"We were misled -- misled not only in the intelligence, but misled in the way that the president took us to war ... I think there's been an enormous amount of exaggeration, stretching, deception." -- John Kerry, the Democrat who came in first in the New Hampshire primary
"The administration did cook the books." -- Howard Dean, the Democrat who came in second in the New Hampshire primary
We were misled? The Bush administration cooked the books?
Welcome to the ugliest, nastiest policy scrum Americans have ever had to referee in a presidential election year. Rather than hearing a philosophical or strategic alternative to the Bush foreign policy, we are being asked to vote Democrat because leading Democrats charge that the incumbent Republican administration willfully "misled" the American people into war -- exaggerating, stretching, and deceiving -- with a scheme to "cook the books." Are these heinous accusations true?
To be sure, inspectors in Iraq haven't found the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) President Bush and Vice President Cheney warned against. This comes as a shock to us all, including Bill Clinton, Tom Daschle, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ted Kennedy, Jacques Chirac, Al Gore, German intelligence, Bob Graham, the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, Hans Blix, even John Kerry -- just some of the subscribers to the old Saddam-equals-WMD theory that inspired former President Clinton to warn against "the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program" six years ago.
(As recently as last October, Clinton told the prime minister of Portugal he believed Saddam Hussein possessed WMD until the end of the dictator's regime.)
Think of it (thanks to columnist William Rusher, who compiled the following set of quotations): It was then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, not Condi Rice -- or even George W. Bush -- who in 1998 said, "The risk that the leaders (of Iraq) will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security risk we face." That same year, Democratic senators including Tom Daschle, Carl Levin and current presidential front-runner John Kerry urged Clinton "to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs."
Even Kerry-boosting, Bush-bashing Ted Kennedy got on the record about Saddam Hussein and his WMD. And in fall of 2002, Al Gore said, "We know (Saddam Hussein) has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."
Similar talk has come from the Bush administration, with one enormous difference. While George W. Bush recognized the same threat his predecessors recognized, he alone has been committed to acting against it. Others were content to describe the threat, to rail against it and do nothing. As Colin Powell said recently, "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."
It was 12 years of inaction, just as much as any illicit weapons programs, that challenged the rule of law and the peace of the world. During that same period, Islamic terrorists drew strength from perceived American weakness, planning and executing attacks that culminated in the cataclysm of Sept. 11. Not only is the world a safer place now without Saddam Hussein and his terrorist-haven nation, it is also a safer place because the Bush administration showed that the United States is as good as its word.
Former chief weapons inspector David Kay doesn't believe inspectors will ever find warehouses full of newly-minted WMD -- although he also says that because of the looting that took place during the invasion, and the Iraqi transfer of unspecified cargoes to Syria, any complete reckoning of Iraqi stockpiles is impossible.
Significant discoveries to date include an Iraqi effort circa 2003 to produce biological weaponry using the poison ricin, and evidence that Iraq tried to revive its nuclear weapons program in 2001 and 2002. According to Kay, Iraq's nuclear program never got as far as those of Libya or Iran.
Which is probably the biggest bombshell of all. Just as the CIA and other intelligence agencies were blind to Iraq's unraveling in the 1990s, when Kay believes that nation stopped trying to mass-produce WMD, Western intelligence also failed to recognize the advanced state of both Libya's and Iran's nuclear programs. "I think Baghdad was actually becoming more dangerous in the last two years than even we realized," Kay told NBC's Tom Brokaw. "Saddam was not controlling the society any longer. In the marketplace of terrorism and of WMD, Iraq could well have been that supplier if the war had not intervened."
Nothing misleading about that.