Monday, July 04, 2005

Were Bush's WMD claims enough to justify war?

There is an email that has been making the rounds since 2003, and it pops up from time to time on message boards whenever a Democrat says that we should never have gone to war due to the fact, now pretty well established, that Saddam didn't have any weapons of mass destruction and didn't pose a threat to the US. The mail cites a bunch of quotes by prominent Democrats -- such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Ted Kennedy -- saying that Saddam Hussein had weapons. The point of the message seems to be that even if Bush was mistaken or lying about WMD's as a sufficient reason to go to war, it wasn't his fault, because the Democrats thought the same thing.

The full text of the message can be read at snopes.com, where it is classified as "true", but with some pretty serious reservations about how the quotes were taken out of context. While snopes does a pretty good job of examining each quote, I haven't seen a really good response to the overall point of the message, which is that Democrats and Republicans alike supported the war because they believed that Saddam Hussein posed a nuclear threat to the United States.

The facts are not nearly as cut and dried. I'm not going to rewrite the entire snopes link, which you should read for yourself before continuing with this entry. But I would like to single out one of them as a representative example.

Hillary Clinton said:
In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.

As the link points out, the rest of the speech is left out. She went on to say:

Some people favor attacking Saddam Hussein now... However, this course is fraught with danger. We and our NATO allies did not depose Mr. Milosevic, who was responsible for more than a quarter of a million people being killed in the 1990s. Instead, by stopping his aggression in Bosnia and Kosovo, and keeping on the tough sanctions, we created the conditions in which his own people threw him out and led to his being in the dock being tried for war crimes as we speak.

If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us. In recent days, Russia has talked of an invasion of Georgia [obviously the one in the Former Soviet Union, not the US] to attack Chechen rebels. India has mentioned the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on Pakistan. And what if China were to perceive a threat from Taiwan?

I need to point that out, because it strongly highlights the difference between the approach that Democrats were urging Bush to take, and the approach that he actually took. While many Democrats such as Hillary Clinton recognized the possibility that Iraq had or was developing some weapons, they also stated at the time that there was not enough solid evidence to launch a full out war on them. Bombing a country, or combatting an invasion like in Kuwait is one thing. But starting a war and occupying the place, and trying to fill a void by toppling their entire government, is something else entirely. In fact, Bush's dad made this very clear when he explained why he didn't depose Saddam after dealing with Kuwait in 1991.

Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different--and perhaps barren--outcome.

--George Bush Sr. and Brent Scowcroft
Time (2 March 1998)

Pretty uncanny how accurate George H. W. Bush's predictions turned out to be.

Of course, we know that Saddam Hussein had WMD's at one time. That's because the United States sold them to him during the Reagan administration. In case you've forgotten about that little detail, here is Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam, during a trip intended to set up friendly relations with Iraq. But Saddam was ordered to disarm after he lost the first Gulf War, and all evidence right now indicates that he did. Yes, Hussein kicked out the inspectors in 1998, and it's likely that he wanted to rebuild. But "wanting to" and "doing it" are not the same thing. Bill Clinton's response was immediate. He launched Operation Desert Fox, bombing suspected weapon sites but not endangering any American troops.

In other words, he pursued a policy of containment and responses to actions, not "pre-emption" against actions that hadn't happened yet. At this point I should remind you that the policy seemingly WORKED, based on the fact that no WMD's were found in Iraq in 2003. This is something that even Bush administration officials have acknowledged at this point.

For all these quotes about how Saddam Hussein kicked out the weapons inspectors and wouldn't let them back in, it's funny how none of them date after late 2002. Guess why? Because in early 2003, Saddam Hussein let the weapons inspectors back in. And they didn't find any weapons.

You remember that too, right? UN Weapons Inspectors, headed by Hans Blix, were on the ground in Iraq for three months. Their conclusion? No WMD's found, although they didn't rule out the possibility that they might find some. But immediately Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Miller, Larry Elder, and every other budding Republican comedian started repeating the joke, over and over again, that Blix was weapons inspector Clouseau. He couldn't even find the weapons in Iraq! And it just kept getting funnier every time. :)

Of course, the reason poor Inspector Clouseau couldn't even find any weapons in Iraq was because there weren't any. Remember, even Bush officials agree. We couldn't have known that at the time, but Blix's point was that more time was needed to gather evidence. They didn't get it. It wasn't Saddam who kicked them out. It was America, who said, in effect "We don't care what the evidence is, we are commencing the attack."

