I really have to stop watching MSNBC. It’s bad for my blood-pressure, and bad for my wide-screen HDTV, which has absorbed and withstood more Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow-provoked thrown objects by me than I care to remember.
The latest outrage and source of my distress is a wretchedly mendacious sampling of political pornography titled: “Hubris: the Selling of the Iraq War,” hosted by the insufferable Rachel Maddow, which aired last Friday evening.
Viewers of Hubris will undoubtedly learn much. They will learn that Bush “knowingly” took us to war based on lies about Saddam purchasing uranium from Niger, and acquiring aluminum tubes to build nuclear weapons, and that Vice President Cheney aided and abetted this deception by repeatedly attempting to link Saddam to 9/11 by alleging a meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague prior to the attacks even though the intelligence community had long since debunked any such meeting. Viewers will also learn that Bush, Cheney and Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld persisted in their irrational, pathological determination to wage war on Iraq even though they “knew” Saddam had no WMD—and that those wise, prescient souls in the Intelligence Community had vainly told them as much, all to no avail.
Above all, viewers will learn that what transpired in Iraq was not a tragedy, but a crime. The criminals—Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the whole “cabal” of neoconservatives who pushed for the war—remain on the loose and yet to be collared by the hand of justice. However, the Good Guys—former Colin Powell Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, General Anthony Zinni, and CIA celebrity spy Valerie Plame (yes, her) among others, who witnessed the crime up close are now, finally, speaking out.
The talking heads of Hubris do indeed have a tale to tell, but it is, really, nothing but a farrago of falsehoods, half-truths and cherry-picked facts purveyed by an assemblage of long-time anti-Bush/Cheney partisans and embittered former administration members settling scores. It is a travesty, and here below I address six principal arguments and/or assertions made by Hubris that, when matched to the facts in evidence, fail to withstand scrutiny.
1) The role played by Iraq’s alleged attempts to purchase uranium from Africa in making the case for war with Iraq.
Anti-war critics who regularly accuse the Bush Administration of lying us into the war regularly cite the issue of uranium allegedly purchased from Niger by Saddam to make the case for war, but the truth was that the purchase or non-purchase of uranium by Saddam from Africa or anywhere else was never a factor in the CIA’s pre-war threat assessment of Saddam’s WMD. Said CIA Director George Tenet:
“We note yet again that uranium acquisition was not part of this judgment (emphasis added). Despite all the focus in the media, it was not one of the six elements upon which the judgment was based. Why not? Because Iraq already had significant quantities of uranium.”
Phase I of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report published in 2004, which thoroughly investigated the intelligence failures of the Iraq War, had written that possible acquisition of Uranium from Niger was “not listed as a reason the IC (Intelligence Community) believed that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.”
2) The consensus of the Intelligence Community on the role played by Saddam’s acquisition of aluminum tubes in Iraq’s reconstitution of its nuclear program.
Another issue upon which the Bush-lied narrative depends is the issue of the aluminum tubes acquired by Saddam which the Bush Administration alleged were going to be used by Saddam to create centrifuges in order to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon; this was disputed by the scientists of the Department of Energy (DOE), who, while conceding the technical possibility of using the tubes to such a purpose, nonetheless assessed that the tubes were unlikely to be used to enrich uranium and were probably marked for a more conventional military usage. Anti-war critics regularly cite this disagreement as proof-positive of the Bush Administration’s ignoring inconvenient evidence to make its case for war.
However, what is usually ignored here is that the DOE did nonetheless believe that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear program. They just did not believe that the aluminum tubes were part of that process, making that a distinction without much of a difference. Said George Tenet:
“It is noteworthy that although DOE assessed that the tubes probably were not part of Iraq’s nuclear program, DOE agreed that reconstitution [of the nuclear program] was underway. Obviously, the tubes were not central to DOE’s view on reconstitution.
3) The role played by Vice-President Cheney’s allegation of a meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague in the months before 9/11 in the case for war with Iraq.
Vice President Cheney first made the statement he did about Atta and the meeting in response to a question by Tim Russert in a December 9, 2001 interview on Meet the Press. An excerpt:
Russert: Let me turn to Iraq. When you were last on this program, September 16, five days after the attack on this country, I asked you whether there was any evidence that Iraq was involved in the attack and you said no. Since that time, a couple articles have appeared which I want to get you to react to. The first: “The Czech interior minister said today that an Iraqi intelligence officer met with Mohammed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, just five months before the synchronized hijackings and mass killings were carried out.”
