this turns on facts and analysis that ordinary citizens must take on trust.
But let's pretend we actually do have some role in deciding whether our nation goes to war. How should we go about it when our leaders don't come PR-ratified by democracy and when crucial information for an independent decision is unavailable to us? We aren't capable of answering the actual questions at hand: Is Saddam Hussein an imminent threat to our national and personal security, and is a war to remove him from power the only way to end that threat? So, we must do with a surrogate question: Based on information we do have and issues we are capable of judging, should we trust the leaders who are urging war upon us?
The answer to that last one is easy. The Bush administration campaign for war against Iraq has been an extravaganza of disingenuousness. The arguments come and go. Allegations are taken up, held until discredited, and then replaced. All the entrances and exits are chronicled by leaks to the Washington Post. Two overarching concepts—"terrorism" and "weapons of mass destruction" (or "WMD" as the new national security document jauntily acronymizes)—are drained of whatever intellectual validity they may have had and put to work bridging huge gaps in evidence and logic.