Iraq and the Chicago Tribune

Sunday’s Chicago Tribune launched what the newspaper is billing as an “occasional series.” The purpose of this series will be to “[assess] the case for war with Iraq,” as the Trib described it, and “to set the record straight.”

The Road To War, the Trib calls its new series. Addressing its readers in the editorial voice of the newspaper itself, Sunday’s 3,485-word-long commentary dominated pages 10 and 11 of the Perspective Section—the pages where the Sunday editorials and op-eds usually appear, even pre-empting regular columnists Steve Chapman and Clarence Page. (Perspective happens to be the Trib‘s version of the New York Times‘s Week In Review section.)

According to the series’ projected outline, eight more installments will follow. After Sunday’s “The case, then and now,” the remaining eight will include:

“Iraq rebuffs the world: Would the UN enforce its edicts?”
“The quest for nukes: Could Iraq wield the bomb?”
“Hussein’s rope-a-dope: Was he stalling for advantage?”
“Waging war on terror: Did Iraq play a menacing role?”
“Reform in the Middle East: Would democracy advance security?”
“Iraq and Al Qaeda: Did a connection exist?”
“The Butcher of Baghdad: Why did the world avert its eyes?”
“Iraqis liberated: Would bitter rivals birth a new government?”

Thus in its entirety, the Trib‘s series draws its themes from previous exercises in American propaganda about the intent and the actual conduct of the U.S. Government throughout the world and with respect to the Middle East and to Iraq in particular. “Iraq rebuffs the world”? (When and how? In March 2003, for example?) The U.S. Government is waging a “war on terror.” (Says who?) “The Butcher of Baghdad: Why did the world avert its eyes?” (When the now-ousted Iraqi regime was committing heinous crimes, largely between 1979 and 1991? But was it really the world that averted its eyes? Or did the media of the world-powers then supporting the Iraqi regime?) And so on. And so on. No doubt across all nine installments in the Trib‘s forthcoming series.

Based on the Trib‘s performance today alone, I feel quite confident in predicting that readers will search this series in vain for the slightest hint of criticism of the fundamental tenets of American Power—which, in the final analysis, is nothing more sublime than a concentration of very great worldly power with all the trappings of Americana.

Neither the philosophically interesting question as to whether immorality and criminality are the inherent accomplices in any effort to rule the world by force. (Of course they are.) Nor the historically interesting question as to whether the Americans in fact have conducted their affairs violently with respect to the rest of the world. (Of course they have.)

But, rather:

What did the administration say about this in making its case for war? And what do we know about those assertions today?

Remember: We are talking about what passes for moral soul-searching among the highly educated, largely well-compensated, socially plugged-in and anything-but-liberated members of a violent and predatory superpower that, from its very inception, has never been or done otherwise than what the world is watching it do in Iraq today. Therefore, it would be unfair of us to expect the editorial voice of the Chicago Tribune to raise fundamental questions about whether the Americans have the right to rule the world by force—and to hell with second- and third-order questions about whether the current regime deliberately lied when it was feeding us its reasons to invade Iraq. (Of course it did.) Just as it would be utterly ridiculous of us to expect members of Congress to throw their overwhelming support behind Friday’s “sense of the House of Representatives” proclamation that “the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.” (Of course they won’t.)

(Quick aside. In a Chamber divided into 231 Republicans, 202 Democrats, 1 Independent, and 1 seat vacant, the November 18 rejection of the aforementioned proclamation by a vote of 403 to 3 produced the following three “Ayes”: Georgia Democrat Cynthia McKinney, New York Democrat José E. Seranno, and Florida Democrat Robert Wexler. But there were also six Democrats who voted “Present”—an equally disappointing fact. Still. As always, we Americans can find solace in the fact that we do not live in a totalitarian system.)

