Iraq WMD’s Revisited

Bernard Finel, to say the least a fan of neither the Bush Administration nor the Iraq War, throws cold water on the Bush Lied, People Died meme that refuses to die:

I’d like to urge folks to think through what standards should be applied to inherently ambiguous information. Here is what we knew in 2002:

(1) Saddam had a WMD program in the early 1990s.
(2) Saddam had not fully cooperated with weapons inspectors from 1991-1998.
(3) Inspectors had been expelled from the country from 1998 to 2002.
(4) When the inspectors returns, they found no evidence of a WMD program.
(5) Saddam was either unable or unwilling to provide a full accounting of what had happened to the program.

[…]

Finally, we can talk about cherry picking all we want. But then you need to address the Bob Gallucci/David Kay issue. These guys were inspectors as well. They knew the intel. They’d been on the ground. They thought Saddam had a program and stockpiles. Do we just want to dismiss them as dupes? Because we certainly can’t call them Bushie ideologues.

Now, as a supporter of both the Iraq War and the Bush Administration, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the Iraq WMD evidence was indeed cherry picked, in the sense that they 1) genuinely believed Saddam had a WMD program and that it was unacceptable in a post-9/11 context and 2) rejected any evidence pointing the other way as outlier.  I also think they played fast and loose with the evidence on Saddam’s ties to al Qaeda — mostly by omission rather than commission — to the end of propagandizing for a war they genuinely believed necessary. But the idea that Bush and company simply manufactured a war for reasons other than sincere belief that it was in America’s security interests have no evidence.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. M1EK says:

    “We know he has them and we know where they are” was a lie, even if every single word in your post is absolutely true.

  2. ken says:

    Here is what I knew.

    1) Iraq’s nuclear weapons development program was completely dismantled and the material secured behind lock and key under international observation at all times.

    2) Troublemakers were lying about Iraq buying centrifuge tubes for uranium enrichment. It was verified without a doubt that the tubes in question were not suitable to be used as centrifuges but fit the specs for rocket tubes to a tee. There were no credible sources saying that Iraq had restarted its nuclear weapons research program.

    3) Saddam had chemical weapons in the early 1980 and used them against civil uprisings as well as against Iran. All known stock of chemical weapons were successfully destroyed following the Gulf war. But, like counting ballots, not every crate of bombs could be accounted for.

    4) But chemical weapons degrade. Like the medicine in your medicine cabinet they lose their efficacy after so many years. By 2001 we knew that whatever few chemical weapons may remain unaccounted for that they were far out of date and probably useless.

    5) Biological weapons have never been successfully developed by any nation even after massive efforts by both the US and Russia. Iraq had little or no chance of doing what the US count not do.

    6) There were people with vested interests in having the US believe Iraq had WMD. These people could not be trusted. The press reported their stories without any scrutiny as to their trustworthiness.

    Bush lied to the American people when he led American to believe, contrary to what was actually known, that Iraq had WMD and was an eminent danger. He did not know this. On the contrary, he new at least as much as I knew. So to lead the people to believe in something false he clearly lied to us.

    I was never deceived. On the night of his big speech laying out his rationale for going to war I was sitting in a crowded bar with friends and pointed out each and every one of his lies.

  3. Hoodlumman says:

    Ken, thanks for that post. It’s important to point out to people on internet message boards and blogs how smart you are.

  4. anjin-san says:

    SEC. RUMSFELD:It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

    From: http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2185

    This is not an ambiguous statement. The folks at PNAC were hot for war with Iraq long before 9/11. Connecting the dots is not difficult.

  5. HiItsNino says:

    No evidence? What are forged yellow cake docs that are included in speeches to the UN (I don’t care who forged them they were used knowingly)? What is holding up a vile of anthrax and stating that Saddam could release that on a city, when the intelligence says he “might” be able to make anthrax not nearly as refined? I could go on, but I won’t.

    I guess this is the part where truth just fades into history, and the Bush legacy on the war will become just a blunder that wasn’t really his fault…

  6. Herb Ely says:

    During the 80’s and 90’s the intelligence community had a well developed system for analyzing weapons program. No program would be judged complete until the weapons were delivered into the hands of troops trained and organized to use them. Until then the program was a future – not curent – threat.

