INSIDE THE WMD DEBATE, II
I agree that Saddam Hussein was unstable and dangerous, and I don’t mourn his loss. What’s more, I think even hardcore liberals accept the idea that in the wake of 9/11 we should be more aggressive in reacting to ambiguous intelligence information.
But it’s clear that the Bush administration, far from simply being a bit more vigilant in connecting the dots, deliberately misled the country. After all, the al-Qaeda connections don’t exist and the WMD isn’t there.
And yet conservatives blithely dismiss this. It’s a good thing that Saddam is gone, so it just doesn’t matter that our intelligence data was lousy and the administration concocted a story with only the flimsiest relationship to reality. It doesn’t matter because George Bush is a good guy and we trust him.
I agree that the al Qaeda tie-ins are loose, at best–especially compared with our “friends” the Saudis.
But the other argument is something of a non sequitur. Even if we presume no WMD will be found, this isn’t proof of deliberate deception. Kevin expands this rationale in the comments section:
Now, if that turns out to be the case, then obviously there wasn’t any credible evidence for it. How could there be for something that wasn’t there?
But it’s not at all unusual for the best available evidence to lead to woefully wrong conclusions. The most brilliant scientists on the planet long believed the sun revolved around Earth. Were pre-Copernican scientists deliberately misleading the public? Evidence points in the direction it points; sometimes, further evidence comes along that countermands the conclusion, sometimes not. There are undoubtedly innocents sitting on Death Row at this minute who were convicted based on solid evidence. The vast majority of the time this happens, there is no intentional malfeasance on the part of the police or the prosecutors. The person simply appeared guilty on the basis of motive, circumstantial evidence, past behavior, inexpert “eyewitness” testimony, or other data that were gathered.
Intel agencies get stuff wrong all the time. We missed Pearl Harbor, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, just to name a few. Intel is an imperfect art–trying to find out stuff that others are trying to hide from you and making the best guesses they can as to how the gaps connect. In this way, intel is just like science. How often do big medical studies come out, get a ton of publicity, garner public policy reactions, and then turn out to be bogus? All the time. International intelligence is far more complex than medicine.
But why was regime change such a big deal? It was a goal of the Clinton administration and remainined one for this administration. And, surely, it’s more than simply “he tried to kill my dad” or some nonesense about oil/Haliburton/GOP interest groups (not accusing Kevin of that one–but I do hear it a bunch). Clearly, there has been a longstanding, bipartisan belief that Saddam was a threat. Except Dean, all the significant Democrats running for president were pro-war. Much of the Democratic leadership in Congress. Now, part of that was simply electoral politics/ putting the finger to the wind. But part of it was a sober reflection on the intel available.
We’ll have to wait and see what time brings. I honestly thought we would have found the WMD stockpile by now. The longer we go without finding it, the more unlikely it seems. This will spark a lot of questions, not only about the judgment of the Bush team and our intelligence gathering/analysis apparatus, but about what happened to the stockpiles that existed in the 1990s. And, perhaps the greatest mystery of all, why Saddam would let his country be invaded rather than simply providing documentation as to what he did with the weapons on the UNSCOM list.
As Kevin notes, our disagreement is rather slight. Indeed, the above-linked post from June 2nd makes points very similar to Kevin’s. My views have evolved somewhat as the matter has unfolded, notably the whole “Bush lied” business. I agree that too much emphasis was placed on WMD to secure UN support, taking the focus off the primary motivations for the war andthat the fact we haven’t found WMD looks bad. But, as I noted here and in subsequent pieces, the case that was laid out for the war was complex, multifaceted, and widely supported.