All Writings
July 1, 2003

Bush’s Weapons Of Mass Delusion

Try as he may, President Bush has failed to make a case for the necessity of a preemptive strike against Iraq. Whether we find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the months or years to come is irrelevant, because the administration's central arguments for war were entirely based on the "reality" of the imminent threat posed by Iraq. Only a military incursion into Iraq would prevent another 9/11, which the administration insisted would take the form of Iraqi WMD used by terrorists.

In its futile efforts to justify the war against Iraq, administration officials, including Mr. Bush himself, are relying on two different arguments: First, WMD will sooner or later be found, because everything we know indicates that the Iraqi regime pursued WMD. For example, Saddam actually employed them against his own people–the Kurds, during the first Gulf War, and against Iranian troops during the epic war between Iran and Iraq during the 1980s. UN inspectors also attested to the existence of stockpiles of WMD, and the Clinton administration issued its own report that supported this finding. So no one questions Saddam Hussein has had WMD. In addition, in the mid 1990s the Iraqi government admitted it possessed 8,500 liters of anthrax and several tons of VX. The government also did not deny it had produced 6500 chemical bombsâ€"none of which to this date accounted for. The real question is whether Saddam was poised to deploy any of this arsenal against us or pass it on to Al Qaeda operatives to attack us and, if so, how imminent any "danger" to us or our allies actually was. The simple truth is that there is not, nor was there ever, a single shred of evidence that Saddam contemplated any such moves. Rather, a comprehensive report in November 2002 by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) stated, "A substantial amount of Iraq's chemical warfare agents, precursors, munitions, and production equipment were destroyed between 1991 and 1998." The report concluded, "Saddam Hussein was not likely to use them or share them with terrorists." In the worst possible scenario, the DIA believed he would employ the stockpiled weapons only if Iraq were attacked and his fate sealed. Even that remote possibility did not come to pass, as the war and its aftermath have revealed.

Second, failing to make a convincing case with the first argument, the administration has latched on to the humanitarian aspect of the war. Saddam Hussein, so this argument goes, was a brutal dictator who committed crimes against humanity as unequivocally shown by the scores of mass graves of Iraqis uncovered after the war. He violated every code of human rights, pillaged his nation, stole its wealth, waged two ruthless wars against his neighbors, and even attacked his own people, killing tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and political opponents. Thus, now liberated, Iraqis will no longer suffer the cruelties of Saddam, the region is safer, and the whole world a better place. Granted! If this why we went to war, then we should have based our case for war on it from the start. We waged war against Serbia to oust Milosevic precisely on humanitarian grounds. We were determined to stop the Serbian leader's atrocities against his own people, because we felt we were on the morally right side. And we were. Perhaps we would not have succeeded in convincing the U.N. Security Council to wage war against Saddam on humanitarian grounds, but then, we were unable to persuade many of the other members, based on the argument of imminent danger to us from ready-to-use WMD. Now that we have begun to discover the full extent of Saddam's atrocities against the Iraqi people, we would have been fully vindicated if we had forcibly made the argument for a preemptive strike to end their misery. Our war would have been seen as a just war, consistent with our values, one in complete adherence to the U. N.'s Charter. For as a global power, the only remaining superpower, we have a moral obligation not to allow dictators to kill and pillage their own people with impunity. Yet to act upon this obligation, we needed to turn to the UNSC for help and support with credible uncontested evidence or to have acted, if necessary, with the support of our friends, as we did with NATO in the Serbian situation, an alliance that ended the Serbian carnage in Kosovo.

The administration, however, was determined to create an extreme sense of urgency, a sense of immediate threat, one that could be dealt with only through a regime change brought about by nothing short of all-out war against Iraq. But this policy was adopted despite many repeated intelligence reports that drew entirely different conclusions about Iraq's WMD and Saddam's willingness and readiness to use them. Every opportunity the President had he mentioned the threat that Saddam posed but never produced any evidence to substantiate his claims. We now know how intelligence analysts in the State Department were angry that senior administration officials selectively disclosed classified intelligence on Iraq's WMD, making it seem as if they posed an urgent threat to the United States. In March, Vice President Cheney stated on "Meet the Press" that Iraq "has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." Only after the war did Christian Westermann, a State Department official and specialist on chemical and biological weapons, tell a Congressional hearing that he was pressured to make his intelligence report on Iraq conform to administration policy.

And there was no reason for the administration to doubt the exhaustive November 1992 DIA report's conclusions or believe the situation had since changed. According to it, we did not have "reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or chemical warfare agents production facilities." This knowledge did not stop Secretary of State Powell from hailing "as a fine piece of work" one of two dossiers produced by Downing Street when he appeared before the Security Council in February. The dossier in question was quickly revealed to be a mix of of real intelligence and part of a graduate thesis, based on 12-year-old public information down- loaded from the Internet with the original thesis' typographical errors intact. The document is referred to in the British press as the "doggy Dossier." Another example of how far our government was prepared to go in pushing us to war may be seen in how the U.S. and the UN inspectors constantly differed in their estimate of the importance of aluminum tubes found in Iraq, with the U.N. agency declaring that the tubes were not designed for nuclear use and administration officials stating they were. Also, among voluminous documents sent by the CIA to Congressional committees investigating intelligence on Iraq were several based on a report that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium from Niger for its nuclear program. President Bush referred to these documents in his State-of-the-Union address this January to strengthen the case that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons. The report was later uncovered as a complete fabrication. One must ask how such a report found its way into such a major presidential speech on the eve of war?

