Sunday, June 22, 2003

# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SON: We have not found weapons of mass destruction. Thoughtful critics have begun to charge the Administration with practicing pervasive deception. Much of the furor centers around an investigative report in The New Republic, which reaches the damning conclusion that President Bush
has engaged in a pattern of deception concerning the most fundamental decisions a government must make. The United States may have been justified in going to war in Iraq--there were, after all, other rationales for doing so--but it was not justified in doing so on the national security grounds that President Bush put forth throughout last fall and winter. He deceived Americans about what was known of the threat from Iraq and deprived Congress of its ability to make an informed decision about whether or not to take the country to war.
But compare TNR's allegations to the more precise criticism offered by Josh Marshall:
It's suddenly become acceptable to discuss what everyone knew for the last year or so: that is, that the administration was willfully misrepresenting the evidence both on WMD and a purported link to al Qaida.
At first, Marshall's criticism comes across as a repetition of the TNR allegations. But it isn't. Marshall is accusing the administration of engaging in deceptive salesmanship, not wholesale fabrication of an Iraqi threat. As Marshall observes in The Hill:
There were really two WMD debates. One was about chemical and low-end biological weapons. The other was about smallpox, nukes, al Qaeda and pretty much everything else under the sun.

On the former, the White House didn’t hoodwink anyone, since virtually everyone in the foreign policy mainstream figured that Iraq at least maintained a chemical and biological weapons capacity. I certainly thought so.

At a minimum, there was solid circumstantial evidence to believe that they did. Frankly, there still is.
If there still is solid evidence that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons, then Saddam was in material breach of Resolution 1441. Do those words sound strange to you? "Material breach"? "Resolution 1441"?

They should. Because the question everyone is now asking is "Did Bush lie?" rather than "Did the United States have good cause to invade Iraq without the express written consent of the Security Council?"

While I suspect that Bush himself did not lie, there is considerable evidence that high-ranking officials, possibly including the Vice President, knew in advance of the State of the Union address that Iraq had not purchased uranium from Niger. If so, all of the officials involved in that process of deception should be severly disciplined.

Nonetheless, this sort of deception has minimal bearing on the justice of the American cause. Just days ago, Hans Blix
said he remains deeply puzzled by the former Iraqi government's efforts to deceive and mislead U.N. inspectors for 12 years after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

"Why did they conduct themselves as they did throughout the '90s?" Blix said in an interview last week. "Why deny access if you are not hiding something? What I am groping at now is whether pride was at the root of it."
For the moment, there are no answers to those questions. But if Saddam was refusing to submit to the will of the Security Council, then France and China and Russia had an obligation to ensure that Saddam would face the "serious consequences" mentioned in 1441.

Still, it is fair to ask whether the American people would have supported the President's decision to invade if it had been more fully aware of the salesmanship involved in the presentation of the Iraqi threat. TNR argues that
Had the administration accurately depicted the consensus within the intelligence community in 2002--that Iraq's ties with Al Qaeda were inconsequential; that its nuclear weapons program was minimal at best; and that its chemical and biological weapons programs, which had yielded significant stocks of dangerous weapons in the past, may or may not have been ongoing--it would have had a very difficult time convincing Congress and the American public to support a war to disarm Saddam.
While still within the realm of the possible, TNR's speculations directly contradict the results of multiple opinion polls: that if Saddam was hiding chemical and biological weapons, then the United States should go to war.

In the final analysis, there is nothing new under the sun. The case for war then is the case for war now. While front-page stories continue to hint at startling revelations of presidential lies, even those of us who supported the war knew that the President's rhetoric went too far.

What we are waiting for now is the truth in Iraq. Until we know for sure what happened to the WMD, we will not know whether the invasion of Iraq headed off a major threat to international security, or simply removed a megalomaniacal dictator who conned his opponents into believing that he was much more dangerous than he actually was.
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