The WMDs Debate is back 

The WMDs Debate is back

Norman Podhoretz writes in Commentary, defending the Bushies on WMDs--and on links to al Qaeda. Attacks on Bush's credibility must be pretty serious. Soon an expedition will be sent up the mountain to bring down some more tablets.

Kevin Drum does a good job of summarizing the issues here, the specific claims made by high-level Bushies, and the problems with these claims. Basically, Bush's defenders try to discuss evidence that is no newer than December 2002. Even at that point it's not true that "everyone," as Glenn Reynolds likes to say, believed Saddam had WMDs, but there were certainly many serious accounts around to that effect. Both Clinton and Kenneth Pollack thought so, and they can be brought up with relief by Bushies. The implication is "Those guys were both smart and well-briefed (unlike some people we could mention), and they both thought Saddam had WMDs." There were serious doubts in the intelligence community, and noone had more of an opportunity to realze that than Bush and his senior people (Clinton had not had a high-level briefing for almost two years). But there was a rough consensus that Saddam had something pretty formidable--chemical and biological, if not nukes.

In the early months of 2003, however, quite a lot changed. The newest and most reliable reports, including those from UN weapons inspectors who had gone precisely to sites where the Bushies were predicting massive and dangerous facilities, were all in the direction of Iraq having far fewer weapons than had been feared. Instead of acknowledging this clear trend, the Bushies escalated their claims that Saddam definitely had lots of threatening weapons of all kinds. They caused the gap between reality and their statements to widen.

It is still probably true that when the U.S. invaded, there was no serious or credible report suggesting that Saddam had no WMDs at all, nor indeed that he was virtually defenseless--although this is what turned out to be the truth. So the Bushies were, to some degree, clueless as well as lying. There are still stories that Saddam himself was clueless as to the extent of his defencelessness--and how were the Bushies supposed to know more about it than him?

As more of the anger of Cheney and his people emerges, one can see it from their point of view. At some point it became an article of faith that Saddam had to be removed. For everyone who had worked for Bush 41, Saddam's continued rule was a standing humiliation. It was easy for them to persuade themselves either that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, or that now would be a good time to act. They honestly didn't think it would be difficult to make a case. There just had to be a lot of weapons there. As the more credible reports pointed the opposite way, they simply became more enraged, and more willing to lash out at people like Wilson. The CIA must be accused of pursuing their own agenda. (Pathetically, but with some truth: "They're the liars! They're the leakers!"). George Tenet, getting a whiff of a Presidential Medal of Freedom, knuckles under and says "slam dunk" (probably after some fairly unpleasant meetings).

Glenn Reynolds and the Pyjamas Media folks are making their name by saying the mainstream media are unreliable, through a combination of pursuing an agenda and lazy habits. Yet Reynolds sticks with the WMD story, and to a lesser extent to the links to al Qaeda? In March it will be three years since the invasion, and four and a half years since 9/11.

UPDATE: More detail--especially relevant to the specific charge, by Bush and others, that Democrats had the same information he did in the lead-up to the war:

[blockquote]Five of the nine Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including [then Chairman Bob] Graham and [Richard] Durbin, ultimately voted against the resolution, but they were unable to convince other committee members or a majority in the Senate itself. This was at least in part because they were not allowed to divulge what they knew: While Graham and Durbin could complain that the administration's and Tenet's own statements contradicted the classified reports they had read, they could not say what was actually in those reports.[/blockquote]

But, although the United States conceded most of the IAEA's inconvenient judgments behind closed doors, Vice President Cheney publicly assaulted the credibility of the organization and its director-general.

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