George Will

"We have," said Powell, "firsthand descriptions" of "biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails." Powell took the word of people who took Curveball's word. Such as Beth, who had conceded that Curveball was odd, but weren't most defectors? Curveball's reports were "too detailed to be a fabrication," and too complicated and technical for Margaret to judge. "Well," Margaret replied, "you can kiss my ass in Macy's window." And the war came.

Drogin's account of the search for WMDs after Baghdad fell would be hilarious were the facts not scandalous and the implications not tragic. That missile spotted by analysts of satellite imagery? It was a rotating steel drum for drying corn. The missile photographed from the air? Chickens in Iraq are raised in long, low half-cylinder coops. Some weapons searchers finally had T-shirts printed with the U.N. symbol and the words "Ballistic Chicken Farm Inspection Team." In the middle of the night in Baghdad, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was calling from Washington with precise geographic coordinates to guide searchers to Iraq's hidden WMDs. The supposed hiding place was in Lebanon.

Drogin's book refutes its subtitle, which is: "Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War." Curveball did not cause the war; rather, he greased the slide to war by nourishing the certitudes of people whose confidence made them blind to his implausibility.

Drogin probably overstates his indictment of U.S. officials when he says that the CIA, having failed to "connect the dots" prior to 9/11, "made up the dots" regarding Iraq's WMDs. In the next paragraph his assessment is less sinister -- but more alarming. More alarming because his formulation suggests that the problem was human nature, and there is always a lot of that in government. Calling Curveball a fabricator, Drogin writes, "implied that U.S. intelligence had fallen for a clever hoax. The truth was more disturbing. The defector didn't con the spies so much as they conned themselves."

Drogin's book arrives, serendipitously, as some Washington voices, many of them familiar, are reprising a familiar theme -- Iran's nuclear program is near a fruition that justifies preventive military action. Whether or not these voices should be heeded, Drogin's book explains one reason why they will not be.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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