    The Bush administration showed the existence of programs – but never demonstrated (or maybe even asked) if these programs were mature enough to constitute an actual threat. Maybe they thought that this was sufficient justification for the war – or would make a sufficient case to the public.

    My own view is that they didn’t even want to know if these programs constituted an immanent threat.

  7. Look, I don’t know how else to explain it… You have to get the cause-effect sequence right.

    Bush, et al., applied what is arguable a wrong standard in assessing the (lack) of good intelligence. Having done that, they concluded that we could not risk Saddam acquiring WMD. They then set about making the strongest case they could about going to war on WMD grounds. But the initial issue — and the one which led may people who never bought into the yellow cake or uranium tubes nonsense to support the war — was about whether post 9/11 we could take the risk on Saddam.

    There is no question that the way the war was sold was despicable. But again… that has nothing to do with the underlying issue issue, which is, what do you do with ambiguous evidence about a potentially serious threat.

    Just one more point: Anyone who claims to have known, for sure, that Saddam was disarmed in 2002 simply does not know what he/she is talking about. It was simply an impossible proposition to demonstrate given the data at the time. Which is not to say that demonstrating that a program has been dismantled in inherently impossible. Compare, please, Saddam’s disclosures and grants of access to those of South Africa or Libya.

    Okay, one very last point, the Bush Administration started going horribly wrong on Jan. 20, 2001 when they came into office with the unofficial motto of ABC — Anything But Clinton. Mindless rejection of a previous administration is always dangerous. Not every bit of every policy of the Bush years was bad. Most yes. But there may be some nuggets in there that deserve some careful consideration.

  8. odograph says:

    Of course there was smoke, but the judgment was about the fire (or lack thereof).

    I’m pretty convinced that the Downing Street Memos were true, after all. The intelligence was fixed to match the strategy.

    That’s what Doug Fife and the Office of Special Plans and such were all about. Why did General Franks call Fife “The dumbest f****ing guy on the planet”?

    And why was the dumbest f****ing guy on the planet doing intelligence estimates? Maybe because he’d give you the answer you wanted.

  9. charles johnson says:

    There’s a chance we might leave Iraq as not a failed state. Obama was right in 2002 to call it a dumb war, but still. What I’m wondering about is Afghanistan. There’s no indication that we’re beating the Taliban and there’s no indication that we even can defeat them.

  10. ken says:

    No Bernard,

    What was actually known in 2002 by little old me was certainly also KNOWN by those in Washington, including those in the White House.

    As I outlined above we knew that Iraq’s entire nuclear weapons development program had been totally completely unequivocally dismantled following the gulf war. This is not a controversial statement. It was as widely known in 2002 as it was in 1991 when the international inspectors certified that Iraq no longer had the capacity to even have a development program to develop nuclear devices. All nuclear material remained under lock and key under international supervision throughout the decade following the gulf war and was confirmed by the inspectors on the ground in Iraq just before Bush launched his war on Iraq.

    What Bush knew was that inspectors certified Iraq as nuclear free. Yet he lied to us into thinking Iraq had nuclear development programs that could soon develop a weapon.

    Biological weapons have never been successfully weaponized by any nation, not even by the USA or USSR. Bush knew that after a decade of embargo Iraq did not have the industrial capacity to do what we could not do. Everyone knew that. It was no secret in Washington or in the White House.

    Now as to chemical weapons it is true that Iraq had chemical weapons in the 1980’s. Following the gulf war however all known stockpiles of these weapons were destroyed and accounted for.

    Some small doubt remained due to the fact that some small portion of weapons that may have been actually already used or destroyed were not physically accounted for back in 1991. The amount was not large and after ten years we also knew that these weapons, if any still existed in some forgotten corner of a warehouse somewhere, would be around twenty years old and way past their expiration dates for effectiveness.

    But never mind all this.

    We had international inspectors on the ground in Iraq asking for Bush’s the evidence of WMD in Iraq so they could root them out and destroy them. They followed up every lead and did independent investigations as well. They had total unfettered access to every nook and cranny of Iraq including the Presidential palaces. They could make surprise inspection visits any time any where. Contrary to what Bush claimed they found absolutely no evidence of WMD programs anywhere in Iraq.

