With David Kay's testimony on the fruitless search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the time has come for an accounting.
In a more reasonable environment, politicians and opinion-makers would absorb the new facts and make the needed reforms. Reasonable people cannot avoid the conclusion that our intelligence agencies were badly mistaken.
But are the Democrats reasonable? Their preposterous interpretation of events has become mainstream. It goes as follows. No stockpiles of WMDs were found in Iraq therefore: a) George W. Bush knew that there were none to be found and b) took the nation to war on false pretenses.
But the most amazing thing about the Democrats' argument is its glaring disregard of very recent history. Everyone -- the Democrats, the French, the Republicans, the Clinton administration, the Russians, the United Nations Security Council -- believed that Saddam had stockpiles of WMDs. It wasn't disputed by anyone. Here is a small sample of quotations from leading Democrats on the matter:
"If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." -- President Bill Clinton, Feb. 4, 1998.
"He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has 10 times since 1983." -- Sandy Berger, national security adviser to President Clinton, Feb. 18, 1998.
"We urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction program." -- Letter to President Clinton, signed by Sens. Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry and others, Oct. 9, 1998.
"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process." -- Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Dec. 16, 1998.
"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction." -- Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sept. 27, 2002.
"I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force -- if necessary -- to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security." -- Sen. John F. Kerry, Oct. 9, 2002.
Two more points. I find much to criticize in the CIA, but it's too easy to make the agency the fall guy for what is, let's be honest, a truly weird development. Saddam used WMDs on Iran and the Kurds; he threatened to incinerate Israel with chemical weapons; he chased the U.N. inspectors out of his country; he refused to provide proof that he had destroyed the weapons he once had, though providing such proof would have staved off an invasion that spelled the end of his reign. The whole thing is so improbable that it cries out for alternative explanations. Perhaps he has secretly shipped the weapons to Syria or the Bekaa Valley. Perhaps he really believed that the weapons existed but his underlings were lying to him.
In any case, we know that our intelligence services have become risk averse and overly dependent on "national technical means" -- i.e., satellites, phone intercepts and other listening devices. But nothing in the spy world can replace human beings. One lesson of this episode is that we'd better rush to train Arabic, Farsi and Urdu-speaking officers.
But it is purest cant to suggest that President Bush misled anyone. Kay took pains to note that Saddam's regime was continuing to pursue nuclear and other weapons. It was only a matter of time, he estimated, before nuclear material and corrupt nuclear scientists met and shook hands on a deal. And that was one of the chief reasons President Bush thought it prudent to act now and not wait. It is those who opposed the war, not those who supported it, who have a lot to answer for.