The Bush administration may take comfort in the fact that the American public has been until now so gullible, apparently accepting whatever stories officials have been dishing out to cover up their failure to make the case for war. Sadly, the media have remained pretty muted in their response, in their silence joining the parade of the blind leading the blind. Congressional Democratic leaders have their share as well in the debacle . They have largely shied away from demanding an explanation about the intelligence mishaps and the administration's deliberate deceptions. Perhaps this is partly from fears that WMD might still be found. But they also miss the point: no one has ever claimed that Iraq never had any WMD. Finding some now or in the future is not relevant to the discussion. The real issue is whether the imminent threat on which the President made his case for war to the American public ever existed. In the eyes of the international community, the answer is no, and this is why Mr. Bush's credibility has been seriously tarnished internationally. That it is will come to haunt the administration sooner rather than later when the next WMD crisis erupts somewhere else. Will Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair rush again to aid his buddy now that he is tarred by the parliamentary investigation questioning the intelligence dossier on which he based his argument for war? Will the French, German, Russian, and Chinese governments, which feel vindicated in their opposition to the war and are watching as we become increasingly marred in guerrilla warfare in Iraq, be more in tune with our arbitrariness when another crisis erupts? Possibly the saddest outcome of our Iraqi enterprise is that this administration simply does not get it. Our leaders do not understand our global leadership is at stake and our moral authority to lead in the future have been gravely jeopardized. The failure to prove imminent danger leaves us exposed to charges that presidential policy was driven by personal vendetta and oil interests.

Perhaps the most stinging commentary on how our government (and that of Tony Blair) systematically created mass delusions about the existence of WMD and the imminent threat they posed came from two former members of Blair's Cabinet, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Clare Short, secretary for International Development. Both resigned over the war in Iraq and testified before a House of Common's Committee in mid-June. There, Ms. Short declared: "We had been told by security officials before the war that Mr. Hussein's weapons did not pose immediate threat. I think that is where the falsity lies, ‘the exaggeration of immediacy'." Mr. Cook summed up what this experience had taught him, namely, that "instead of using intelligence as evidence on which to justify a policy, we used intelligence as the basis on which to justify a policy on which we had already settled." This is precisely why the administration refused to extend the UN inspectors by even one month knowing that WMD may not be found and the "imminent danger" on which the administration built its case did not exist. In late June, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was forced to acknowledge publicly that the intelligence paper published by his government to argue the case against Saddam Hussein was "an embarrassment." Said one senior administration official, "we were all working off the same evidence, if it was wrong for one, it was wrong for all."

9/11was a rude awakening for the entire world. To Americans it revealed our national vulnerabilities, rattled our self-confidence, and changed our perception of ourselves and how other nations perceive us. The tragic events also revealed weaknesses in our intelligence gathering, the way we use and share information with other intelligence and security agencies. That we began as a result to take major corrective measures to forestall, if not to prevent another 9/11, is good. We have also made an unshakable commitment to wage war on terrorism and to remain relentless until we wipe it out. And that is good too. But then, the shock of 9/11 was so profound that it might have also jarred our moral compass. For we have since compromised our moral principles and values as a nation and our leadership role in the world. Yes, we must fight terrorism regardless of its source or cause but we cannot fabricate a linkage between any given state and terrorist organizations or use terrorism as an excuse to justify a preconceived policy toward any nation, as we appear to have done with Iraq.

A small nation, such as Israel, that is fighting against terrorism for its very survival may be forgiven for some military excesses. In the end, Israel sees itself in a war against an enemy bent on its destruction. But we are not Israel and we are not fighting for survival. We have a global reach and responsibility unmatched in human experience. Our strength lies in our ability to lead and in our capacity to project our moral values forcefully. These are the fundamental tenets of our claim to leadership. We can neither fabricate information nor engage in public deception to justify a policy whatever its immediate benefits. Saddam Hussein was a ruthless murderer and he had to go. But we could have achieved the same end without resorting to tactics to scare the American public by creating scenarios of imminent danger and Iraqi collaboration with terrorist organizations, such as Al Qaeda.

The real threat to our way of life and our values will not come from the next terrorist attack, because we can, and we eventually will, break the backs of terrorists wherever they may be. The threat to our values and to our great American enterprise will come from our permanently losing our moral compass. We may have won the military campaign in Iraq, but the search for the moral resonance for this war remains a national burden which this administration has shamefully refused to shoulder.