February 6, 2004 - The failure to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has brought a torrent of criticism to the Bush Administration. Bush is portrayed in much of the press as a trigger-happy cowboy who, acting on faulty intelligence, brought destruction upon an innocent country. The anti-war, anti-Bush movement has jumped on this criticism as justification for its righteous hostility. The great tragedy is that families of the American soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq are being made to feel that their loved ones died for nothing.
This issue needs and deserves closer examination. Two important questions are being confused: Was there WMD in Iraq at the time of the U.S. invasion? and, Was there reason for going to war? In much of what is now being said and written, there is a tacit assumption that these questions are identical. They are not.
Last November I wrote that the report of former top U.S. weapons inspector David Kay has been quoted very selectively to make a case against the Administration. In his report Kay stated that Iraqi WMD programs were real and ongoing, that Iraq concealed much of this activity from U.N. inspectors, that Saddam Hussein remained firmly committed to acquiring nuclear weapons, and that if Operation Iraqi Freedom had not occurred, Iraq would have continued these programs to the point of even more significant violations of U.N. restrictions.
The selective quoting of David Kay has become even more intense, focusing almost exclusively on the failure to find actual WMD in Iraq in spite of what some intelligence reports have suggested. The implication is that the Bush Administration committed gross negligence in executing the war. However, we need to take Kay's comments about this intelligence failure in their full context in order to evaluate their proper significance.
First, the intelligence failure was not exclusively American. In an interview with Chris Wallace for Fox News Sunday, David Kay was asked about the origins of the questionable intelligence. He replied:
Chris, I think you will find out, as you work back through this process, a lot of the origin of this came originally from U.N. It's the U.N. inspectors, which I was part of. The amounts, the material balance accounts see tons of stuff, actually originates in a 1998 report, the last report of the U.N. special commission.
But it also — there are other things. Iraqi behavior — even Hans Blix, when he undertook the inspection, came to the initial conclusion that he reported to the Security Council: Iraq has not made a fundamental decision to come clean. So Iraqi behavior didn't help Iraq's case in this regard.
The intelligence failure, such as it was, was not exclusively American. And Saddam's own behavior certainly did not help dispel any impression that he did in fact have WMD. But the most important point is that, even without the physical presence of WMD at the time of the invasion, Iraq still posed a very significant danger that could not have been contained without American intervention.
In the interview Kay went on to state:
I think Iraq was a dangerous place becoming more dangerous, because, in fact, what we observe is that the regime itself was coming apart. It was descending into worse the part of moral depravity and corruption. Saddam was isolated in a fantasy land capable of wreaking tremendous harm and terror on his individual citizens, but corruption, money gain was the root cause.
At the same time that we know there were terrorist groups in state still seeking WMD capability. Iraq, although I found no weapons, had tremendous capabilities in this area. A marketplace phenomena was about to occur, if it did not occur; sellers meeting buyers. And I think that would have been very dangerous if the war had not intervened....
No, Iraq remained a very dangerous place in terms of WMD capabilities, even though we found no large stockpiles of weapons.
These subtleties are significant, and vital to making the Administration's case. But they are generally not being reported. The Administration itself could make a much clearer and better case for its position, and why it has failed to do so is a mystery. The question of the physical presence of WMD at the time of Operation Iraqi Freedom must be separated from the question of whether the war was justified. Perhaps then we can have a debate about Bush's foreign policy based on its true merits and on the complete story.
"Transcript: David Kay on 'Fox News Sunday'." February 1, 2004.
Peace with Realism