Even though a mound of evidence keeps accumulating that the Bush administration exaggerated the threat to fulfill its obsession to invade Iraq, administration officials keep standing by—in Goebbels-like repetition of the “big lie”—the need for war.
Despite virtually admitting that she was disingenuous about Iraq’s nuclear threat, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security advisor, in an October 3, 2004 interview with ABC television, again defended the administration’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime. In a prior September 8, 2002 interview with CNN, Ms. Rice stated flatly that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.” Then she made the threat even more vivid by concluding that, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” The only problem is that two anonymous administration officials told the New York Times that Ms. Rice knew that Iraq’s potential use for the tubes was in hot dispute within the U.S. government at the time of the CNN interview. Caught red-handed, Ms. Rice, in the ABC appearance, acknowledged that she knew of the disagreement at the time of the CNN interview but claimed that she didn’t know “the nature of the dispute” then. Yet months before the interview, the government’s top nuclear experts in the Energy Department, who believed that the tubes were the wrong size to be used to make nuclear weapons, conveyed this information to Ms. Rice’s staff.
But the recent hubbub about Ms. Rice’s dissembling obscures bigger whoppers told by an even higher-level official-Vice President Dick Cheney. At the beginning of the Bush administration in 2001, the U.S. intelligence community reached a consensus that Iraq’s nuclear program had been eviscerated by international inspections and sanctions and had not been restarted. This official opinion was not changed until Oct. 2, 2002—little more than a week before the Senate vote on going to war—with the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq demanded by Senate Democrats. (Even then the new estimate, concluding that Iraq was again actively pursuing nuclear weapons, depended principally on the questionable evidence that aluminum tubes were being used for that purpose and the now discredited allegation that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from the African nation of Niger.) Yet before this new estimate was released, Vice President Cheney, in a major speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 26, 2002 and during two TV interviews (in March 2002 and the same day Ms. Rice made her CNN appearance), declared flatly that Iraq had reconstituted its quest to acquire nuclear weapons. Thus, the intelligence assessment didn’t support the vice president’s assertions at the time he made them and seemingly was later changed to conform to them.
Of course, the world now knows Cheney’s and Rice’s bald assertions were nonsense, as the administration’s own State Department argued. More remarkably, on January 27, 2003, a couple of months before the invasion started, the International Atomic Energy Agency—which provided the nuclear inspectors that Saddam Hussein permitted to enter Iraq in order to avoid war—discovered no evidence that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program and determined that the aluminum tubes were probably being used for the purpose that Iraq had stated.
According to the Times, that same January, White House officials helping to draft Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech before the United Nations, justifying the invasion, sent word to the intelligence community that evidence of the Iraqi nuclear threat was weak. One often hears about policy improperly dictating intelligence—when facts should really drive policy—but such blatant and egregious conduct by high administration officials is still quite shocking.
For the administration, the nuclear issue was paramount for justifying the war because chemical and biological weapons are not really “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD). Technical hurdles to converting chemical and biological agents into weapons and successfully employing them make it challenging to achieve the goal of inflicting mass casualties using them. Also, historically, bombing with conventional ordnance has killed more people than chemical attacks, in part because of the limited area that can be covered with a single chemical weapon.
Of course, the “WMD” rationale, including the nuclear threat, was just that—a dubious justification for the invasion rather than the actual reason for it. If it had been the actual reason for war, the U.S. military would have immediately secured Iraq’s “WMD” facilities after invading. That was not done.
Thus, the administration lied about why it went to war in the first place and then about the evidence to support the phony justification. Mothers teach their children that liars eventually get caught because one lie requires others to hide the first. In the future, Bush administration officials should pay heed to mom’s astute advice.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, CA, and author of the book, Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy. His newest book is, The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed (Independent Institute Books, 2004)
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