    There was nothing wrong with our intelligence. What was wrong was that Bush intended to go to war and decided to lie to the American people so they would support his decision. Most of Washington and all of the press (with the exception of McLatchy) went along with him.

  11. spencer says:

    You are completely correct.

    It was a simple case of do not confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.

    I’m a liberal, who expected to find WMDs, but I considered that irrelevant. I could conceive of no scenario where Saddam would think it was to his interest to turn WMDs over to some uncontrollable terrorists group.

    Can you?

  12. John Burgess says:

    Hurrah! Someone–Ken–knows the unknowable! Do you have any tips for the next Powerball?

    Saddam’s nuclear program was dismantled, insofar as all of its elements were known. The entire program came as a surprise to the West years after Desert Storm, when Saddam’s sons-in-law spilled the beans.

    After that, the UN and IAEA went in and took control of what the sons-in-law disclosed. Was that the entirety of it? In a duplicitous Iraq, that was not a safe assumption for any country to make. It was not an assumption the US made. Ken, on the other hand, knows better.

    Saddam had never produced either the chemical weapons or the paperwork to show the destruction of those chemical weapons that he had declared existed. The lost/misplaced/never existed chemical weapons, themselves a material breach of the truce ending Desert Storm and a violation of UN sanctions, were very much factored into the considerations over his WMD.

    Lest we forget, it was not just the Bush White House that was convinced that Saddam still had WMD. The French, British, Italians, and Japanese were also certain, among others. Unless all their intel people were sitting around in a common circle-jerk, feeding each other the same information, then blaming Bush doesn’t explain their analyses.

  13. Anderson says:

    On this issue, I always refer to Asquith:

    It was Prime Minister Asquith who stated that the War Office had three sets of figures, one to mislead the public, the second to mislead the Cabinet, the third to mislead themselves.

  14. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Ken you are what you accuse Bush of being. There is no convincing a fool. Read what Clinton said about Saddam idiot. Why is it the truth from Clinton and a lie from Bush? Answer that Ken.

  15. Ken, with all due respect… you are making certainty out of what were at time, at best, plausible presumptions.

    I worked closely with David Kay on a book project in those week and months, and I worked for Bob Gallucci at the time. These two gentlemen, inspectors both, with access to all the intel — thought Saddam had a chem/bio program and probably some stockpiles.

    I promise you, I am not relying here on Fox News reporting. I was very close to this issue at the time — though not read in to the classified stuff personally — and it just was not as clear as you make it out to be.

  16. Drew says:

    A number of weeks ago I made a classic error posting here saying “I know someone who knows” that WMD (and about a number of unpublicized aborted/prevented US terror events) were real, and found. You can’t come on some site and say “I know this, but I can’t cite my source.” Not really fair, now is it?

    So let me just say, it would be in the interest of those in denial of Iraqi WMD to be a bit less strident in their views. As time passes and current political and security considerations fade truth will eventually come out, and those in denial will look rather foolish.

  17. Phil Smith says:

    What are forged yellow cake docs that are included in speeches to the UN …?

    I’d like to see that cite. As I recall, assuming you’re referencing the “Italian” docs, they weren’t even in US possession prior to the invasion.

  18. Steve Verdon says:

    Let me see….we have Bernard, a guy whome we know. Who knows several of the principles involved, and has access to lots of various documents…compared to…ken. An anonymous poster whom we know nothing about. But ken…ken knew, KNEW dammit that Iraq didn’t have WMDs.

    Sorry ken, I’m going with Bernard on this one.

  19. odograph says:

    Some above give their predictions about better days … I predict it will actually be worse for Bush and his memory. Once his finger is off the button people will come clean about what they really saw, from the worst President EVAR.

  20. odograph says:

    BTW, if you read Bernard carefully, it is consistent with the Downing Street Memos.

  21. M1EK says:

    Steve, that’s the most biased tripe I’ve ever seen from you, and I’ve read a lot of your stuff.

    Bernard has no more access nor credibility than guys we KNOW were lying – like Rumsfeld. You’re attempting to argue from authority when the authority is linked to discredited information and discredited people. Not smart.

