From the moment President
Bush first uttered the phrase “Axis of Evil,” it was clear – at least it
was clear enough to be mentioned in this space – he had an eye on Iraq; it
was the only member of the axis that could logically be invaded. Why
“logically?” More than Iran and North Korea, Saddam Hussein had most
openly defied the will of the world. It was the will of the world (in
staggered amounts of manpower and money) that forced him out of Kuwait and
passed nearly twenty United Nations resolutions making plain the conditions
of the Iraqi surrender (at the end of the Gulf War) weren’t suggestions,
but demands. And not to make too fine a point of it, but we knew Hussein
had weapons of mass destruction because, well, we still had the receipts.
Let’s forget for a moment the suggestion President Bush had Hussein targeted
from inauguration day: In a country where the World Trade center hadn’t collapsed,
Saddam and the boys may very well have been left alone. Let’s face
it, most of your dictators are left alone. At the time of the “Axis
of Evil” we were unsure of Iran’s capabilities and intentions but were fairly
confident in the knowledge North Korea was more likely to drop the Bomb in
South Korea than it was to attempt to fly one into Manhattan. The concern,
the very legitimate concern, was that although Hussein didn’t have the capability
to drop an anthrax bomb on New York City, there was nothing stopping him
from selling anthrax to more motivated nations or terrorist outfits (e.g.,
So it was that Saddam Hussein was told to reveal all WMD in his possession
by a certain day in December 2002. What arrived was fragmented volumes
of documents and computer discs admitting to certain quantities of VX nerve
gas (3.9 tons worth), sarin gas (812 tons) and anthrax (2,200 gallons).
But nothing was said of other WMD known to exist when the United Nations
was booted out of Iraq in 1998. Came this message: “You can’t be trusted,
and it’s going to be either the weapons or you; it’s sure as hell not going
to be us in any case.”
The rest is history.
Now look: Republicans – and I was certainly one of them – made no small point
of connecting the necessity of the Iraqi War to WMD, that Hussein’s instability
made America’s security all the more important. In the last ten months
we have unseated a dictator and killed his barbarian sons; we have uncovered
dozens of mass graves holding hundreds of thousands of corpses; we have heard
tragic tales of rape and torture. But we haven’t found weapons of mass
destruction, and the odds are good we’re not going to find them, at least
not in Iraq. (Syria may be another story.) If you parse the Kay
report you will find intent and wheels in motion, but no weapons.
How does the administration 1) explain the mistake and 2) sufficiently rebound?
The first part turns out to be simpler than one would think, the question
being whether non-partisans will accept it: The intelligence was bad.
From the United States to the United Nations, from Great Britain to Germany,
from Russia to France; from Kofi Annan to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush,
from Tony Blair to Gerhardt Schroeder, from Vladimir Putin to Jacques Chirac.
The United States wasn’t alone in believing there were WMD in Iraq, just
in being worried enough to do something about it.
The rebound is another story, a cause not helped by the president’s disastrous
appearance on Meet the Press. What really needed to be said simply
couldn’t by any man taking reelection more seriously than the idea of the
buck stopping at his desk. What would have helped? Namely:
“Under my watch, the military was sent into Iraq because all reliable intelligence
from around the world suggested WMD were there. As of today, no WMD
have been found. My administration will find out why the intelligence
was faulty. In the meantime, if there is an American citizen who can
look himself in the mirror and honestly believe America, Iraq and the Middle
East genuinely aren’t better off with Saddam Hussein out of power, then they
should vote for John Kerry.”
It wouldn’t stop the second guessing and the character assassinations and
the random shots fired from the stump by Nominee Kerry. But it would
at least be honest, something America so desperately needs.
Brian Wise is the lead columnist for IntellectualConservative.com.