Cheney: Well, what we now have since we last talked, Tim, was that report that’s been pretty well confirmed that he [Mohammed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi Intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.
Cheney denied that there was, as yet, any evidence of Iraqi involvement in 9/11.
On December 15, 2001, Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross repeated his belief that the meeting took place. “According to my information, and mainly according to the information of the Czech counter-intelligence service BIS, the source of our original stand, there is no reason to change anything in the original stand.”
On December 16, 2001, the New York Times published an article quoting unnamed intelligence officials on the alleged meeting:
“There was definitely one meeting,” between Mr. Ani and Mr. Atta, an intelligence official in Washington said. “We don’t know if it was significant. We certainly don’t attribute to it the significance others attribute to it automatically. Just because there was a meeting doesn’t mean it was connected to 9/11.”
In its December 17, 2001, issue, Time magazine reported on “intriguing bits of circumstantial evidence, including two meetings in Prague between Mohammed Atta, who piloted American Airlines flight 11 into the World Trade Center, and a senior Iraqi intelligence officer.”
To be sure, many analysts were indeed skeptical of whether such a meeting occurred at this stage, but CIA Director George Tenet also believed at this time that there had been such a meeting. He, in fact, expressed this view to Cheney, and this formed much of the basis of Cheney’s belief in his interview with Russert.
As doubts about the meeting later began to emerge, Cheney revised his view. In September 2002, when Tim Russert asked him if evidence of the meeting was “credible” Cheney replied that it was “credible…but unconfirmed at this point,” adding “I’m not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11. I can’t say that.”
The efforts of Chris Matthews, David Corn and others who have falsely accused Cheney of hawking the Atta/Prague meeting to push the Iraq war is shameful. Though Cheney indeed persisted in believing in a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda for some time, the December 9, 2001 interview was the only time he expressed any confidence that the Atta/Prague meeting had even taken place, and that was only in response to a question from Tim Russert, and at a time when the Czech foreign minister, CIA Director George Tenet and many others believed the meeting had taken place. The notion that we went to war with Iraq because of this alleged meeting is preposterous.
Journalist Edward Jay Epstein, who has done the most original reporting on the matter, has written that no one has really proved the matter conclusively one way or another. But, in any event, the whole Atta/Prague meeting is nothing but a red herring, and played no role in the administration’s decision to go to war. Even if there was such a meeting (which is doubtful), what would it prove? It would most certainly not prove any Iraqi complicity in 9/11.
4) The domestic intelligence consensus on the threat posed by Saddam’s WMD.
Hubris cites three former administration officials in casting doubt on the threat posed by Saddam’s WMD as seen at the time, and on the Bush Administration’s good faith in making the case for war with Iraq.
The first is former Colin Powell chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who has been understandably anxious to escape the odium of having helped coordinate Powell’s now-discredited United Nations speech in February 2003, which Wilkerson now characterizes as a “hoax” that was “manipulated” by the likes of Vice President Cheney. He has called the Bush Administration a “cabal” that is “more like dictatorship than a democracy,” and further suggests that if intelligence officials had dared to come forward with doubts about the Iraq WMD intel, that the administration would have “buried him or her.”
The wild, erratic statements that have emanated from Wilkerson since he left after Bush’s first term must first be understood to stem from the fierce feuding that occurred between the neocons in the Pentagon and the Vice President’s office on the one hand, and the anti-hawk “realists” in the Powell State Department on the other. His hatred for Cheney and Rumsfeld, evidenced in numerous speeches and interviews, is visceral.
He now claims that Powell’s speech to the UN was a “hoax,” but he himself noted in a 2005 speech that while Powell and the INR (the State Department’s Intelligence branch) had some reservations about Iraq’s nuclear program they believed Saddam’s possession of Chemical Biological WMD were credible, and that Germany and France both told Powell that they considered claims about aluminum tubes being used to enrich uranium to be true. Wilkerson, of course, never uttered so much as a peep of doubt about any of this while in the administration.
