The Magazine

The War Against Bush

From the June 30, 2003 issue: They were split over Saddam, but Dems are united against the president.

Jun 30, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 41 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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GIVE JOHN KERRY CREDIT. It takes guts to accuse someone of lying when that someone has said essentially what you have been saying for a decade. Which is what John Kerry did last week when he told a gathering of antiwar Democrats in New Hampshire that President George W. Bush "misled every one of us" in making the case for war in Iraq. Kerry called for a full investigation--a rather peculiar request from someone who sounds so certain about its outcome.

Kerry isn't alone. More and more Democrats are going the way of the French. Or, to put it differently, they're following in the footsteps of Rep. Jim McDermott. Visiting Baghdad last fall, the Seattle Democrat urged the world to "take the Iraqis on their face value" but gave no such benefit of the doubt to President Bush: "The president of the United States will lie to the American people in order to get us into this war." This was extreme at the time. Eight months later, it's virtually the mainstream Democratic view.

Kerry of course supported regime change in Iraq for years, articulated the seriousness of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein on numerous occasions, and voted for the resolution on Iraq last fall. He even sponsored a 1998 resolution authorizing the president to "take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs." But that was President Clinton.

Kerry's opportunistic move to the left coincides with a reversal on the part of the previously hawkish New Republic, which features on the cover of its current issue an article by Spencer Ackerman and John B. Judis, "The First Casualty: the Selling of the Iraq War."

"Three months after the invasion," they write,

the United States may yet discover the chemical and biological weapons that various governments and the United Nations have long believed Iraq possessed. But it is unlikely to find, as the Bush administration had repeatedly predicted, a reconstituted nuclear weapons program or evidence of joint exercises with Al Qaeda--the two most compelling security arguments for war. Whatever is found, what matters as far as American democracy is concerned is whether the administration gave Americans an honest and accurate account of what it knew. The evidence to date is that it did not, and the cost to U.S. democracy could be felt for years to come.

Dishonest and inaccurate, they argue, and that's just for starters. 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."

Let's take those charges--the "two most compelling security arguments for war"--one at a time. First, "evidence of joint exercises" with al Qaeda--a novel formulation that raises the bar well above the "links" or evidence of cooperation that top Bush administration officials usually cited. But that aside, Ackerman and Judis focus their analysis of the Saddam-al Qaeda relationship on the alleged meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in April 2001. They write: "None of the intelligence agencies could place Atta in Prague on that date. (Indeed, receipts and other travel documents placed him in the United States.) An investigation by Czech officials dismissed the claim, which was based on a single unreliable witness."

But there are times Atta may have been abroad that are not accounted for in these documents and receipts. And assessments of the reliability of the witness vary, with some high-ranking Czech officials insisting to this day that the meeting took place. It's fair to say the alleged Atta meeting was disputed, but it's hardly accurate to imply that officials were unanimous in their belief that it didn't happen.

In addition to the Atta story, Ackerman and Judis write, "the CIA was also receiving other information that rebutted a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda." The evidence? Captured al Qaeda terrorists told them there was no connection.

The authors and the administration critics they interviewed are also troubled by the fact that Vice President Cheney traveled several times to the CIA to review data himself, and by the establishment of a Pentagon-based intelligence team to review old intel about Iraq-al Qaeda connections.