Based on the lack of honesty displayed by Sunday’s “The case, then and now“—for example, where the Trib asserts that “In 1998, the year Saddam Hussein squeezed weapons inspectors out of Iraq” (i.e., in point of fact, in the lead up to the American and British bombing campaign of December, 1998, the Clinton White House forced the UN to withdraw its inspectors, Baghdad having had nothing to do with the decision)—though I should add that this chain of events was almost universally misrepresented in the American media along the exact same lines that the Trib continues to misrepresent it, even today—it’s a fair bet that that the “The Road To War” will be as faithful to the historical record as the establishment media feels that it is safe to be. Where a very good example of this safety factor at work is the Washington Post, whose intrepid reporters discovered only in recent days that the U.S. Government “has established joint operation centers in more than two dozen countries where U.S. and foreign intelligence officers work side by side to track and capture suspected terrorists and to destroy or penetrate their networks” (Dana Priest, Nov. 18)—the gist of the invaluable work carried out by Human Rights First (among others) dating as far back as June, 2004. You see what I mean? In the political environment of November, 2005, the Post is freer to serve the American establishment by circulating some material that enhances the critical reflection about the state of the American establishment than the Post was in June, 2004, when the claims of the Human Rights First document went unnoticed. Or simply were ridiculed outright.

The Chicago Tribune “stands by an opinion argued here in January 2004,” Sunday’s “What we know today” instructed us.

In putting so much emphasis on weapons, the White House advanced its most provocative, least verifiable case for war when others would have sufficed. With his support for Palestinian and other terrorists, Hussein was a destabilizing force in the Middle East. His ballistic missiles program, which threatened such U.S. allies as Israel, Kuwait and Turkey, grossly violated the UN’s last-chance Resolution 1441—as did his refusal even to divulge the status of his weapons programs. Worse, with the UN failing to enforce its demands, Hussein freely perpetuated the genocidal slaughter of his people.

Based on Hussein’s indisputable record, the president had ample cause to want regime change in Iraq. Put short, the bumper-sticker accusation that “Bush lied—People died” would be moot today if the president had stuck to known truths.

In other words, the Chicago Tribune‘s commitment to the right of the Americans to rule the world by force is so fanatic that in its view, the mere fact that the Bush regime wanted “regime change” in Iraq provided the regime in Washington with “ample cause” and simple justification.

So from the very outset of its The Road To War series, the Chicago Tribune has announced that we don’t need to bother reading the rest of the series—that, whatever the facts, the right of the Americans to rule the world by force trumps all else.

Indeed. This is what the Chicago Tribune knows today. And has known for the ages.

The rest is “moot.”

In short: We have no more reason to trust the Chicago Tribune to come clean about these matters today than we did the regime in the White House some 36 months ago.

Struggle for the Soul of Islam, Chicago Tribune (occasional series), 2004
The Road To War, Chicago Tribune (occasional series), 2005 –

Ending Secret Detentions, Deborah Pearlstein et al., Human Right First, June, 2004
Behind the Wire: An Update to Ending Secret Detentions, Deborah Pearlstein and Priti Patel, Human Rights First, March, 2005

Foreign Network at Front of CIA’s Terror Fight; Joint Facilities in Two Dozen Countries Account for Bulk of Agency’s Post-9/11 Successes,” Dana Priest, Washington Post, November 18, 2005
House Erupts in War Debate,” Maura Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2005
Call for Troops’ Removal Reverberates at Home,” Johanna Neuman, Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2005
Uproar in House as Parties Clash on Iraq Pullout,” Eric Schmitt, New York Times, November 19, 2005
Session Exposes Political Risks Inside Congress,” Carl Hulse, New York Times, November 20, 2005
Iraq War Debate Eclipses All Other Issues,” Jonathan Weisman and Charles Babington, Washington Post, November 20, 2005

Three Who See the War Clearly: Reps. McKinney, Serrano and Wexler,” Glen Ford and Peter Gamble, Black Commentator, November 24, 2005