Wilkerson’s other trip ‘round the bend concerned a wild allegation in 2009 that Vice President Cheney “authorized” the Egyptians to waterboard al-Qaeda suspect Ibn Shaykh al-Libi in “April and May of 2002,” and that at the Vice President’s behest, interrogations of suspects were “not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda.” In a series of articles (here, here, and here) Thomas Jocelyn of the Weekly Standard eviscerated Wilkerson’s claims as a complete fabrication.
Wilkerson, who is a regularly featured commentator at the fever swamps of MSNBC and Democracy Now, has also spoken favorably of Walt and Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby, appeared in the television documentary of the book, and liked the book so much that he has assigned it as reading to his students at George Washington University. Not surprisingly, Wilkerson has indulged in the crudest of Jew-baiting, and despicably impugned the patriotism of former colleagues David Wurmser and Doug Feith, both of whom he smeared with the “dual loyalty” charge:
“A lot of these guys, including Wurmser, I looked at as card-carrying members of the Likud party, as I did with Feith. You wouldn’t open their wallet and find a card, but I often wondered if their primary allegiance was to their own country or to Israel. That was the thing that troubled me, because there was so much that they said and did that looked like it was more reflective of Israel’s interest than our own.”
Need I say more? With Wilkerson, Hubris truly scraped the bottom of the barrel.
The second former administration official rolled out by Hubris is former CENTCOM Commander and Bush Administration Middle East Peace Envoy General Anthony Zinni. The documentary has a clip of Vice President Cheney giving a speech in Nashville, Tennessee at the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 26, 2002, where he asserts that “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
The documentary then cuts to General Zinni, who was in the audience at the time of Cheney’s speech, as saying “It was a shock, it was a total shock–I couldn’t believe the vice president was saying this,” adding
“When I heard the rhetoric that was pumping up Saddam as this major threat, I just could not believe it…In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD [weapons of mass destruction], through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program.”
This is most peculiar. Just two years earlier in his testimony to Congress on March 15, 2000, General Zinni warned that
“Iraq remains the most significant near-term threat to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region,” and that “Iraq probably is continuing clandestine nuclear research, retains stocks of chemical and biological munitions, and is concealing extended-range SCUD missiles, possibly equipped with CBW payloads. Even if Baghdad reversed its course and surrendered all WMD capabilities, it retains the scientific, technical, and industrial infrastructure to replace agents and munitions within weeks or months.”
That is, Zinni was of the opinion that even if Saddam “surrendered all WMD capabilities,” he was still a serious threat.
In a speech that Zinni gave to the Florida Economic Club on August 29, 2002, just three days after the Vice President’s speech to the VFW in Nashville, he did—to his credit—correctly forecast many of the problems that would occur with an invasion of Iraq, and strongly voiced the many reasons why he opposed military action to remove Saddam from power. However, he nowhere voices any skepticism about Saddam’s WMD programs, or takes issue with any of the Vice President’s statements about Saddam’s nuclear program. Indeed, as National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep, who reported the Zinni speech from Florida remarked, “Anthony Zinni says he agrees that Saddam Hussein poses a threat. He’s just not sure the Iraqi leader is worth the cost of removing.”
Another interview with the general in Salon Magazine in October 2002 similarly spoke of his doubts about the wisdom of military action against Iraq, but voiced no skepticism about the existence of Saddam’s WMD. Said Zinni:
“I am convinced that we need to deal with Saddam down the road, but I think that the time is difficult because of the conditions in the region and all the other events that are going on.”
Finally, if General Zinni was really keeping current with the intelligence briefings at Langley as he said he was, he would surely have been aware of the document that the CIA had just published in August 2002 titled, “Iraq: Expanding WMD Capabilities Pose growing Threat,” which concluded that Iraq’s procurement activities “indicated that the Iraqi government had restarted its nuclear weapons program,” and which had also formed the basis of Vice President Cheney’s statement that “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
It is to General Anthony Zinni’s credit that many of the forecasts he made about the Iraq War proved all too true. But there is no evidence that he ever expressed any doubts that Saddam possessed WMD in the run-up to the war, or that he even harbored any such doubts. If he did, nothing would have prevented the blunt-spoken general from speaking out. In the event, he had merely argued before the war’s outbreak that invading and occupying Iraq was the wrong way to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, not that there was no threat, or that he had no WMD.
