In trying to understand news about the conflicts in Iraq, I work to keep in mind the difference between what we know now about decision making in World War II and what most Americans knew at the time. From the memoirs and documents published after the war, we've learned how leaders made critical judgments. But at the time, even well-informed journalists only could guess at what was going on behind the scenes.
Today we're only beginning to learn about what went on behind the scenes in regard to Iraq. One important new source is the recently published "War and Decision" by Douglas Feith, the No. 3 civilian at the Pentagon from 2001 to 2005. Feith quotes extensively from unpublished documents and contemporary memorandums, just as in the late 1940s Robert Sherwood did in "Roosevelt and Hopkins" and Winston Churchill did in his World War II histories. The picture Feith paints is at considerable variance from the narratives with which we've become familiar.
One such narrative is, "Bush lied; people died." The claim is that "neocons," including Feith, politicized intelligence to show that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction. Not so, as the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Silberman-Robb Commission have concluded already. Every intelligence agency believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and the post-invasion Duelfer report concluded that he maintained the capability to produce them on short notice. There was abundant evidence of contacts between Saddam's regime and al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. Given Saddam's hostility to the United States and his stonewalling of the United Nations, American leaders had every reason to believe he posed a grave threat. Removing him removed that threat.
Unfortunately -- and here Feith is critical of his ultimate boss, George W. Bush -- the administration allowed its critics to frame the issue around the fact that stockpiles of weapons weren't found. Here we see at work the liberal fallacy, apparent in debates on gun control, that weapons are the problem rather than the people with the capability and will to use them to kill others. The fact that millions of law-abiding Americans have guns is not a problem; the problem is that criminals can get them and have the will to kill others. Similarly, the fact that France has WMDs is not a problem; the fact that Saddam Hussein had the capability to produce WMDs and the will to use them against us was.
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