  22. Bill says:

    ken –

    Your first lie/strong mischaracterization:

    Following the gulf war however all known stockpiles of these weapons were destroyed and accounted for.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/analysis-saddams-arsenal-from-chemical-weapons-to-nuclear-programme-606989.html

    Your second lie:

    We had international inspectors on the ground in Iraq asking for Bush’s the evidence of WMD in Iraq so they could root them out and destroy them. They followed up every lead and did independent investigations as well. They had total unfettered access to every nook and cranny of Iraq including the Presidential palaces.

    Read these comments in full:

    http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/01/27/sprj.irq.transcript.blix/

  23. tom p says:

    Stayed out of this so far, but:

    it would be in the interest of those in denial of Iraqi WMD to be a bit less strident in their views. As time passes and current political and security considerations fade truth will eventually come out, and those in denial will look rather foolish.

    Fact #1: Iraq had NO WMD in 2002/03.

    I was very close to this issue at the time — though not read in to the classified stuff personally — and it just was not as clear as you make it out to be.

    Fact #2: Intel is always at best… shall we say, “foggily contradictory”?

    I worked closely with David Kay on a book project in those week and months, and I worked for Bob Gallucci at the time. These two gentlemen, inspectors both, with access to all the intel — thought Saddam had a chem/bio program and probably some stockpiles.

    Fact #3: The inspectors were there, making progress, and were forced to leave by the impending invasion. (some in the know asked for more time)

    Look guys, War, or not, is the most momentous decision ANY politician can make. Lives are at stake. To make a decision for, when there is still time to avert it (time we had, there was no sign of an imminent attack), is unconscionable.

    In 3/03, Saddam was, at worst, a contained threat. That also, like it or not, is a fact.

  24. Bill says:

    tom p –

    Regarding your “fact”:

    In 3/03, Saddam was, at worst, a contained threat.

    This subjectively depends on what you define as a contained threat. A conventionally contained threat? In terms of invading another country and starting another regional war, I’d agree. In terms of being cowed enough to not regularly shoot at US and British military personnel, demonstrably false.

    Contained in that he wouldn’t support proxies committing an act of terrorism? Not necessarily,if you count paying Palestinian suicide bombers or (very likely) plotting the assassination of a former US President.

    And a strong argument against the idea that Hussein was and would have been successfully contained relies on his continued acts of defiance with the US military camped on his doorstep prior to the invasion. His decision not to fold was not a rational one, indicating that standard deterrence may not fully apply. His behavior after the invasion of Kuwait is exhibit B.

    The embargo was collapsing, the Oil for Food program was corrupt, politicians in Europe were bought and paid for by the Hussein regime, no-fly zones were unsustainable, and the “containment” paradigm as we knew it was in its twilight.

  25. Herb Ely says:

    Tom p. Kay and Galluci thought they had program, probably some stockpiles. But troops organized, prepared, trained and ready to use WMD’s? Did the administration show any evidence of that? It takes a long time to equip and train troops to maintain and use any weapon, much less an unconventional one. Given the absence of evidence that Saddam’s troops were prepared to use WMD, you’re right: He was, at worst a contained threat.

  26. Cliff says:

    A lot of Bush apologists out there….in any case, its all in the past and history will hopefully remember that there was no slam dunk case for war. Future generations can learn from this blunder, and thats about the best hope anyone can have for the Bush legacy.

    The problem going forward leads me to a question yet to be asked. Is Iraq the Athenian democracy Bush promised it would be? Even if you don’t think he lied about all the other stuff, Iraq is far from being a model democracy. I know some of you will say “no, but in 10 more years…” Well, in 10 more years who is to say what would have become of Iraq if we would have just left it alone.

  27. odograph says:

    Cliff, “Athenian democracy” is a bit much … but there is no doubt that there has been a sliding definition of “win.” We are there until we “win” but “win” doesn’t mean what it used to.

    What was that, something about “shining lights”?

  28. Steve Plunk says:

    I hate getting to the argument late.

    If people don’t understand the analogy of Saddam and a kid hiding his hand behind his back they will never understand why we had to go to war. History will judge the President’s choice as one of acting in the interest of the United States and the world. The juvenile claims of lies and deception are those of spoiled children.

  29. tom p says:

    This subjectively depends on what you define as a contained threat. A conventionally contained threat? In terms of invading another country and starting another regional war, I’d agree. In terms of being cowed enough to not regularly shoot at US and British military personnel, demonstrably false.