Hubris’ third expert witness is Valerie Plame, celebrity ex-spook, and former Ambassador Joe Wilson’s better half. Plame asserted on Hubris that “When you have a vice president and his chief of staff digesting raw intelligence and coming to their own conclusions–they are not intelligence professionals–the whole system is bound to be skewed.”
But is this true? Was the intelligence the result of “a vice president and his chief of staff digesting raw intelligence and coming to their own conclusions?”
Hardly. In October 2002, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which represents the consensus views of all of America’s intelligence agencies, read:
“We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of U.N. resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges in excess of U.N. restrictions. If left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.”
“We assess that Baghdad has begun renewed production of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX [chemical weapons agents]; its capability is more limited now than it was at the time of the Gulf war, although VX production and agent storage life probably have been improved. We judge that all key aspects — R&D, production, and weaponization — of Iraq’s offensive BW program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf war.”
Said C.I.A. Director George Tenet on the NIE:
“The [October 2002 Iraq WMD] NIE demonstrates consistency in our judgments over many years and are based on a decade’s worth of work. Intelligence is an iterative process and as new evidence becomes available we constantly reevaluate.”
Also the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) said that Iraq “probably possesses bulk chemical stockpiles, primarily containing precursors, but that also could consist of some mustard agent or stabilized VX,” that it may be “distributing Chemical Weapons munitions,” and that “DIA stands solidly behind the Intelligence Community’s assessment that [as of 2002] Iraq had an on-going chemical weapons program that was in violation of United Nations sanctions.”
In fact the NIE judged that the best efforts of their intelligence were probably underestimating Iraq’s WMD arsenal, as they had in the past:
“We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq’s WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad’s vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations after the Gulf war starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken by Iraq to deny information. We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD programs.”
5) The international intelligence consensus on the threat posed by Saddam’s WMD.
In March 2002, said August Hanning, chief of German intelligence:“It is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in three years.”
Said the French Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin on February 3, 2003 to the UN Security Council:
“Right now, our attention has to be focused as a priority on the biological and chemical domains. It is there that our presumptions about Iraq are the most significant: regarding the chemical domain, we have evidence of its capacity to produce VX and yperite; in the biological domain, the evidence suggests the possible possession of significant stocks of anthrax and botulism toxin, and a possibility of a production capability.”
And in response to this looming danger, De Villepin was also careful to inform the Iraqis that they
“must cooperate actively. The country must comply immediately with the demands of Mr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei, in particular by:
– permitting meetings with Iraqi scientists without witnesses;
– agreeing to the use of U2 observer flights;
– adopting legislation to prohibit the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction;
– handing over to the inspectors immediately all relevant documents on unresolved disarmament questions, in particular in the biological and chemical domains; those handed over on January 20 do not constitute a step in the right direction. The 3000 pages of documents discovered at the home of a researcher show that Baghdad must do more. Absent documents, Iraq must be able to present credible testimony.”
(I love that third recommendation: “adopting legislation to prohibit the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction”—as if any such law passed by Saddam’s rubber-stamp parliament would be anything but worthless)
De Villepin, now playing to the galleries of the anti-war, pro-Saddam audience at the UN—and turning Resolution 1441 on its head—was also clear on his prescribed cure for Saddam’s continued non-cooperation—more inspectors, apparently so that he could enlarge the crowd of them already camped outside buildings and scientists’ houses, waiting vainly for admittance, cooperation, and access to documents:
Let us double or triple the number of inspectors and open up more regional offices. Let us go further: Why not establish a specialized body to keep under surveillance the sites and areas already inspected?”
By gad, why not indeed?!
It does not seem to have occurred to De Villepin that his four-point plan for enlarging the inspection regime to compensate for Saddam’s non-cooperation would ultimately founder on Saddam’s non-cooperation. In any event, the conviction that Saddam was in material breach of UNSC Resolution 1441 and had WMD was shared even by countries like France, Germany, and Russia that opposed military action.
6) The bipartisan consensus on the threat of Saddam’s WMD, and the support for war in congress.
While Hubris would have it otherwise, the conviction that Saddam possessed WMD was shared all across the bipartisan spectrum in America. To name but a few:
Former Vice President Al Gore:
“We know that [Saddam Hussein] has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.” Gore added this: “Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.”
