If you want to know how the Iraq debate got so acrimonious, the tipping point was when mainstream Democrats went from accusing Bush of bungling the Iraq war to accusing him of lying to get America into that war. His crime, at this point, became not merely one of error but one of deliberate deception. The basic liberal reasoning is that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, therefore Bush has been misleading the American people all along.
At one time these charges of lying were restricted to the political left. In the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, The Nation claimed that Bush went to war based on “falsehoods and deceptions.” Al Franken took the charge a step further, alleging that “the President loves to lie.” Activist Cindy Sheehan insisted, “My son died for lies. George Bush lied to us and he knew he was lying.”
But of late even mainstream Democrats have started to talk this way. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was a relatively hawkish national security advisor in the Carter administration, recently faulted Bush for going to war in Iraq on “false pretenses.” What follows from this premise is that Bush cannot now be trusted in anything he says, whether about the need for more troops in Iraq or the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear program.
It is easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to fault Bush for being wrong about the weapons of mass destruction. But unlike pundits and rival presidential candidates, statesmen do not have the benefit of hindsight. They must act in the moving current of events, using information that is available to them. At the time there was little doubt across the political spectrum that Saddam Hussein was pursuing WMDs. Hussein himself acted as if he had such weapons, constantly evading the efforts of United Nations inspectors to monitor Iraqi weapons facilities.
Bush had to weigh the risk of invading Iraq and being wrong, against the risk of not invading Iraq and being wrong. In the first case, he would be risking American troops in an unpopular war that would, nevertheless, result in the removal of a vicious dictator. In the second case, he would be risking Hussein acquiring a deadly weapon, which could end up in the hands of terrorists. If as a consequence a massive bomb exploded in Chicago killing half a million Americans, then who would take the responsibility? Weighing the risks, Bush decided it would be better to take preventive action and invade Iraq.