    Bill, I do not underestimate the value of an American life, but one versus 200? And cowed enuf to not shoot at us is not the same as “kill or be killed”.

    Contained in that he wouldn’t support proxies committing an act of terrorism? Not necessarily,if you count paying Palestinian suicide bombers or (very likely) plotting the assassination of a former US President.

    I have yet to read a creditable cite of Saddam giving WMD’s (remember, it was all about Saddam giving WMD’s to terrorist’s).

    And a strong argument against the idea that Hussein was and would have been successfully contained relies on his continued acts of defiance with the US military camped on his doorstep prior to the invasion. His decision not to fold was not a rational one, indicating that standard deterrence may not fully apply. His behavior after the invasion of Kuwait is exhibit B.

    Bill, here is where I, with all due respect, disagree with you: He was holding Iran back with the threat of WMDs. It was perfectly logical that he would continue to put forth this fantasy even after the US Army was on his doorstep… even as he let the inspectors in.

    As far as “no-fly zones were unsustainable”… I must totally disagree with you on that 2nd point. By what paradigm? Considering the costs of the Iraq war, money was not the problem, Saudi Arabia (we had bases there)(not to mention Turkey) was not the problem.

    Is the current occupation of Iraq “sustainable”? I do not think you can find any one (coherent) on either side of the political spectrum to agree with that.

    Future generations can learn from this blunder, and thats about the best hope anyone can have for the Bush legacy.

    Indeed Cliff, indeed…

  30. Bill says:

    1. Athenian Democracy is more than a bit much, and Athenian Democracy wasn’t all Cliff thinks it was cracked up to be, in any event.

    2. Well, in 10 more years who is to say what would have become of Iraq if we would have just left it alone.

    The possibility that anything but continued rule by Saddam Hussein and/or his younger son would have continued for 10 years and beyond is very slim. The sanctions and Oil for Food mockery strengthened his hold the remainder of the country he could still control, if anything.

  31. tom p says:

    If people don’t understand the analogy of Saddam and a kid hiding his hand behind his back they will never understand why we had to go to war.

    Steve, am I missing the point here? (an honest question) I was once the kid hiding his hand behind his back, but in my case it was a penny piece of gum. Saddam…

    Ahhh, never mind, I think I get your sarcasm… do I?

  32. Bill says:

    I have yet to read a creditable cite of Saddam giving WMD’s (remember, it was all about Saddam giving WMD’s to terrorist’s).

    It was all about the possibility of Hussein (and other state actors who sponsor terrorism and possess/develop prohibited weapons) passing off WMD. This possibility was judged to be unacceptable in light of 9-11 and US history with Iraq. It’s certainly a debatable position, but it’s not exactly irrational.

    He was holding Iran back with the threat of WMDs. It was perfectly logical that he would continue to put forth this fantasy even after the US Army was on his doorstep… even as he let the inspectors in.

    A good point … but IMO, only until it became clear that the US was going to smoke him. Then Iran becomes a distant, secondary concern.

    As far as “no-fly zones were unsustainable”… I must totally disagree with you on that 2nd point. By what paradigm?

    By the paradigm that the US really can’t continue any military engagement indefinitely.

    Is the current occupation of Iraq “sustainable”? I do not think you can find any one (coherent) on either side of the political spectrum to agree with that.

    No one is arguing that it has to be, because it has an endpoint: the replacement of the Hussein regime with a stable state that does not export and support terrorism or commit genocide.

    And there’s even still perhaps an even or better chance that something resembling transparent democracy will emerge.

  33. Bill says:

    Also tom –

    Beyond the relative unsustainability of policing 60% of another country’s airspace ad infinitum, with all the impacts that entails (commercial air traffic, logistical and political realities for the enforcing countries, etc – France quit out of the effort early, I believe) … there is the simple fact that containment of Saddam was also working to solidify his hold on the part of the country he held, while harming Iraq and its people (rising infant mortality, stifled economy, etc).

    When you walk around Baghdad, the place is crumbling, and you might be inclined to think that it’s a result of the 2003 invasion. But it’s really years of neglect that became exponentially worse as resources were cut off or selectively funneled into the regime’s pocket after the Gulf War.