Sen. Hillary Clinton:
“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members….It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”
However, as the war began to turn sour and no WMD were found, hawkish Democrats who had enthusiastically supported the war now were compelled to run for cover and affect outrage at being “deceived” by a duplicitous clique of war-crazy neo-cons in the White house who had “distorted” the intelligence on Iraq for their own nefarious purposes, and “misled” a nation—and a helplessly misinformed Congress, no less—into an unnecessary war.
Much as in the Vietnam War Democratic senators like William Fulbright and Frank Church, who were among President Johnson’s most hawkish supporters of the war when it was popular in 1965 (Fulbright, in fact, steered the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution through the Senate in 1964) but later became the war’s most redoubtable and outspoken critics when it lost public support and began to turn sour, so too it was among Senate Democrats like Carl Levin and John Rockefeller IV, who were among the most hawkish advocates of the war and about the threat posed by Saddam’s WMD, who now led the charge against the Bush Administration’s “duplicity” in supposedly lying us into the Iraq War in a desperate attempt to distance themselves from their own previous words and actions.
Senator Carl Levin had stated on September 19, 2002 that
“We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandates of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.”
Levin had also credited intelligence that had drawn connections between Al-Qaeda and Saddam’s regime.
Three months after the invasion of Iraq, in a June 16, 2003, interview on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Levin cast doubt on the pre-war intelligence supplied by the CIA:
“We’ve got to be able to rely on our intelligence; just to give you one example, there’s a report in the press that the intelligence communities is now concluding that there’s a link between al-Qaeda and Iran. Well, if there is, that could have a huge effect on American policy. On the other hand, we were told by the intelligence community that there was a very strong link between al-Qaeda and Iraq, and there were real questions raised. And there are real questions raised about whether or not that link was such that the description by the intelligence community was accurate or whether or not they stretched it.”
Seven months later, with Iraq imploding and the Bush Administration fighting off allegations of misleading the nation into war, Levin, smelling blood in the water like other Democrats at this stage, and seeing little profit in blaming the CIA, now shifted the onus of blame from the CIA to the Bush Administration in a February 2, 2004 interview on Fox News:
“The intel didn’t say that there is a direct connection between al Qaeda and Iraq. That was not the intel. That’s what this administration exaggerated to produce. And so there are many instances where the administration went beyond the intelligence . . . I’m saying that the administration’s statements were exaggerations of what was given to them by the analysts and the intelligence community.”
Yet Levin himself knew that to be false. Not only was he saying the opposite just seven months before, but the CIA did tell both members of Congress and the White House of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda. A transcript of a March 19, 2002 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee records the following exchange between Senator Levin and CIA Director George Tenet:
SEN. LEVIN: And relative to Iraq, a couple other questions: Do we — do you have any evidence that Saddam Hussein or his agents played a role in the September 11th terrorist attacks or that he has links to al Qaeda?
MR. TENET: Well, as I note in my statement, there is no doubt that there have been contacts and linkages to the al Qaeda organization. As to where we are in September 11th, the jury’s out. And as I said carefully in my statement, it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of state sponsorship, whether Iranian or Iraqi, and we’ll see where the evidence takes us. But I want you to think about al Qaeda as a front company that mixes and matches its capabilities. The distinctions between Sunni and Shi’a that have traditionally divided terrorist groups are not distinctions you should make anymore, because there is a common interest against the United States and its allies in this region, and they will seek capability wherever they can get it.”
As for Senator Jay Rockefeller, he had said in October 2002:
“There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years … We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction.”
However, after the outbreak of the war and the failure to find WMD in Iraq, Rockefeller, like Levin, also attempted to distance himself from his own words and actions supporting the war by focusing the weight of his censure and condemnation on the Bush Administration’s supposed “hyping” of the intelligence concerning the WMD threat from Iraq. In a November 2005 interview with Senator Rockefeller, Fox News journalist Chris Wallace played a statement made by Rockefeller in October 2002, where he cast ridicule on those who questioned how “imminent” the threat of Saddam and his WMD were to America:
“There has been some debate over how ‘imminent’ a threat Iraq poses. I do believe Iraq poses an imminent threat. I also believe after September 11, that question is increasingly outdated. . . . To insist on further evidence could put some of our fellow Americans at risk. Can we afford to take that chance? I do not think we can.”
