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
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Ackerman and Judis are also indignant that Bush warned in Cincinnati that Iraq was developing a fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could disperse chemical or biological weapons, adding that the administration was "concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States." Ackerman and Judis assert: "This claim represented the height of absurdity. Iraq's UAVs had ranges of, at most, 300 miles. They could not make the flight from Baghdad to Tel Aviv, let alone to New York." Of course, Bush nowhere suggested that these UAVs would be launched from Iraqi soil. In addition, terrorist groups are known to have investigated the potential of UAVs, which could be moved offshore, or into the United States, for that matter.

Ackerman and Judis also go after Vice President Cheney's assertion, in a March 16, 2003, appearance on "Meet the Press," that Saddam Hussein "has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." Indeed, the New Republic authors say that Bush administration officials made that claim "repeatedly." Here, it seems likely that Cheney misspoke. He presumably meant to echo President Bush, who had said that there was evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. At least three other times in the same interview--never cited in the New Republic piece--Cheney was clear the worry about nuclear weapons was in the future. Said Cheney: "There's no question about who is going to prevail if there is military action. And there's no question but what is going to be cheaper and less costly to do it now than it will be to wait a year or two years or three years until he's developed even more deadly weapons, perhaps nuclear weapons." Some deception.

The most serious allegation, and also the murkiest, involves the erroneous assertion in the president's State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from sources in Niger. The claim was based on forged documents. What's not clear is whether anyone in the know about the forgery also had a hand in the speech. Obviously if this was the case someone should be fired.

The bottom line for Ackerman, Judis, and other administration critics: "There was no consensus within the American intelligence community that Saddam represented such a grave and imminent threat."

But intelligence is an art, of course, not a science. It often yields different interpretations, and the country depends on experienced policymakers like Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld to choose among those interpretations. Sometimes a CIA analysis might seem particularly persuasive, other times CIA analyses might seem thin or overwrought. But choosing a mistaken intelligence read or relying on bad intelligence--and it's far too early to determine if that happened in Iraq--is not the same as lying.

What's more, the intelligence community "consensus" on Iraq has often been deeply flawed.

There was consensus within the American intelligence community that Saddam Hussein would not start a war with Iran in 1980. He did. There was consensus within the American intelligence community ten years later that Saddam Hussein would not invade Kuwait. He did. There was a consensus that Saddam Hussein would not have a nuclear weapon for several years. We learned after the Gulf War ended that he had been just a year away from acquiring one. There was a consensus within the American intelligence community that Saddam Hussein, having been "contained" by U.N. weapons inspectors, would not attempt to avenge his humiliating 1991 defeat. He did, with the attempted assassination of former President Bush 18 months later. There was consensus within the American intelligence community that a secular Saddam would never reach out to Islamic fundamentalists. He did.

In sum: Emphasizing alarming evidence, considering the most dangerous possibilities, outlining the most terrifying threats--all of this is quite different from lying to get the nation to go to war. After September 11, it might better be described as prudent. As in any preventive war, the imminence of Saddam Hussein's threat was always going to be a matter of some uncertainty. But in a world where Americans are killed by terrorists crashing airplanes into buildings and anthrax comes in the mail and bombs come in shoes--ignoring grave threats because we cannot be sure they are absolutely imminent would seem to be a risky course of action. Yet it also seems to be the position the Democratic party is moving to embrace.

Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.