Perhaps the most striking thing about the official acknowledgment that the two-year hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is over is the fact that it was greeted with a collective shrug of the shoulders and an almost cheerful defense of what many Americans view as the indefensible.
“Based on what we know today,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters, “the president would have taken the same action because this is about protecting the American people.”
We are among those who believed that invading Iraq was never about protecting the American people. Even with weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein’s regime, vile as it was, posed no imminent threat to the American people.
But now to suggest, as McClellan’s remarks seem to say, that weapons of mass destruction were somehow not a critical, if not the most critical, factor used to justify the invasion is disingenuous at the very least.
That said, the most troubling aspect of the not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper end to the search for the fabled WMDs is the utter lack of accountability for an intelligence failure that, in retrospect, assumes almost epic proportions. Yet former CIA Director George Tenet, who reassured the president, based on intelligence he had to know was shaky, that the presence of WMDs was a “slam-dunk,” was allowed to retire with honors and encomiums.
Not only has there been no accountability demanded of those who committed such errors of judgment, there seems no sense of embarrassment as the major prewar justifications for invading Iraq have crumbled one by one.
There was no operational link to al-Qaida? There turned out to be no weapons of mass destruction? Never mind. Saddam was a bad man and we found mass graves that documented the fact.
The United States is building democracy and transforming the Middle East — even as the White House purposely lowers expectations about just how democratic and representative the elections scheduled for the end of the month are likely to be.
We can understand a certain sense of resignation. The invasion of Iraq committed the United States to at least try to establish a functional and stable government there, a task that is turning out to be more difficult than any of our leaders had imagined. It is likely to take a while, and crying over prior mistakes won’t make the job any easier.
But are we so accustomed to being misled by our political leaders that we don’t expect any better, that we greet yet another example of government failure with mute resignation?
If so, we have come to a sorry place in our political life.