I t has not been a good month for proponents and defenders of the decision to invade Iraq, although the president and vice president still say they’d do it even knowing what they know now. What is done cannot be undone, but the lesson should be clear.
The next time government officials and others beat the war drums, it would be prudent to resist the normal patriotic impulse to fall in behind them and instead to examine claims with heightened skepticism.
First, news drifted out that L. Paul Bremer, U.S. administrator for the occupation of Iraq until the handover of semi-sovereignty at the end of June, complained, initially in a speech at DePauw University, that we never had enough troops on the ground, “at the beginning and throughout” the occupation.
Although he says he still supports the decision to invade Iraq and supports President Bush’s re-election, Bremer says he asked repeatedly for more troops to contain the violence.
The other news, reported to the Senate Armed Services Committee by the Iraq Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer, is more damaging. After 18 months the group has found that Iraq’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons had “progressively decayed” since 1991, and U.S. inspectors found no evidence of “concerted efforts to restart the program.”
The findings on chemical and biological weapons were similar.
To be sure, the report noted that Saddam Hussein “aspired to develop a nuclear capability” and probably would have restarted programs to develop nukes, as well as chemical and biological weapons, when and if U.N. sanctions were lifted. But that wasn’t what American leaders told us during the propaganda prelude.
It makes little difference whether top administration officials were lying or had convinced themselves of the story they wanted to believe, or even that most of our allies and many current war critics believed the intelligence about Saddam’s weapons programs.
The important thing is to remember, next time a build-up for a possible war is under way, that official rationales have a way of not always being reliable.