    Beyond any financial concerns, the paradigm was morally problematic … and so was the alternative of lifting sanctions and airspace restrictions without compliance to the terms of the ceasefire agreement that ended the first war. The invasion in 2003 has caused a lot of misery and trauma, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    As with many foreign policy scenarios, there weren’t really any “good” options.

  34. Our Paul says:

    James, it’s OK to admit you were wrong about the Iraq war, and your quoting of Bernard Finel gets you almost there. Points one to three are of no use in the decision making process. The fourth point defines the issue:

    4) When the inspectors returns, they found no evidence of a WMD program.

    Then point five weakens the clarity and force of point four by adding ambiguity:

    5) Saddam was either unable or unwilling to provide a full accounting of what had happened to the program.

    Skip the unwilling canard, and you have the picture of the deterioration of the Command structure in Iraq that is accepted today…

    You cannot escape the fact the Bush took us to war at a point in time that inspections were in progress, and there was not a hint of WMD’s being present. You cannot escape the incongruity our Intelligence Agency claiming that such weapons existed, at a point that the UN Team could not find them. Let me repeat that: Not only the U.S. but all Intelligence Agencies were providing Intel to Hans Blix’s team, and no weapons or programs were identified, yet Bush took us to war.

    Suskind’s account of Paul O’Neill’s brief tenure as Secretary of Treasure clearly points to forces within the Administration wishing to invade Iraq long before 9/11 occurred, other dribs and drabs are out there… You are ignoring the neocon visions, and the heavy whiff of oil is not penetrating your nostrils.

    I, for one, wish to be educated. Rather than blathering how foreign Intelligence Agencies agreed with the CIA assessment (hint: read Hans Blix book), quote for me an article, in a reputable German, French, Spanish, or Italian news source, that substantiates that claim. Sorry, Japanese is above my capabilities.

  35. LaurenceB says:

    Near the top of these comments, both Anjin-San and M1EK provided a quote by Rumsfeld that was clearly a lie. I’ve read the later comments, and no one has responded in Rumsfeld’s defense.

    What am I to take from this?

    Is it Dr. Joyner’s (and the other Bush defenders’) position that the Bush Administration as a whole did not lie, even as individual members did? And is that a coherent position?

  36. Bithead says:

    I worked closely with David Kay on a book project in those week and months, and I worked for Bob Gallucci at the time. These two gentlemen, inspectors both, with access to all the intel — thought Saddam had a chem/bio program and probably some stockpiles.

    But since Saddam was busy playing a shell game, who knew? Even the inspectors who siged off on ‘nuke free’ didn’t ahve access to all areas. I note you bypass that point. Why?

  37. Yes, Bush, et al., lied in selling the war to the public. But the Congressional votes were 296-133 and 77-23. And that reflected not just people being too dumb to question the Administration, but rather an acceptance that while controversial, the decision to go to war was not whole unreasonable.

    Remember, we’d be bombing Iraq on a nearly daily basis since the early 1990s. This was not a normal situation.

    So, to clarify:

    (1) It is clear that Bush, et al, lied repeatedly in the run-up to the war.

    (2) That said, it was also possible at the time to make a plausible case for war that did not rely on any of the Bush lies or nonsense about AQ ties, yellowcake, or uranium tubes.

    (3) The problem with the current narrative is that by denying point (2), it turns what was a geniunely complicated policy issue into a simpleminded conspiracy story, and it further insults the many people — in Congress, the analytic community, and elsewhere — who were both appalled by Bush’s tactics in selling the war and yet grudgingly convincing that regime change was the best option.

    My argument is a plea to grow up and try to understand the underlying policy issue and challenges with intelligence assessments rather than the comfortable and smug quest for yet another cudgel with which to bash Bush.

    (Frankly, we don’t need one. Bush will go down in history as an epic failure regardless of whether we want to condemn the original decision to go to war. The Administration was inept from stem to stern. Massive deficits, massive growth in domestic spending, losing both Houses of Congress and the Presidency, Katrina, U.S. Attorneys, torture, “mission accomplished,” two recessions, financial meltdown…. Over time, I suspect that Iraq — which loomed so large for so long — will be remembered as just yet another piece of the entire stupid, misguided, incompetent mess.)