Thus, in advertising the imminence of the threat emanating from Saddam and his WMD, Rockefeller’s zeal went beyond that even of Bush or Cheney, and, after viewing the clip, Wallace noted:
“Senator Rockefeller, you went further than the President ever did…Now, the President never said that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat. As you saw, you did say that. If anyone hyped the intelligence, isn’t it Jay Rockefeller?”
Palpably embarrassed at having his own words quoted back at him, Rockefeller squirmed in his seat, and prevaricated. He claimed that
“The intelligence that they had and the intelligence that we had were probably different. We didn’t get the presidential daily briefs (PDB’s). We got only a finished product, a finished product, a consensual view of the intelligence community.”
But this was nonsense, and Rockefeller was gently contradicted on this by fellow guest, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Senator Pat Roberts, who said,
“I don’t share Jay’s view that there’s that much difference between the PDBs and the information that we get, which is very similar to the senior executive intelligence brief.”
Both Senator Rockefeller and Senator Levin, it should be noted, signed their names to Phase I of the bi-partisan Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report released on July 8, 2004 which stated that “the Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials tried to pressure analysts to change their judgments” on Iraq’s WMD or that there was any evidence that the Administration exaggerated the intelligence given to them. Yet, after affirming their support for these conclusions, they both continued to assert in interview after interview just the opposite.
Upon the release of Phase II report of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on pre-war intel in 2008, Senator Rockefeller was at it again. He asserted that “In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent.”
Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post, who read the report, took issue with Rockefeller’s indictment. So let us, then, enumerate the conclusions in the report that Rockefeller himself signed off on:
On Iraq’s nuclear weapons program? Bush Administration statements “were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates.”
Statements on biological weapons, “were substantiated by intelligence information.”
On Bio-weapons production capability? Statements were “substantiated by intelligence information.”
On those dual-use mobile laboratories? The president’s statements “were substantiated by intelligence information.”
Statements on chemical weapons? “Substantiated by intelligence information.”
On WMD? “Generally substantiated by intelligence information.”
On delivery vehicles such as ballistic missiles? “Generally substantiated by available intelligence.”
On unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to deliver WMDs? “Generally substantiated by intelligence information.”
Statements on Iraq’s support for terrorist groups other than al-Qaeda: “were substantiated by intelligence information.”
Statements that Iraq provided safe haven for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other terrorists with ties to al-Qaeda “were substantiated by the intelligence assessments.”
Statements regarding Iraq’s contacts with al-Qaeda “were substantiated by intelligence information.”
This, then, was the report that supposedly exposed how the Bush Administration “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent”?
No doubt, many liberal Democrats and journalists would love to forget the hawkish stances in which they indulged in the days between the 9/11 attacks and the beginning of the Iraq war, that is, when it was popular and fashionable to do so. No less than Senator Carl Levin or Jay Rockefeller IV, Speaker Nancy Pelosi too, tried her hand in May of 2009 at feigning amnesia at being informed in September of 2002 of the waterboarding techniques that were being applied to suspect Abu Zubayda, but then-CIA Director Leon Panetta was compelled to point out that Pelosi, along with other congressional Democrats, were indeed informed of the waterboarding techniques in a closed door session, and that the CIA’s contemporaneous memos proved it.
Harsh criticism of the intelligence failures that led to the war, the Bush Administration’s costly mistakes, and over-optimistic predictions of a quick, painless war are absolutely appropriate, and there is, of course, a fair measure of justice in the censure and the opprobrium that they have been made to bear.
But that responsibility for faulty prognostications is a shared one, and what is objectionable here is the shamelessly self-serving efforts of members of Congress, journalists, and others to rewrite what was a strong, bipartisan consensus dating back over a decade that Saddam Hussein had WMD, was pursuing nuclear weapons, and presented a threat to the region and beyond.
Yet the cast of Hubris and others would have us believe that it was but a clique of war-crazy neo-cons manipulating evidence and data, pressuring and intimidating analysts, and hoodwinking the public by exploiting the tragedy of 9/11, all to fulfill their mad ambition to invade and occupy a country that they supposedly knew posed no threat.
