Who screwed up?

Posted: Jun 05, 2003 12:00 AM
The Bush administration has a grave problem in the matter of the weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Jim Lacey, a Time correspondent embedded with the l0lst Airborne Division, summarizes his analysis in National Review. He writes that "there are some simple truths that many seem to be forgetting: (l) At one time, Saddam had an extensive WMD program and enough chemical weapons and toxins to annihilate the eastern United States; (2) in the past, he used those weapons against his enemies, internal and external; and (3) he was an aggressive dictator who tortured and massacred his own people and bullied and periodically invaded neighboring countries."

Agree with all the above and you are still entitled to ask: Where is all that stuff?

Manifestly embarrassed by having been unable to answer that question, U.S. officials are saying that it is somewhere -- not yet discovered except for those two trailers that have no apparent raison d'etre except to make biological and chemical weapons. We have a ritzy Iraq Survey Group set up, a force of 1,200 inspectors and 800 support personnel with a major general of the Defense Intelligence Agency in charge. Its predecessor task force uncovered a cache of vacuums, a buried swimming pool, powder from a high-school student's chemistry experiment, and a number of suspect sites that had been looted.

We know that Saddam Hussein acknowledged having deposits of biological and chemical weaponry and the material for making such weapons, including 5,300 gallons of botulinum and 2,200 gallons of anthrax, plus tons of VX and sarin and mustard gas. This isn't a neocon surmise; it was acknowledged Iraqi ordnance. The Iraqis said yes, they had had it -- but destroyed it. Iraq didn't proffer any evidence of its destruction, which the Iraqis were several times enjoined to do, and they did obstruct the United Nations in its search for the weapons last winter.

It's reasonable to ask, Why on Earth, if indeed he had destroyed the weapons, didn't Saddam Hussein come forward with probative evidence that he had done so? But answering that question is not as difficult as answering the question, Why did Saddam Hussein defy the United States when it was as plain as the posters of his ugly face in every corner of Iraq that his failure to do so would result in the conquest of Iraq and his removal or death?

But even if we acknowledge that as a quandary, we don't satisfy critical concern over what was said by administration spokesmen that induced us to go to war.

How did we detect these weapons? Obviously not by Peeping Tom satellites, because they would have told us exactly where the weapons lay. Two inferences are here made, the first that the suspected weaponry was therefore mobile, and, second, that our knowledge of it came through intelligence sources. What reason did we have to rely on these sources? It had to have been compelling.

In this space, after Vice President Cheney's speech in August 2002, it was noted that "in this intense address, in which words and sentences carry huge freight, we are asked to attend scrupulously to what Mr. Cheney is saying. And he said, 'Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.' But if there is 'no doubt,' as averred here," my analysis continued, "then it follows that there can be no excuse for putting off pre-emptive action."

Mr. Cheney went on in his speech to refer specifically to chemical and biological "agents," but said also that the Iraqis continue to "pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago." Indeed, he said, we have "firsthand testimony from defectors" that the pursuit of nuclear arms is under way.

There are those who take an easy position here. It is to conclude, like The New York Times' hysterical Paul Krugman, that Bush and Cheney are, very simply, liars. Those who reasonably doubt that George Bush and Dick Cheney would consciously lie to Congress and the American people, and Tony Blair, and for that matter the entire world, are, again reasonably, asked to look for other explanations.

We do need to have a much better explanation than any we have had. Going to war to abort Husseinism is justified. But we are nevertheless entitled to know: How was intelligence information, presented as conclusive, so apparently illusory? Who was it, on the assembly line between the first man who spotted what he took to be WMD activity in Iraq, and the Defense Intelligence Agency and the president of the United States, who beamed out to the world not suspicions of WMD activity but affirmations of it, who screwed up? Who deceived, or was carried away? And what vaccines have our leaders taken to guard against other deceptions of like character?