Psssst, imminent threat, pass it on

Kathleen Parker
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Posted: Oct 08, 2003 12:00 AM

A few weeks ago, I read remarks attributed to weapons inspector David Kay that his report would offer ample evidence of programs of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

Fast-forward to last week, when Kay made his long-awaited interim report. Imagine my surprise when I read stories in papers such as the New York Times that Saddam's alleged arsenal was just a bunch of precursors, potentials and bluffs.

Imagine my surprise when I read that Kay's report confirmed that Iraq posed no imminent threat to the United States or our allies, and that, therefore, there was no justification for war against Iraq.

Had Kay been lying in that earlier story? Faking us out? Teasing with promises to keep us riveted only to make us the world's deadliest fools later on?

So one might think that unless one bothered to read Kay's actual report - rather than news stories about the report by reporters and headline writers whose preference for bad news - if not a Democratic president - is no longer in question.

What Kay really says in his report is that he and his inspectors have found "dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002."

And that's just the beginning of a laundry list of findings that should chill a vampire, including a clandestine network of laboratories suitable for chemical and biological warfare research and a prison lab complex possibly used in the human testing of biological agents.

But, as most news outlets noted as dramatically as possible, he found no stocks of weapons. Bada-bingo.

What Kay also said - and in fact what constitutes the first two long paragraphs of his report - is that we are nowhere close to being finished. His report "is a snapshot," he said, and "much remains to be done."

And then Kay said in perfectly good English: "It is far too early to reach any definitive conclusions."

Yet, conclusions have been reached. Again and again, stories regurgitate claims that Bush exaggerated the case for war against Iraq by insisting that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat.

Everybody knows that Bush cast Iraq as an imminent threat, right? We know it the same way we know that one in seven women in college have been raped and that more women are victims of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day.

We "know" these things, even though they are not factually true, because we've read and heard them repeated so often. So it goes with "imminent threat" even though Bush, factually, claimed the opposite in both his address to Congress a year ago and in his 2003 State of the Union address. In the State of the Union address, he said:

"Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option."

In other words, Bush preempted Saddam's imminence.

Yet news outlets repeatedly headlined stories such as this one, for example, from Radio Free Europe on Oct. 8, 2002: "Iraq: Bush tells Americans Saddam is an imminent threat." Several paragraphs into this same story, reporter Andrew F. Tully, wrote: "But the U.S. president said this urgency does not mean that war is imminent or inevitable."

Come again?

Toward the end of his report, Kay said that, barring conclusions, this much is clear: "Saddam . had not given up his aspirations and intentions to continue to acquire weapons of mass destruction."

Perhaps most important of all were Kay's concluding remarks that, despite enormous physical risk to inspectors, they are committed to finishing the task for two reasons.

One, because whatever they find will be different from pre-war intelligence. Discovering those differences is critical to the quality of future intelligence and thus future security. And two, chillingly, he said:

"We have found people, technical information and illicit procurement networks that if allowed to flow to other countries and regions could accelerate global proliferation."

And that is after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Surely before the war, those circumstances posed a threat, perhaps even imminent, that if allowed to flower would have provided the incontrovertible proof we so crave - too late.