Let's also not forget that it's completely bogus to say that Bush was misled into attacking Iraq by bad intelligence. The administration was making plans to attack Iraq within hours of the September 11. Richard Clarke, former White House counter-terrorism czar, reported that Bush was pressuring the CIA to justify an attack on Iraq, not the other way around.
"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer.
Colin Powell, who later testified so skillfully before the UN, said in 2001 that Saddam "has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."

It was because his own intelligence wasn't giving the answer he wanted, that Bush formed the Office of Special Plans as an alternate intelligence agency to come up with the answers they wanted.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,999737,00.html
http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?030512fa_fact

Much of the faulty information that "misled" Bush into war came from this office that he set up for the express purpose of doing whatever they could to make a case for going to war.

It's true, of course, that some (not all, or apparently even most) of the Democrats on the list spoke persuasively about Saddam's WMD's as a justification to go to war. Those Democrats absolutely share responsibility with Bush for the situation we find ourselves in now. However, it can't be overemphasized that the White House was pushing hard for war, before the dust from the World Trade Center had settled, and that they presented their case to Congress based on faulty intelligence that they had engineered by way of the Office of Special Plans, and against the judgment of many of the standard channels of intelligence gathering.

In other words, many people were misled into supporting the war by the president, and their primary mistake was trusting that what the president said was accurate.

7 comments:

  1. I am shocked, shocked! That you did not previously reveal your blog.

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  2. Sans_Deity11:38 AM

    As I've mentioned before, I have gone back and forth about my feelings about the war.

    Primarily out of a concern you mention in a later entry about which "side" of the argument I'm more inclined to listen to.

    Also, I've been there. Over eight years in the Navy, including the Gulf war and operations in Haiti. It's often true that the American public simply doesn't have all of the important details and may never have that information - which allows for spin in either direction.

    And lastly, there are "good" things about the war, from my perspective. Sadam needed to be removed and we failed to do it years ago. But whether or not we should have done it now, or had the right to - the fact remains that we were led into this war based on misinformation which begins, with each passing day, to look more and more like a collage of lies.

    Thanks for compiling a concise review, with credible sources which mirror some of my own research on the subject.

    -Matt

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  3. After reading your blog, there are a few points I would add or like to post.

    First I like the fact that you didn't just post a bunch of left wing mantra.

    That being said, all the points or quotes you post are views from the left side of the isle and it doesn't look to me like you tried to look into how the other side of the isle would see the same points or quotes.

    For example, you use the Hillary quotes to show how Hillary say the WMD evidence and her "wisdom" about whether or not we should engage Saddam. To me, it's just typical Hillary, looking for future votes. Hillary constructed her statement so that she could straddle either side depending on how things turned out.

    The Richard Clarke quote is also fraught with political overtones. Since he was looking to run against GW Bush, I don't find his comments particularly credible.

    The way I see this is like this;

    When the decision to go to war was made, was there enough evidence or enough reason to do so? I think so.

    In retrospect some of the evidence has not been confirmed. Does that mean someone lied? No. Does it mean someone may have lied? Yes. Would I like to know if someone was fibbing? Yes I would. If it were proven that someone lied to get us into the war, should we pull out? No.

    At this point none of this makes any difference as to how or if the war should be prosecuted. We are there and to pull out before our goals are realized would be a huge mistake. Our best course of action is to prosecute the war to the best of our ability, stabilize, strengthen and support the Iraqi government and then get out.

    What about the left wing of the Democratic Party and left wing media? Well, IMO they are on the border of being traitors. The constant negative attacks are no doubt giving aid and comfort to the enemy. I can't think of a single thing they are doing to help the situation we as a nation are in. I keep hoping the Democrats will wake up and realize how foolish and self destructive their tactics are. But so far, they seem to have some form of Mad Cow disease and seem hell bent on self destruction
    .

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  4. I'll keep this short-- there is increasing evidence (such as the Downing report) that basically says that Bush did not specifially "lie" about WMD's-- rather-- he had already determined that he was going to attack Iraq and the WMD thing was a convenient excuse-- regardless of whether it was true.

    So for my opinion-- do I believe there was adequate reason to invade Iraq? -- possibly.

    Do I feel that the WMD threat justified the invasion? Absolutely not---

    Al

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  5. Allen,

    I agree with what you said about Bush not "lying" technically. I wrote about this in another post (click the link).


    I said there is a difference between "lying" and simply not caring whether you say things that are true or not.

