Jonah Goldberg

Sen. Ted Kennedy gave another one of his angry speeches this week. With all the gravitas he could muster, he recycled his standard complaint: that the Iraq war was never really about WMDs or the war on terror. It was a "political product" from "Day 1" of the president's administration.

This echoes Kennedy's earlier diatribes, like last fall when he said, "Before the war, week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie."

Personally, I think Kennedy's an embarrassment to his party. But that doesn't change the fact that he's taken seriously or that he speaks for a large constituency. So let's try to deal with the "Kennedy School's" view of the Iraq war.

First let me admit that I think the failure to find significant evidence of weapons of mass destruction easily constitutes one of the greatest intelligence blunders since Pearl Harbor. There's still a chance we'll find something. But if we do, it will probably be too little, too late to change this basic assessment.

Critics of the Bush Administration are probably cheering, "Finally! Goldberg's stopped drinking the White House's Kool-Aid!"

But hold on. To argue that this was a huge intelligence blunder is to largely let George Bush off the hook for the even-more-popular Bush critique: that he lied to the American people about Iraq.

For Bush to have lied, he had to have known that there were no WMDs, right? It's not a lie unless you know the truth. If you say something you think is true that later turns out to be false, we don't call that a "lie," we call that a "mistake."

You could look it up.

This vital distinction seems to be lost on many smart people. For example, the online magazine Slate has been hosting an interesting discussion among the most respected and prominent liberals who supported the Iraq war. The question before them, more or less, is whether they regret it. Some do. Some don't. Most hold positions awash in shades of gray.

One of those is Kenneth Pollack, the former Clinton NSC staffer and author of the hugely influential book, "The Threatening Storm." Pollack's book was the most coherent and sustained case for the war from any quarter. Slate's round-robin is timed to coincide with a must-read cover story in the current issue of The Atlantic in which Pollack tries to figure out where he - and we - went wrong on WMDs.

Anyway, Pollack tells Slate, "If I had to write 'The Threatening Storm' over again I certainly would not have been so unequivocal that war was going to be a necessity."

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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