‘Killing in the Name of God’?” ZNet, October 3, 2004
Contemporary Barbarism,” ZNet, October 4, 2004
‘Intelligence’ and the Invasion of Iraq,” ZNet, April 1, 2005. [See the many weblinks to documents.]
‘….interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur’an down a toilet…’,” ZNet, May 19, 2005. [See the many weblinks to documents.]
‘Scrutinizing Bush’s Record’?” ZNet, July 14, 2005
ExxonMobil and the Chicago Tribune,” ZNet, November 3, 2005
Iraq and the Chicago Tribune,” ZNet, November 20, 2005

Postscript (November 27): It was very good of a local newspaper in the Chicago area today to publish Associated Press reporter Charles J. Hanley’s September 1 account of the Bush regime’s “weapons of mass destruction” fraud—though “Piecing together the story of the weapons that weren’t there” was the title AP originally gave it.

The WMD Story,” Charles J. Hanley, Daily Southtown, November 27, 2005

In terms of its basic honesty, Hanley’s analysis compares so favorably to The Road To War series that the Southtown‘s decision to publish the Hanley ought to be understood as a response to the Trib‘s series.

Letters to the Daily Southtown: [email protected]

FYA (“For your archives”): In its entirety, here is Part One of the Chicago Tribune‘s The Road To War series. Anyone interested in submitting a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune (i.e., to Voice of the People) about this can do so at: [email protected] .

One may also write to:

Ann Marie Lipinski, Editor
R. Bruce Dold, Editorial Pages Editor
Don Wycliff, Public Editor

Chicago Tribune
Perspective (Sect. 2)
November 20, 2005


The case, then and now

Before the invasion of Iraq, President Bush Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials made nine arguments for toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime. Now, as Democrats accuse the White House of having lied to Americans, the president rebukes his critics for rewriting history. Beginning today, the Chicago Tribune Editorial Page attempts to set the record straight.

Did George W. Bush intentionally mislead this nation and its allies into war? Or is it his critics who have misled Americans, recasting history to discredit the president and his policies?

Today the Tribune begins an attempt to help readers resolve those questions. This re-examination of the administration’s rationale for war offers doses of discomfort for the self-assured—those who have unquestioningly supported, or opposed, the ongoing war in Iraq.

We begin with the premise that the passage of three years has obscured much of what actually was said in 2002 and early 2003 as this nation debated whether to invade Iraq and oust its dictator. Also obscured by the passage of time, and by often vicious (and mutual) political partisanship: what subsequent investigations and other evidence suggest about the emptiness, or accuracy, of the administration’s reasons for war.

This is, we acknowledge at the outset, an arbitrary exercise—beginning with our identification of the nine arguments the Bush administration advanced in making its case for war. Those nine arguments were distinct, although sometimes overlapping. They included, but went well beyond, Iraq’s weapons programs.

We isolated these nine arguments for war from eight major speeches or presentations by administration officials as they advanced their case. To assess each of those nine arguments, the Tribune will present an occasional series of editorials that examine the arguments one by one.

We approach each argument by positing two questions: What did the administration say about this in making its case for war? And what do we know about those assertions today?

This is not breezy reading. It is, rather, an inquest about deadly serious affairs. We largely reconstruct the arguments for war, and the subsequent investigative findings about those arguments, in the words of those who spoke or wrote them. In numerous instances, those words have not been widely reported before; news coverage at the time tended to focus on the most illuminating or provocative statements, rather than on the broader contexts in which they were made.

That is particularly true of one major argument advanced by the administration: that Saddam Hussein possessed biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. The administration’s argument concerning Hussein’s nuclear ambitions included themes separate from its assertions about his biological and chemical programs.

Those nuclear ambitions make fleeting appearances in this installment, and will be discussed more thoroughly in the third.

Chicago Tribune
Perspective (Sect. 2)
November 20, 2005


What the administration said

In 1998, the year Saddam Hussein squeezed weapons inspectors out of Iraq, then-President Bill Clinton famously defined the risk of leaving Hussein unchallenged: “He will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he’ll use the arsenal.”