  38. Bill says:

    Let me repeat that: Not only the U.S. but all Intelligence Agencies were providing Intel to Hans Blix’s team, and no weapons or programs were identified, yet Bush took us to war.

    The idea was that Hussein was asked to fully comply, and he did not during the point when inspections were in progress.

    As examples, inspectors found missiles with prohibited ranges that were undeclared, inspectors were harrassed with state-staged protests, and the disclosures on WMD were incomplete. So Bush took us to war based on the violation of 1441 after the decade of other violated resolutions, in addition to the perceived threat of WMD, is the argument.

    Inspections may have been incomplete, but Iraq was not in “active compliance” with 1441, which was a fairly clear violation of its terms. Hence the casus belli. Debatable, but again: not irrational, by any means.

  39. Bill says:

    Bernard –

    (1) It is clear that Bush, et al, lied repeatedly in the run-up to the war.

    It seems to me that to establish credibility with detractors to salvage your argument, you are willing to sell a bit of your original argument down the river. Specifically, this revolves around a definition of “lie” that dilutes the term.

    Irresponsibly cherrypicking intelligence due to selection bias while disregarding outliers, focusing on WMD and incompetently communicating the real casus belli for Iraq does not constitute a “lie”:

    an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive

    I am sensitive to and in agreement with your plea to look at the factors that led to an invasion comprehensively and unemotionally, but I feel that you are ironically giving too much away in granting such emotional characterizations of Bush’s actions and rhetoric.

  40. Bill says:

    Near the top of these comments, both Anjin-San and M1EK provided a quote by Rumsfeld that was clearly a lie. I’ve read the later comments, and no one has responded in Rumsfeld’s defense.

    This may be because the comments are (mostly) indefensible. Did they constitute a lie? Or did Rumsfeld have enough irresponsible certainty taht he was willing to go on record and subsequently be made to look foolish and/or deceptive?

    I suspect the latter. Two of the chief legitimate critcisms of the man’s tenure as SecDef were his willingness to speak loosely and his arrogance in pushing firmly held positions. This comment showcases both deficits.

    That said: while an Administration is responsible for the statements of its cabinet members, and the overall case presented by the Administration was flawed, a comprehensive, unemotional evaluation does not result in a verdict of lying about WMD, in my opinion.

    Being wrong? Selection bias in overselling intelligence that said Iraq had WMD (and was collectively, casually viewed as accurate by the majority of the world’s intelligence agencies)? Yes. Fabricating the concept to sell a war? No.

  41. Bill — I think it is a matter of degrees. They clearly, and unambiguously, made a decision to mislead the public by promoting some ambiguous evidence as definitive and by continuing to rely on evidence that they ought to have known were untrue.

    Look, you can parse the 18 words if you want to say that all Bush was claiming was that at some point the Brits had passed along information, but the yellowcake claim had been debunked within the administration for a while by then. I guess, you can claim Bush wasn’t lying, but just so ignorant that he told falsehoods because he didn’t know better… and anyway, it isn’t just Bush. There are plenty of unambiguously untrue statements from Cheney and Rummy and Wolfie and Dougie and the rest of the clown posse.

    The only plausible defense of the Administration is actually the classical elitist perspective. They knew the evidence was ambiguous and made a reasoned judgment. But they realized that making an ambiguous case for war might result in Saddam remaining power which they felt would have placed the country at risk. So they deliberately sought to mislead the public because it was for our own good.

    Personally, I like democracy. So I think they should have made the case honestly, warts and all, and I think that in the end they would have gotten the authorization to use force anyway, but would have gone to war with a deeper consensus and less divisiveness… but look, that’s the story of the Administration, isn’t it? A bunker mentality from day one — with us or against us. So why should selling the Iraq war have been any different from how they lied to sell the prescription drug benefit, or lied to try to sell social security reform, or lied to try to claim that amnesty didn’t mean amnesty. In a weird way, they systematically undermined all of their policy preferences by overselling them with dubious claims — which is ashame, because social security reform needs to be address, etc.

  42. hiitsnino says:

    Problem is you do not have a democracy like we have here. Its a religious republic which I think is a very dangerous thing.

