Curious Case of David Kay

Posted: Jan 30, 2004 12:00 AM

The man who until last week was in charge of investigating Saddam?s WMD stash has become either a hero or an enigma?it just depends on who you are. 

  To the anti-war crowd, David Kay?s recent statements that Iraq had no WMDs on the eve of the war is a valiant admission.  To many in the administration who respect the weapons expert but are awestruck at the timing and the bluntness of some of the comments, Kay is a hard man to figure out.

  Kay?s statements make one thing clear, though: Bush was justified to go to war.

  Within hours of leaving the Iraq Survey Group?the team that has been scouring Iraq for weapons of mass destruction?Kay gave Reuters a phone interview that the news wire described as a ?direct challenge to the Bush administration.?  When asked if he thought that Saddam had destroyed WMDs before the war, Kay flatly responded, ?No, I don?t think they existed.?

  The predictable headlines followed: ?U.S. arms hunter says no Iraq WMD.?  Peaceniks were pleased?and Bushies were bummed.

  Coming just three days after the State of the Union and dab smack in the middle of the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, the timing struck some as suspect, at best.

  But Kay?s statements were not all bad for the president.

  In talking to NPR over the weekend, the former head of the ISG emphatically defended Bush: ?I actually think the intelligence community owes the president (an apology), rather than the president owing the American people.?

  Dangling an intriguing theory in the Sunday Telegraph, Kay said, ?We know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam's WMD program.?  Less than a day later, though, Kay sought to dampen growing speculation.  The Times reported, ?Dr. Kay said there was also no conclusive evidence that Iraq had moved any unconventional weapons to Syria.?

  What gives?  He made a point in each interview to provide political cover for the president, such as leaving open the Syrian possibility or making clear who needs to apologize.  It stands to reason, however, that Kay is smart enough to know that his simple soundbites would be used to bash Bush over the head.

  The former lead inspector?s comments are particularly stinging, though, given his past public statements.  After testifying before Congress this July, Kay told reporters, ?We have made significant progress in identifying and locating individuals who were reportedly involved in a mobile program.?  And in October, Kay told Congress, ?Iraq concealed (dozens of WMD-related program activities) from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002.?

  Kay?s credibility also has another question mark.

  Giving ammunition to those who question his motives, Kay admitted to NPR, ?I hope there is a book out there sometime.?  It?s possible that Kay is trying to ignite a bidding war among deep-pocketed publishers, but people who know him say it?s not in his character.

  Taken together, however, Kay?s statements actually provide a compelling justification for going to war in Iraq. 

  The only reason Kay has been able to make the determination he did was because he had 1,400 people combing through documents and examining facilities in a way that simply would not have been possible during Saddam?s reign.

  It?s not exactly as if Saddam?s Iraq was a weapons-free zone.  Halfway through his team?s search, Kay had already found substantial evidence of WMD-related programs and believed he would uncover hard ?proof.?

  Add to that the intelligence before the war?that Saddam had WMDs?and the simple fact that Saddam had used chemical weapons against both Iran and his own people, and Bush?s decision was the very definition of reasonable.

  Even in a world of uncertain intelligence?probably a permanent reality until God decides to spy for us?a president?s job is to guard against the worst potential scenarios.  Right up until the war, Saddam was developing WMDs, the intelligence community thought he had stockpiles, and history shows that he has used them. 

  Intelligence failures in Iraq point to the need for reform, but they do not alter reality: then?and now?the war not simply just, but necessary.