With John Kerry on the eve of uniting the Democratic Party and George W. Bush sinking slowly in national polls, political reality seems to have begun to glimmer inside the Bush White House, to the point that the president has now decided the better part of valor would be an “independent inquiry” into the claims that Iraq possessed the fabled “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” For the White House even to grant such a concession is a blatant contradiction of what the president and his advisors have been saying ever since they started making the case for war with Iraq at all.
It is a contradiction because even as it became clear that there were no “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to be found, the administration persisted in claiming they had found them. Last spring, Mr. Bush himself babbled about two captured Iraqi trailers that supposedly were used to produce biological agents. By summer it was clear they were used to produce hydrogen for weather balloons. Until recently Vice President Cheney and other administration officials have also repeatedly insisted that the WMDs really existed, had been found, would be found, or might be found, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld still does.
“Until recently” means until (a) former chief weapons inspector David Kay testified to Congress last week that he now believes there were no such weapons and (b) the Democratic primaries began to paste Mr. Bush right and left and produce a candidate who has far more substantial support than the eccentric Howard Dean. Only at that point did something resembling reality began to creep tiptoe through the White House corridors.
But the White House would be ill advised to let reality creep too far. Reality is that there are not and never were (since at least the early 1990s) any WMDs in Iraq, and any “independent inquiry” into the “intelligence failure” that claimed there were will have to account for why “we” thought so. Sooner or later, for all the “intelligence failures” the administration and its “independent inquiry” discover, reality will lead inexorably to what the White House knows is unsayable: Somebody lied.
You can call it “massaging” the intelligence or leaping to the worst case interpretation or seizing on those analyses that fit your preconceived conclusion that Iraq did have such weapons or any other euphemism you can invent, but the point is that all the “intelligence failures” about Iraq’s WMDs pointed in one direction—that they existed. Incompetence is always random. Usually it’s wrong, but sometimes it’s right, which is why a broken clock is sometimes right. The “intelligence failure” that claimed Saddam had WMDs was never right and always wrong, so it was not a failure or the result of incompetence. It was—somewhere along the line—deliberate: a lie.
Why did “somebody” lie and who is “somebody”? I’ll bet my biological agents Mr. Bush’s “independent inquiry” won’t even ask those questions, much less answer them, because if they were asked and answered, more than a few heads would have to roll.
My own answer is that the lie was fabricated by neo-conservatives in the administration whose first loyalty is to Israel and its interests and who wanted the United States to smash Iraq because it was the biggest potential threat to Israel in the region. They are known to have been pushing for war with Iraq since at least 1996, but they could not make an effective case for it until after Sept. 11, 2001.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the Jerusalem Post’s Man of the Year last year, started the ball rolling only days after 9/11 with a proposal to the president that we attack Iraq. With adherents in the Pentagon, the Vice President’s office and the intelligence community, this fifth column twisted and twirled the intelligence about Iraq’s weapons capacities until it justified what they wanted to do.
Ever since Saddam was overthrown, the same cabal—there’s really no better word for it—has been pushing for more wars against Syria and Iran, also Israel’s enemies. Mr. Bush shows little sign of wising up to how these ostensible supporters have manipulated and exploited him and his administration and the country itself for their own ends. If he stays in office, we may well be at war with other states in the Middle East in the near future.
What is needed is not Mr. Bush’s predictably tame “independent inquiry” but a real and serious investigation of the cabal and its tentacles inside the administration, conducted by Congress or a real independent commission. What has been happening inside the Bush administration is no less a nest of treason than the Soviet spy rings of the New Deal era, and if political reality doesn’t demand its exposure, simple loyalty to the United States does.