Yet if anyone is manipulating evidence here, it is the partisans of Hubris. The method is simple. All intelligence assessments contain caveats and dissents. By retrospectively re-emphasizing the importance attached to such dissents and caveats than they were held at the time, the authors of Hubris can thus enlarge the caveats to the size of glaring red flags that the Bush Administration supposedly ignored in their efforts to make their case for war. Hence, the charge of “manipulating” evidence. Thus, it follows that since President Bush and Vice-President Cheney accepted the majority consensus views contained in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, rather than the dissents, they are guilty of “disregarding evidence,” and misleading the nation with “bogus” information.
The real reasons for the intelligence failure concerning Iraq’s WMD elude the talking heads of Hubris because they are unable to see anything except through the narrow, hostile filter of their bottomless hatred of the previous administration, and their refusal to see anything beyond a simple, single, monolithic entity pulling strings, manipulating, and shaping events: hence, Bush lied, people died, case closed.
The reality was just a bit more complicated. It wasn’t just the intel evidence that the CIA was getting from its sources, some of it seemingly solid, some of it unquestionably of dubious veracity. Perhaps more than anything else, it was the history that long underlay the conviction that Saddam possessed WMD, which had been building steadily since the early 1980’s.
The first set of circumstances were Saddam’s pursuit of nuclear weapons (stunted only by the Israeli raid on their reactor), and his actual use of chemical weapons in the late 1980’s. Added to this, there was the later discovery by inspectors after the first Gulf War of the massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and—most frightening of all—that Saddam was within several months of acquiring a nuclear weapon—instead of several years as the CIA had predicted.
Further cementing this conviction, Saddam spent the next 12 years playing cat and mouse with UN inspectors, and forfeiting literally billions in oil revenues. Why, in the eyes of any rational person, would he foil and elude the inspectors, endure the sanctions, and forego billions in oil revenue if not to protect his pursuit of WMD?
Thus the threat, as it was really seen in the time before the Iraq War, consisted in a) a past record of aggression, in which he had invaded two countries in ten years and used chemical and biological weapons against both the Iranians and the Kurds, killing thousands, b) a lavish and longstanding support for terrorism, c) having labored frenetically and unceasingly to obtain, develop, and conceal a range of conventional and nuclear WMD in the teeth of the most intense and intrusive UN inspections and coming within a hair of obtaining a nuclear weapon two times (1981 and 1991) within the previous two decades, and d) sitting on top of the worlds second most plentiful oil reserves which enabled him to pursue and finance the whole range of these sinister activities and much, much worse.
The threat from Saddam was thus seen as a cumulative and growing one rather than an imminent one. 12 years of diplomacy and 16 unenforced UNSC resolutions had failed completely to bring him to book and verifiably disarm him. He thumbed his nose at UNSCR 1441, which gave him his final opportunity to cooperate with the UN, and dearly did he pay for it.
The contention that Bush knowingly misled the nation into war, and invaded Iraq knowing that there were no WMD is bereft of any factual basis, and is, in fact, nonsensical. Two things are in order here. First, if Bush did know that Saddam had no WMD, how did he know this? How did he know what his own CIA–who overwhelmingly believed that Saddam had already possessed Chem and Bio WMD and was aggressively pursuing nuclear WMD–did not know?
This consensus of the CIA was supported by the intelligence services of more than a dozen nations, including Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Even bitter opponents of the war like France, Germany, Russia, and China never argued that Saddam did not have WMD; indeed, the German intelligence stated their belief that Saddam was within 1-3 years of obtaining a nuclear device–more than several years ahead of the CIA’s estimate. France and the others merely argued, for their own self-interested reasons, that war was the wrong way to disarm Saddam, not that he had no WMD.
Few subjects have been more thoroughly and exhaustively investigated than the matter of pre-Iraq war intelligence. The reports of the Iraq Survey Group, the two-phase bipartisan Senate-Select Committee on Intelligence, and the bipartisan Robb-Silberman report have all cleared the Bush Administration of any deliberate deception or manipulation concerning the pre-Iraq war intelligence.
Secondly, if Bush did know that Saddam had no WMD, is it really plausible that he would lead the nation into war knowing that his claims on Saddam’s WMD would be thoroughly discredited when Saddam was removed? The failure to find WMD in Iraq was arguably one of the worst embarrassments that any president or administration has ever endured. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell all declared that Saddam had WMD in the most absolute and unequivocal terms. Would they all really do so if they didn’t believe it to be true and knowingly lead the nation into war in the full knowledge that their claims would be discredited within months? Please. Anyone who would believe that will believe anything.