William Safire bitterly resents the accusation that the Administration “lied to us” by “hyping” intelligence reports on Iraqi WMD. He notes that, absent foolproof information, assuming the worst case is the only logical course:
Quick Ã¢€” what was the biggest intelligence misjudgment of Gulf War II? It was the nearly unanimous opinion of the intelligence community, backed by the U.S. and British military, that the 50,000 elite soldiers of Saddam’s well-trained, well-equipped Special Republican Guard would put up a fierce battle for Baghdad. Our military plan was based on this cautious assessment. That presumption of a bloody, last-ditch defense was also the basis for objections to the war: in street fighting, opponents argued, coalition casualties would be horrific, and tens of thousands of civilians would be sacrificed.
Happily, our best assessment was mistaken. Saddam’s supposed diehards cut and ran. Though Baghdad’s power and water were cut off, civilians were spared and our losses were even fewer than in Gulf War I. What if our planners had believed Kurdish leaders who predicted that Saddam’s super-loyalists would quickly collapse? We would have sent fewer combat troops and more engineers, civilian administrators and military police. But the C.I.A. and the Pentagon had no way of being certain that the information about the Republican Guard’s poor morale and weak discipline provided by Kurds and Iraqi opposition leaders was accurate.
With thousands of lives at stake, optimism was not an option. Sensibly, we based our strategy on the greater likelihood of fierce resistance. That decision was as right when made as it was mistaken in retrospect.
Safire is right on this. However, given that we based virtually our entire case before the UN on Saddam’s threat as a WMD possessor, the fact that we haven’t found any is a collosal embarrasment that can’t be glossed over. Post hoc analysis such as this doesn’t cut it:
Never mind the mass graves now being unearthed of an estimated 300,000 victims, which together with the million deaths in his wars make Saddam the biggest mass murderer of Muslims in all history. Never mind his undisputed financing of suicide bombers and harboring of terrorists, from Al Qaeda’s Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi to the veteran killer Abu Nidal (the only “suicide” with three bullets in his head, dispatched in Baghdad probably because he knew too much.)
We didn’t base our case for war on these things. As much trouble as Bush and Blair had in rallying support for war on the basis of Saddam’s threat to the West, it would have been almost impossible to get it based on how viscious Saddam was to his own people. While I’m glad that we’ve toppled Saddam, I’m not sure I would have supported war on those flimsy grounds. There are quite a few regimes that need changing by those standards.
And I find this sort of argument insulting:
And never mind our discovery of two mobile laboratories designed to produce biological and chemical agents capable of causing mass hysteria and death in any city in the world. Future discoveries will be dismissed as “dual use” or planted by us.
No; the opponents of this genocidal maniac’s removal now accuse President Bush and Prime Minister Blair of a colossal hoax. Because Saddam didn’t use germs or gas on our troops, they say, that proves Iraq never had them. If we cannot find them right away, they don’t exist. They believe Saddam sacrificed tens of billions in oil revenues for no reason at all.
A strong majority of Americans believe he did have a dangerous program running, as he did before. Long before the C.I.A. dispatched agents to northern Iraq, Kurdish sources were quoted in this space about terrorist operations of Ansar al-Islam, whose 600 members included about 150 “Afghan Arabs” trained by Al Qaeda; after our belated bombing, some escaped to Iran.
Opinion polling on intelligence gathering is just plain stupid. Who cares what a majority of the people believe? Whether Iraq possesse(s/d) WMD is a matter of fact, not opinion.
If the Administration had wanted war on the basis that Saddam was brutal to his own people, they should have made that case. If their rationale was Saddam’s ties to terrorism, they should have made that case. While both were cited along the way, they clearly weren’t the principal rationale given for the war. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.
Update (10:11): Paul Muller of Heretical Ideas has a different take.
Update (16:13): Sean Hackbarth offers his views, too.