Several months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration began pressing much the same argument, asserting that Hussein had accomplished the rebuilding Clinton feared. Vice President Dick Cheney broadly argued the case in an Aug. 26, 2002, address to a convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville:

” … After his defeat in the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam agreed under UN Security Council Resolution 687 to cease all development of weapons of mass destruction. He agreed to end his nuclear weapons program. He agreed to destroy his chemical and his biological weapons. He further agreed to admit UN inspection teams into his country to ensure that he was in fact complying with these terms.

“In the past decade, Saddam has systematically broken each of these agreements. The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents. And they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago. These are not weapons for the purpose of defending Iraq; these are offensive weapons for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale, developed so that Saddam can hold the threat over the head of anyone he chooses, in his own region or beyond.

“On the nuclear question, many of you will recall that Saddam’s nuclear ambitions suffered a severe setback in 1981 when the Israelis bombed the Osirak reactor. They suffered another major blow in Desert Storm and its aftermath. But we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we’ve gotten this from the firsthand testimony of defectors—including Saddam’s own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam’s direction. Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.

“Just how soon, we cannot really gauge. Intelligence is an uncertain business, even in the best of circumstances. This is especially the case when you are dealing with a totalitarian regime that has made a science out of deceiving the international community. …

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us. And there is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors—confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today, and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth.”

Less than three weeks later, Bush made parallel but comparatively specific assertions about illicit weapons in his Sept. 12, 2002, address to the UN General Assembly:

” … From 1991 to 1995, the Iraqi regime said it had no biological weapons. After a senior official in its weapons program defected and exposed this lie, the regime admitted to producing tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents for use with Scud warheads, aerial bombs and aircraft spray tanks. UN inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared, and has failed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weapons. Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.

“United Nations inspections also reveal that Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents, and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.”

During a speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, Bush said Iraq possessed “ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles—far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and other nations—in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work. We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.”

The president expanded on another accusation—a point he’d mentioned previously—during his Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union address: ” … From three Iraqi defectors, we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved from place to place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered the administration’s most detailed charges when he addressed the UN Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003. Three sentences in particular have become enduring embarrassments for Powell: ” … My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”

Powell played audio intercepts and displayed photographs to bulwark his assertions that Iraqi officials were going to great lengths to disguise their weapons programs. His litany of non-nuclear weaponry allegedly in Iraq’s possession again included “mobile production facilities used to make biological agents.” He said Hussein’s regime “has also developed ways to disperse lethal biological agents widely, indiscriminately, into the water supply, into the air. … ”

“Iraq’s procurement efforts include equipment that can filter and separate micro-organisms and toxins involved in biological weapons; equipment that can be used to concentrate the agent; growth media that can be used to continue producing anthrax and botulinum toxin; sterilization equipment for laboratories; glass-lined reactors and specialty pumps that can handle corrosive chemical weapons agents and precursors; large amounts of thionyl chloride, a precursor for nerve and blister agents; and other chemicals, such as sodium sulfide, an important mustard agent precursor.

“Now of course Iraq will argue that these items can also be used for legitimate purposes. But if that is true, why did we have to learn about them by intercepting communications and risking the lives of human agents? With Iraq’s well-documented history on biological and chemical weapons, why should any of us give Iraq the benefit of the doubt?”

Powell referred the diplomats to a 1999 UN report on Iraq’s chemical weapons capability. He told them that “Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. …

“Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons,” Powell said. “Saddam Hussein has used such weapons. And Saddam Hussein has no compunction about using them again—against his neighbors and against his own people. And we have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them. He wouldn’t be passing out the orders if he didn’t have the weapons or the intent to use them.”

Chicago Tribune
Perspective (Sect. 2)
November 20, 2005


What we know today

Many, although not all, of the Bush administration’s assertions about weapons of mass destruction have proven flat-out wrong. What illicit weaponry searchers uncovered didn’t begin to square with the magnitude of the toxic armory U.S. officials had described before the war.

