WMD -- Relic of a quagmire

Posted: Jun 11, 2003 12:00 AM

First there was the "quagmire," as U.S. troops prepared to enter Baghdad. TV critics bemoaned the poor planning that, they said, had sabotaged the war strategy and could lead to bloody urban fighting and a prolonged conflict.

Then there was the victory.

Then there was the scandal of the stolen artifacts, as the director of Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities, Donny George, bemoaned the loss of as many as 170,000 relics, characterizing the looting of the museum as "the rape of civilization." Bush-haters jumped on the president for not doing enough to protect the artifacts.

Monday, The Washington Post reported that George had downgraded the damage to 33 pieces missing from the main collection. Apparently, museum officials knew all along that interested parties had hidden the artifacts.

"I was very angry at the time, so much anger," George explained his blame-America-first tirades in Monday's Post. I guess the commentators who were quick to repeat George's charges were angry, too -- at the war victory.

Now the airwaves and news pages are saturated with stories about the fact that U.S. troops have failed to find conclusive evidence of an Iraqi program to build weapons of mass destruction.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., charged the Bush administration with "deliberately misrepresenting" intelligence information on Saddam Hussein's WMDs. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has called for an investigation to see if U.S. intelligence was shaded, manipulated or exaggerated.

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., at least has shown the sense to cushion her sound bites about Iraqi WMDs. Harman says it "could be the greatest intelligence hoax of all time" -- then adds the disclaimer that she believes WMDs eventually will be found.

(Like the artifacts.)

On Sunday, NBC's Tim Russert read a letter that Levin had written to President Clinton in 1998 asking Clinton to take "necessary actions" to respond to "the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs." So it's odd that Levin's a WMD agnostic now.

If Levin wants an investigation, fine. There have been screw-ups. In his State of the Union speech, President Bush cited phony documents on Iraq's quest for enriched uranium. Secretary of State Colin Powell cited outdated information from the United Kingdom. It can't hurt to know how that happened. Maybe the embarrassment would prompt the Bushies to see the value in hiring skeptics to challenge the administration's orthodoxies.

Besides, the more that partisans snipe at Bush, the more the electorate will rally behind him.

The voters have too strong a streak of common sense to believe that Hussein had WMDs in 1998, then got rid of the weapons on the quiet just so America could invade Iraq and oust him from power.

"I think the nation's credibility is on the line," Levin told NBC, as he added that Bush' credibility is on the line, too.

What about the naysayers' credibility? They were wrong on the quagmire. They were wrong on the artifacts. They'll be proven wrong on WMDs.

Worst of all, they shouldn't appear triumphant in the military's failure to find these weapons thus far. They should be afraid.