Who lied, who forgot?

Posted: Jan 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Clark lied. According to Monday's New York Times, in 2002, retired Gen. Wesley Clark said, "Certainly there's a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda." Now that it is an anti-war tenet of faith that there was no Iraq-al Qaeda connection, thinking Americans should be outraged at Clark's deliberate and cynical attempt to mislead the American people.

Except, of course, that Clark was saying what he believed at the time -- and what he had reason to believe.

Now that he's a Democratic candidate for president, Clark says he is convinced there is no Saddam Hussein-Osama bin Laden nexus. So Clark accused President Bush of using the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as an excuse to invade Iraq -- "a world-class bait-and-switch," Clark now calls it.

To believe that the White House deliberately misled the American public, you have to believe that the Bush administration was making claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction situation that it had manufactured -- that is, claims no one else was making. That's simply not true.

President Clinton believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Last week, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso disclosed that Clinton told him he believed Iraq had WMD in October.

Al Gore believed it. Last year, the former vice president told the Commonwealth Club of California, "We know that (Saddam Hussein) has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."

The French believed it. Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin argued last year that "Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs are being largely blocked, even frozen."

The United Nations' chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, believed that Iraq failed to account for 6,500 chemical bombs that it claimed it had destroyed along with other WMD. He also suspected Iraq had created weapons using the nerve agent VX.

Some things were known: Saddam Hussein used WMD in the 1980s, essentially expelled U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998 and refused to comply with U.N. Resolution 1441, which warned of "serious consequences" if Hussein did not disclose and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. As a result of Hussein's refusal to comply with the inspection process, there was a lot that officials did not know -- and what they didn't know rightly scared them.

Some peaceniks now are arguing just that -- that Hussein destroyed his WMD and, for some reason, destroyed them on the sly so that he could not win an end to U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq.

As proof, some point to a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report which found that Iraq's weapons programs did not pose "an immediate threat to the United States, to the region or to global security" and that the intelligence community "misrepresented" Iraq's WMD threat.

Au contraire: While critics argue that Bush said Iraq presented an "immediate" or "imminent" threat, Bush said the opposite in his 2003 State of the Union address: "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?"

My guess: Shortly after the cognoscenti decide there are absolutely no WMD in Iraq, some weapons will surface. The Bush administration -- wrongly, we now know -- believed that Iraq was so WMD-rich that Blix and his inspectors had to be incompetent not to stumble onto caches of weapons. Now, the Bush haters, when they argue there are no such weapons, seem poised to make their own version of the same mistake. The truth will be in the middle.

The "Bush-lied" crowd also points to Secretary of State Colin Powell's admission last week that there was no "smoking gun" linking Osama bin Laden and Hussein. (As if the administration ever claimed it found a smoking gun -- the Bush administration, in fact, argued that those who waited for a "smoking gun" were asking for a mushroom cloud.)

Here is more of what Powell said: "I think the possibility of such connections did exist and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did."

Powell also reminded reporters how this war came to pass. "The president took the case to the international community and said: For 12 years, you have been defied. What are you going to do now? It's time for us to act."

Enter a real Hussein-al Qaeda nexus: U.N. inaction in Iraq (despite Hussein's flagrant violations of Resolution 1441) plus U.S. failure to rout Hussein loyalists after winning the Persian Gulf War together emboldened extremists to believe that they could act with impunity and without consequence.