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  xThursday, June 12, 2003

wmd story roundup

I've been in training yesterday and today, and so time to post has been limited. During this time, though, Bush's bogus citations of the alleged threat from weapons of mass destruction have been increasingly coming under fire. As someone who maintained all along that Bush's case was long on assertion and short on proof, I take considerable satisfaction in joining in.

Some stipulations first -- even if tons of the stuff turn up tomorrow, Bush's case will still have been bogus, because it's crystal clear that for all of his assertions of proof, he clearly did not know exactly what Iraq had or where it was. The fact that the US has failed to locate any so far is ample proof of this fact, as undeniable as the fact that Iraq definitely did not deploy chemical weapons to its troops even in defense of Baghdad (and I remind my conservative friends that if Iraq had them, the fact that they held them back even in expremis proves that yes, Saddam was deterrable). Certainly the US military didn't consider securing Iraqi sites a priority.

The GOP itself took a big step in acknowledging how smelly the whole affair is by declining to hold public hearings on what Bush knew and when he knew it. I'm staggered, however, that the story does not reveal what I believe to be a key factor in GOP fears of full disclosure -- public hearings would involve key people speaking under oath.

But by far the most outrageous statements came from Bush himself. He as much as acknowledged his earlier, ah, statements were bogus in this recent rectrenchment:
"Iraq had a weapons program," Bush said yesterday after a meeting of his Cabinet, the first time the body had met since the war started. "Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we'll find out that they did have a weapons program."

Excuse me, Mr. President, but before the war you didn't say "weapons program." You claimed tons of nerve gas and swimming pools of anthrax, and it's on that basis you led the country to war -- once again, refusing to countenance any alternative on the grounds of the threat you cites.

Couple this statment with Bush's earlier desperation ploy to portray a pathetic pair of trailers -- likely unsuitable for biological weapons production -- as weapons of mass destruction themselves, and a clear picture emerges of a President who no longer has confidence in his own lies assertions.

Make no mistake about it: proponents of the war had a variety of justifications for their fervor. But with Bush, invading Iraq seemed, like many of his cherished goals, to be a policy in search of a justification -- it was what he wanted to do, and he'd latch onto any plausible reason to sell his predetermined plan. The difference between Bush's assertions, and the suppositions of many -- including myself -- that Iraq had some remaining chemical weapons capacity, is that Bush used his assertions to claim that the US was justified in attacking Iraq on self defense grounds. Many, including myself, doubted that position from the beginning, especially the portrayal of Iraq as some sort of threat.

And now Bush's recent actions, and what they reveal about the shaky justification for his claims of an imminent threat from Iraq, are absolutely outrageous. American soldiers died -- and continue to die -- because this man claimed that we had to go to war immediately -- that no other course was even considerable.

Columnist Jules Whitcover obviously detects the odor of mendacity from Bush's recent backpedaling.
Nobody argues, though, with Saddam Hussein having had such weapons in the early 1990s, that he used them against rebellious Kurds and that U.N. inspectors found and directed the destruction of weapons components before they withdrew from Iraq in 1998.

So the pertinent question has always been whether, as the Bush administration insisted in launching the invasion, those weapons were in hand and so ready for use as to constitute a clear and present danger requiring immediate military action.

Mr. Bush's latest expressions of conviction that the Iraqis had a "weapons program" seemed a distinction and a hedge from his earlier statement on Polish television that "we found the weapons of mass destruction." His reference was to the two mobile facilities suspected of being capable of producing deadly chemical or biological agents.

With reporters parsing his words as if he were Bill Clinton playing semantic games over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer found it necessary to say that Mr. Bush, "in saying programs, also applies to weapons," and "that includes everything knowable up to the opening shots of the war."

In the absence of the discovery of such weapons, however, the president is now actively engaged in low-balling the WMD rationale for the war. In saying that history will conclude he made the "absolute right decision" in invading Iraq, he is substituting Iraqi "liberation" as his justification, itself a somewhat premature self-congratulation in light of the continued turmoil in the conquered country, including more U.S. military casualties.

Although Mr. Bush did emphasize the goal of "regime change" as the invasion approached, the "imminent threat" of weapons of mass destruction was the driving force in the administration's argument that more time could not be afforded U.N. inspectors in their quest for them.

Understating the importance of the existence or absence of WMD at the time of the invasion won't settle the critical question of whether administration officials hyped government intelligence about the threat to win congressional support for launching pre-emptive war. Without WMD, what was being pre-empted?