  43. M1EK says:

    This may be because the comments are (mostly) indefensible. Did they constitute a lie? Or did Rumsfeld have enough irresponsible certainty taht he was willing to go on record and subsequently be made to look foolish and/or deceptive?

    I suspect the latter. Two of the chief legitimate critcisms of the man’s tenure as SecDef were his willingness to speak loosely and his arrogance in pushing firmly held positions. This comment showcases both deficits.

    Rumsfeld was not off the reservation when he made those comments. Neither was Colin Powell when he took a pack of lies to the UN. (A very charitable case could be made that Powell was lied to by others; I don’t absolve him of responsibility for it, though).

  44. ken says:

    James Joyner said:

    Bernard Finel, to say the least a fan of neither the Bush Administration nor the Iraq War, throws cold water on the Bush Lied, People Died meme that refuses to die:

    Bernard Finel said:

    It is clear that Bush, et al, lied repeatedly in the run-up to the war.

    For anyone with a modicum of interest in the events taking place in Iraq during the ten years preceding the Bush war on Iraq it was chrystal clear that Bush and many others were blatantly and repeatedly lying to the American people regarding Iraq having WMD programs and stockpiles that poised an immediate and existential threat to the US.

    I am not the only one who knew he was lying. Millions of people worldwide took to the streets to protest going to war based upon lies.

    When the war started the meme ‘Bush lied, people died’ spread. It will not die because it is true.

  45. Drew says:

    And with this hysterical rant:

    ” The Administration was inept from stem to stern. Massive deficits, massive growth in domestic spending, losing both Houses of Congress and the Presidency, Katrina, U.S. Attorneys, torture, “mission accomplished,” two recessions, financial meltdown….”

    In Latin: Posterus credibilitius, downus toiletus..

  46. tom p says:

    From an interview with David Kay by PBS for the Frontline episode, Bush’s War:

    “… [W]hen Sen. [Carl] Levin [D-Mich.] asked for it (an NIE) and the answer was from George Tenet, “Well, we don’t have one,” I thought, how odd, because the assumption was in something like this you would always have one; it would be updated every year, every two years, when you thought there were significant changes. It hadn’t been produced because, in fact, they didn’t have any information.”

    and,
    “Essentially, the extension without evidence. Remember, the criticism of the intelligence community coming out of 9/11 is they didn’t connect the dots. More dangerous than not connecting dots is connecting dots when you haven’t collected dots. And in fact, what had happened from ’98 right up to the time of the war in 2003 is no dots had been collected. But yet that didn’t stop them from connecting them. They were connecting dots we had collected from 1991 through 1998. …”

    and,
    “My firsthand knowledge is we found no evidence during inspections we carried out of a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam in the … [sense] of actual collaboration and interaction and a common strategy. I don’t think there is any evidence of that because I don’t think it existed. …”

    and,
    “The system broke down. It’s this: We all knew he had weapons, so don’t let the data get in your way, and the limitations. … Much of the argument is, we all knew we were going to war; therefore it didn’t matter. I think that is misunderstanding the situation. I think while that’s true, we did all understand that the policy was for military action, and short of a miracle, that was going to take place. But what was partly driving that is this shared belief that he had weapons of mass destruction, sort of independent of the data. …”

    There is more, much more, read the whole thing, and if you have the time (app 4 hrs ttl), watch the show. It is on line and worth it.

  47. Steve Verdon says:

    Bernard has no more access nor credibility than guys we KNOW were lying – like Rumsfeld. You’re attempting to argue from authority when the authority is linked to discredited information and discredited people. Not smart.

    Uhhhmmm, not quite.

    See, the actual fallacy isn’t an argument from authority, but argument from an anonymous authority. Bernard is not anonymous. His argument is supported by various documents and other people who are considered experts.

    I don’t have to become an arms inspector, travel to Iraq and do lots of heavy lifting to read what Bernard has written and say, “Hmmm, that makes sense.” Then read an anonymous poster who offers nothing other than his own ramblings about how certain he was.

    For example, I know little of physics. However, if a guy with an impressive CV, lots of publication on a specfic fied in physics were to tell me something about said field…I’d be inclined to go with what he says vs. some guy on the internt expounding some theory nobody has ever heard of.

    Oh and I don’t see Bernard as being linked to any discredited authority. His by no means a Bush supporter.