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  6. A note to casual readers: Kerry Johnson is a fellow member of the Motley Fool message board, and he read my post at my request. Some of my response refers to prior conversations we have had on TMF.

    After reading your blog, there are a few points I would add or like to post.

    First I like the fact that you didn't just post a bunch of left wing mantra.


    Thanks for the compliment... I think.

    That being said, all the points or quotes you post are views from the left side of the isle and it doesn't look to me like you tried to look into how the other side of the isle would see the same points or quotes.

    For example, you use the Hillary quotes to show how Hillary say the WMD evidence and her "wisdom" about whether or not we should engage Saddam. To me, it's just typical Hillary, looking for future votes. Hillary constructed her statement so that she could straddle either side depending on how things turned out.


    Whether or not that's true, Clinton's quote was not the ringing endorsement of the war that the right makes it out to be, and neither was John Kerry's. If Clinton was genuinely enthused about the decision to go to war, then there ought to be far better quotes than this available.

    The Richard Clarke quote is also fraught with political overtones. Since he was looking to run against GW Bush, I don't find his comments particularly credible.

    Run against GW Bush? What are you talking about? Are you thinking of WESLEY Clark?

    The way I see this is like this;

    When the decision to go to war was made, was there enough evidence or enough reason to do so? I think so.

    In retrospect some of the evidence has not been confirmed. Does that mean someone lied? No. Does it mean someone may have lied? Yes. Would I like to know if someone was fibbing? Yes I would. If it were proven that someone lied to get us into the war, should we pull out? No.


    And you missed the point of the post, which is summed up in the next to last paragraph. The intelligence agencies were pushed into presenting the "evidence" for war where there was none. The decision was made before the evidence was collected, and as the Downing Street memo said, the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy, not the other way around.

    At this point none of this makes any difference as to how or if the war should be prosecuted. We are there and to pull out before our goals are realized would be a huge mistake. Our best course of action is to prosecute the war to the best of our ability, stabilize, strengthen and support the Iraqi government and then get out.

    I think you are confused about what we were talking about. I specifically responded to a post of yours, in which you said: "The fact that WMDs have not been found doesn't mean Bush lied... Also, if Bush lied, so did Kerry and all the Democrats that voted to go to war. He didn't and they didn't."

    I said nothing about the course of action we should take in the future. I was simply arguing against something you said that I strongly feel is not true. It's no use to say "Bush didn't lie" and then change the subject when I argue that he did.

    What about the left wing of the Democratic Party and left wing media? Well, IMO they are on the border of being traitors. The constant negative attacks are no doubt giving aid and comfort to the enemy. I can't think of a single thing they are doing to help the situation we as a nation are in. I keep hoping the Democrats will wake up and realize how foolish and self destructive their tactics are. But so far, they seem to have some form of Mad Cow disease and seem hell bent on self destruction.

    Don't you find it the smallest bit ironic, Kerry, that I am here responding to a post about how the left is "childish," and recites "mantras," and then you make a blanket statement that Democrats are "traitors" who have Mad Cow disease? Are you going to tell me that this sort of insult is mature and reasonable? I find this whole treason thing to be a very frequent mantra of the right, as well as false. I am much more inclined to agree with Theodore Roosevelt: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but it is morally treasonable to the American public."

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  7. khalou7:34 PM

    When trying to write a comprehensive post on why Bush's WMD claims were actual lies or simply misinformed decisions, the greatest difficulty becomes just which lies to present?

    There are so many things that the administration said that could easily have been shown to be false at the time they were said that it makes making the point difficult.

    Blair and Bush said that the IAEA said that Saddam was within months of developing a viable nuclear weapon. The IAEA never said that.

    The Bush administration said that the aluminum tubes that Saddam tried to acquire were useful in the development of nuclear weapon components. These same tubes were discounted as being used in such a way a full year before this was said.

    The list goes on. These claims are not based on "misunderstandings" or "bad intelligence". They are lies.

    It took our experts only hours to see that the Nigerian documents about the yellowcake attempted purchases by Saddam were cheap forgeries. Yet we are expected to believe that they fooled British intelligence for months.

    It would take a book to list all of the lies (lies, mind you) that led us into this war.

    Yet I've discovered that even those Bush supporters who know all of this have still found some way to argue that lies were not told.

    I supported Reagan, Bush Sr., didn't support Clinton, supported Bush Jr. until he lied about Iraq. To me, there's no other choice- when an American president lies to place the American military (our absolute last resort with regard to global relations) into harms way, that man no longer deserves to hold the office.

    k

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