Vanished WMDs, Vanished Credibility

Angry Iraqis

A lot of hay is being made over the fact that neither the Bush or Blair Administrations have found any evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the U.S. led invasion. This controversy is all over the international media, and is starting to show up among the U.S. mainstream media.

Ardent supporters of the Bush Administration would have you believe that this is no big thing, that weapons of mass destruction and their immediate threat to American security was not the primary reason for the U.S. led invasion. The credibility of this claim is diminished, however, each time the Bush Administration pounces on a piece of information or physical evidence that might suggest that weapons of mass destruction were in play. Witness, as just the most recent example, how the Bush Administration pointed to two trucks as evidence of the much ballihooed "mobile chemical labs" which, it turns out, produced nothing more than hydrogen for Iraq's anti-artillery balloons. Even those who supported the invasion of Iraq are starting to express concern.

Witness this exchange between blogger James DiBenedetto and his commentators. (James, incidentally, is a Libertarian, and his blog is quite well written. I don't agree with his politics, but if you post politely to his blog, his response will make you think). James says, there were credible reasons to believe that weapons of mass destruction existed, and even if this wasn't the case, it wasn't the only reason we invaded. But commentator Jeff Durkin (also a Libertarian), disagrees, saying "If six months from now we have yet to find evidence - either intact weapons, large scale production facilities, or documentation demonstrating that a WMD program was ongoing - then that will be a cause for concern".

It's still early in the search; many more experts are going to be heading into Iraq in the next couple of weeks to really give the country a going over, but if no weapons of mass destruction are found, it will be a serious blow to the Bush Administration's credibility. Credibility was already strained over how the Bush Administration appeared to consider invasion as the inevitable immediate route. The fact that they were willing to trample over the longstanding friendships of its Canadian and European allies, simply for voicing reasonable objections to the rush to war, didn't help. But now it appears that the Bush Administration used the threat of weapons of mass destruction to get the U.S. public solidly behind the war -- a threat that some sources suggest the Bush Administration knew did not exist, and may have pressured its own intelligence agencies into saying existed.

To put it more bluntly, a reasonable case could be made that the Bush Administration lied to the American people, not about a sordid affair with a cigar, but about the need to risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of American men and women in a highly volatile and unstable part of the world. Maybe it's too strong a point to say that the Bush Administration lied, but the facts are so at odds with the rumours that, at the very least, the quality of U.S. intelligence must be questioned.

But before we all get in line and call for Bush's impeachment, stop for a second. Perhaps the Bush Administration lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction, or perhaps it ran afowl of grotesque intelligence failures, but the opposition to the war is in no position to say "I told you so." To my recollection, nobody ever did.

I certainly didn't say so. I thought the weapons were in place, and I feared that they were going to be used on the first invaders of Basra. It wasn't much of a stretch, either. Not only did we know that Saddam had chemical weapons in the past, we've seen him use it on his own people in the past. The lack of any such weapons now is one of the greatest surprises of the war, for everybody.

My concern about the war was solely that the Bush Administration would make a volatile situation worse. What if Iraq cracked into three pieces after the invasion? What if the Kurds declared their independence? What if Turkey and Iran invaded to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdistan? Was the United States really willing to walk into a hornet's nest, with no easy way out if things fell apart? What about the prospect of brutal street-to-street fighting? What about the heavy casualties among the civilians on whose behalf we were supposedly invading? Did the Bush Administration really have everything planned out?

The Iraqi war didn't go nearly as badly as I had feared. There were no third-nation invasions. Turkey stayed calm, and the Kurds didn't antagonize them. Indeed, the position of the Iraqi Kurds today is something the U.S. military can be justly proud of. And the U.S. military can be proud of a pretty flawless campaign, and I am relieved that Baghdad fell without much of a struggle.

But things have not gone as well as the war's proponents have hoped, either. Disorder rules most of the country, and there is active resistence to the north and west of Baghdad. Five American servicemen are being killed each week in Iraq, and much of the country still does not have safe drinking water. The majority Shia are taking advantage of their newfound freedom to talk about creating an Islamic state, and resentment is growing about the American occupation. Internationally, a lot of fences still have to be mended.

So, jumping on the Bush Administration over what it knew and did not know about Saddam's threat to America is a bit opportunistic, and some of the criticism runs the risk of overshadowing the real and pressing problems that Iraq now faces. If we are to hold the Bush Administration's feet to the fire, let's do it properly.

The sad thing is, there were good reasons to go to war with Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. Sanctions were not bringing about the end of his brutal regime. He was thumbing his nose at the world, while causing abject pain and suffering to his own people. War was, frankly, inevitable, but there was no reason to go to war in March 2003.

If the Bush Administration was willing to delay the invasion to January 2004, and take more time to diplomatically convince its NATO allies that this was the only effective route (hammering home the suffering of the Iraqi people as the primary reason to move) the U.S. might have been able to invade with the blessing of the International community. If the Bush Administration had taken more time to carefully plan out the invasion and its aftermath, Iraq could have been put on the road to being a stable and democratic state, instead of the anarchic, disordered mess that it is.

Finally, if the Bush Administration had trusted the American people enough to tell the truth about Iraq, the brutalness of the regime, the risks of invading and of not invading, the Administration would not be so red in the face now that the clear and present danger that Iraq supposedly presented turned out to be no direct danger at all. If the Bush Administration had pointed out that links between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were tenuous at best, if they had countered misinformation that was leading Americans to believe that all of the terrorists in the September 11 attacks were Iraqis (none were), they wouldn't look as though they drove the nation into a war, rather than went into one as a last resort.

But then, had the Bush Sr. Administration (on which many of the current administration served) not halted its advance at the Iraq border in the first Gulf War, encouraged the Kurds and the Shia to revolt against Saddam and then lend them no military protection; had the Reagan administration before it not coddled Saddam as an ally against Iran, looking the other way even as Saddam gassed the Kurds, the whole war debate in 2003 would never have occurred. Mind you, that little argument was a bit academic by the time Clinton was President.

I will say that the current Bush Administration's impatience with diplomacy, its unwillingless to trust its own electorate (much less the world community), has contributed to the problems facing Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion. The situation could still blow up in America's face. Maybe Saddam's regime was worse than the situation now, but the war and its aftermath could have been conducted so much better if the Bush Administration hadn't been so cynical and manipulative.

This is reason enough to condemn the Bush Presidency. Whether or not the Administration lied about weapons of mass destruction, or simply ran afoul of grotesquely bad intelligence information is mere icing on the cake.

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