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  xThursday, August 14, 2003

bush mendacity pre-watch


Talking Points Memo reminds us to be skeptical of the upcoming report on Iraq's weapons "programs" from the Bush Administration.
The point is that the people who are really worth listening to aren't making absolute or maximalist statements or predictions. The White House would like the standard to be, any chemical or biological weapons and they're vindicated. And I fear some of the White House's critics have been complicit in setting this very low standard.

At this point it seems increasingly unlikely we're going to find anything. But it could happen.

...The point is that if you want to adopt an expansive definition of 'programs' we probably already have at least some evidence that they had on-going 'programs' --- just ones that were considerably more dormant than we'd imagined before the war.

(Note that "substantial evidence of biological weapons" would seem to mean that they haven't found any actual weapons since that would presumably be conclusive evidence, not just substantial evidence.)

Third, timing. Look at Novak's words: "Kay has told his superiors he has found substantial evidence of biological weapons in Iraq, plus considerable missile development." This construction leaves the issue of chronology quite vague. And I suspect that vagueness is going to become a very important point. [Emphasis added.]

We know that the Iraqis had a biological weapons program and that there were biological weapons in the country. That's wholly undisputed. If Kay produces substantial evidence of such weapons in 1995 or 1998, that's meaningless. What we're trying to figure out is whether he had them in the period when we were considering going to war.

What many suspect is that Kay is going to pull an intel version of a classic 1990s-era document dump. In other words, come forward with a mound of documents detailing the Iraqis' extensive programs, their histories, the means used to conceal them, whom they imported parts from, and so forth. And then conveniently leave as a footnote the fact that these program had gone pretty dormant by 2002. The idea will be to make up with paper poundage what the report lacks in relevance. Hit them with twenty reams of report about the Iraqi WMD programs and then figure that the follow-on reports about how little was actually happening in 2002 are buried in the back of the papers after no one is paying attention.

All of this is to say that we're probably set for an elaborate festival of goal post moving courtesy of Mr Kay -- the widely telegraphed switch from weapons to 'programs' being the key sign. [Emphasis added.]

The point to keep in mind is that at the end of the day the standard isn't any WMD or any identifiable dormant program which might have made non-conventional weapons in the future. The standard is this: If you look at the totality of the White House's pre-war statements about Iraqi WMD, and then look at what's contained in the report, will you say: "Wow, you weren't kiddin!" or "Wow, you've gotta friggin be kiddin!"

Josh Marshall's cautions are spot-on, and remind us that we can't trust anything Bush says enough to take it at face value.





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