Unlike his Republican counterparts, Rep. Henry Waxman wants some answers about the Administration's contradictory statements, and recently sent a letter to National Security Advidor Condoleeza Rice wanting to know the following:
[Y]our answers on the Sunday talk shows conflict with other reports and raise many new issues. To help address these issues, I request answers to the following questions:

1. On Meet the Press, you said that "maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency" that the evidence cited by the President about Iraq's attempts to obtain uranium from Africa was suspect. Please identify the individual or individuals in the Administration who, prior to the President's State of the Union address, had expressed doubts about the validity of the evidence or the credibility of the claim.

2. Please identify any individuals in the Administration who, prior to the President's State of the Union address, were briefed or otherwise made aware that an individual or individuals in the Administration had expressed doubts about the validity of the evidence or the credibility of the claim.

3. On This Week, you said there was other evidence besides the forged evidence that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Africa. Please provide this other evidence.

4. When you were asked about reports that Vice President Cheney sent a former ambassador to Niger to investigate the evidence, you stated "the Vice President's office may have asked for that report." In light of this comment, please address:

(a) Whether Vice President Cheney or his office requested an investigation into claims that Iraq may have attempted to obtain nuclear material from Africa, and when any such request was made;

(b) Whether a current or former U.S. ambassador to Africa, or any other current or former government official or agent, traveled to Niger or otherwise investigated claims that Iraq may have attempted to obtain nuclear material from Niger; and

(c) What conclusions or findings, if any, were reported to the Vice President, his office, or other U.S. officials as a result of the investigation, and when any such conclusions or findings were reported.

On Sunday, you stated that "there is now a lot of revisionism that says, there was disagreement on this data point, or disagreement on that data point." I disagree strongly with this characterization. I am not raising questions about the validity of an isolated "data point," and the issue is not whether the war in Iraq was justified or not.

What I want to know is the answer to a simple question: Why did the President use forged evidence in the State of the Union address? This is a question that bears directly on the credibility of the United States, and it should be answered in a prompt and forthright manner, with full disclosure of all the relevant facts.

I just love it that the Administration's spin is finally being compared to its earlier statments and the startling contradictions noted at last.

New York Magazine political correspondent Michael Tomasky believes that holding Bush and his minions accountable is crucial to the (small-d) democratic process:
We're living in times that I don't even know how to describe. It's pretty hard to understand what's happening in this society when the majority leader of the House of Representatives makes use of a presidential agency for the nakedly political purpose of hunting down some home-state legislators. And when that agency complies with the request. And when it's a little two-day story, not a scandal at all. One doesn't even have to ask, in this case, the hypothetical that liberals are prone to present -- to wit, imagine if the Clinton administration had been involved in something similar. No; this would have been a scandal, and properly so, if it involved a federal agency under any administration from Bill Clinton to Dwight Eisenhower. But not now.

Under most normal circumstances, too, the Iraq War would have been a scandal. There are many reasons historically why war for a democracy should be a last resort. One of those reasons is precisely that the democratic commander in chief must answer to the people who elected him, and those people include the soldiers he is sending off to die (and their spouses and their mothers). Read any study of Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson, or any American president contemplating war and you will see that after the strategic and political calculations were run through at staff meetings, in the end it was the president, alone with his conscience, deciding whether he would be able to look a grieving mother in the eye and tell her that her son's death was essentially unavoidable.

That's a very human consideration for war, and it's a very democratic one as well. It reminds the leader that his power is derived not from divine right or genealogical caprice or imperial ukase but from the governed.

As E.J. Dionne recently said in this op-ed, even principled supporters of the war should be highly concerned over the tactics Bush used to sell his war policy.
[T]he president's defenders have it exactly backward. The people who should worry most about the credibility gap are those who support Bush's foreign policy.

If no weapons are found, and if the administration does not come clean about why it said what it said before the war, America's ability to rally the rest of the world against future threats will be greatly weakened. So will the president's ability to rally his own nation.

Citizens in a democracy accept deceiving an enemy during war. What is not acceptable is for a free government to mislead its own people to bring them around to supporting a war.

It's time for the hawks to ask themselves if they really support democracy and oppose tyrrany, as they so loftily claimed during the prewar debate. If Bush achieved his aims by deceit, he is unworthy to be the leader and commander-in-chief of this nation. At the very least, if Bush was truly misled by the "grownups" -- the ones we were all assured in 2000 would guide him in foreignb policy -- then he needs to atone by throwing the rascals out -- Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowicz, Rice, Powell, the whole crew. If the American public is to forgive Bush's deception by attributing it to his delegatory managerial style -- and once again, Bush's incompetence is used to excuse his mendacity -- then the authors of that deceit can no longer hold positions of power in the White House.

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