The commission studying the intelligence failures that produced disastrously flawed estimates of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities has finally produced its report, and it's devastating. Not just for U.S. intelligence, which is portrayed as hapless and bungling, but for Bush critics who have vested so much in the argument that Bush officials pressured intelligence agencies to support the case for war.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is the epitome of this school of thought. The very morning the report was released she wrote that "political pressure was the father of conveniently botched intelligence," and fingered Dick Cheney as the lead culprit. Cut to Page 50 of the WMD report: "The Commission found no evidence of political pressure to influence the Intelligence Community's prewar assessments of Iraq's weapons programs."
Bush critics have focused on the erroneous intelligence around Iraq's nuclear capabilities. Suddenly ? or so the conspiracy theory goes ? the CIA and others began to say what President Bush wanted to hear about Saddam Hussein and nukes in 2002. But the crucial shift away from the belief that Saddam had no active nuclear program came in early 2001, back when Bush was essentially maintaining President Clinton's Iraq policy. That's when we learned that Saddam was attempting to acquire aluminum tubes that could be used for conventional rockets, or ? much worse ? for gas centrifuges for enriching uranium.
Various intelligence agencies disagree about the purpose of the tubes. The CIA and others argued that they were for uranium enrichment and that, therefore, Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear program. The Department of Energy thought the tubes were unlikely to be used in centrifuges. But even it concluded from other evidence that Saddam had a renewed nuclear program. Only the State Department dissented from the conclusion in the notorious October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that Baghdad had a program, but cautiously: "[the evidence] indicates, at most, a limited Iraqi nuclear reconstitution effort."