Shelves of books will be written about why that was so—and about whether the administration manipulated shaky intelligence data to achieve its desired end: a war to topple Hussein.

Even now, new fragments of information that address that question surface almost weekly. Many Americans arrange those fragments in their minds to form whatever picture they want to see: of a heroic, or a villainous, White House.

Several investigations have, though, tried to write first drafts of this history. In large measure, those probes have been framed by three sentences from a National Intelligence Estimate that the Central Intelligence Agency proffered in October 2002: “We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions. If left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.”

Critics of the war believe many such intelligence reports were stripped of doubts and nuances to fit the White House’s aggressive agenda.

The first authoritative, if indirect, evaluation of those CIA assertions came Oct. 2, 2003, in an interim report from David Kay, the chief U.S. weapons inspector. Kay confirmed that his searchers had not found stockpiles of illicit weapons. He told Congress what he had found:

” … dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002.”

Evidence of “a clandestine network of laboratories and safehouses within the Iraqi Intelligence Service” that contained equipment “suitable” for ongoing weapons research.

A “systematic sanitization of documentary and computer evidence in a wide range of offices, laboratories, and companies suspected of WMD work.” Kay said it was not clear if Hussein’s ambitions focused on “large-scale military efforts or [biological warfare] terror weapons,” but that Hussein had “all key elements for maintaining a capability for resuming BW production.” Kay said “multiple sources” had said Iraq “explored” resuming production of chemical weaponry “possibly as late as 2003″—in other words, until the eve of war.

“Iraqi scientists and senior government officials” have said “Hussein remained firmly committed to acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Many critics of the war at first dismissed what Kay had found as mere capability and intent. But when he delivered a subsequent report in January 2004, Kay seemed more alarmed by the implications of what his team had discovered.

Kay described a pre-war Iraq full of bravado and deceit—a country in which scientists convinced Hussein that he possessed more diabolical weapons than he did. Yet Kay also told The New York Times that Iraq had continued to make “test amounts” of chemical weapons and was working on improved methods of producing them. Iraqi scientists tried “right up until the end,” he said, to produce and weaponize ricin, a lethal toxin. And since 2000, Hussein had reactivated his nuclear program, apparently to provide weapons to arm the long-range ballistic missiles he was developing.

In sum: “[W]e know that there was little control over Iraq’s weapons capabilities,” Kay said. “I think it shows that Iraq was a very dangerous place. The country had the technology, the ability to produce, and there were terrorist groups passing through the country—and no central control.”

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kay essentially faulted U.S. and European intelligence agencies for producing faulty data. But, he ruefully observed, the problem with evaluating intelligence is that, “It all looks very clear in retrospect.” He also expressed his fear that rogue governments or terror groups could have obtained illicit weapons, or weapons expertise, from Iraq. “I consider that a bigger risk than the restart of his programs being successful. … [T]hat probably was a risk that, if we did avoid, we barely avoided.”

Kay’s bottom line: “It was reasonable to conclude that Iraq posed an imminent threat,” he told National Public Radio. “What we learned during the inspection made Iraq a more dangerous place potentially than, in fact, we thought it was even before the war.”

On July 9, 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its damning report on pre-war intelligence. Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said “group-think” within the intelligence community had “caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs. … This was a global intelligence failure.” The committee specified that it “did not find any evidence that the administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”

Five days later, on July 14, 2004, a government committee probing Britain’s pre-war intelligence announced similar conclusions. The committee’s leader, Lord Robin Butler, former secretary of the Cabinet, did fault a September 2002 dossier, issued by Prime Minister Tony Blair, which alleged that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes. Butler said the dossier should have explained that the “eye-catching” 45-minute claim referred to “battlefield” munitions only—and should have made clear the “thinness of the evidence” behind that claim. But, he added, “There is no doubt the government believed the judgments behind the dossier.”

David Kay’s successor as chief U.S. weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, reported to Congress on Oct. 6, 2004, that he, like Kay, had not turned up stockpiles of illicit weapons in Iraq. But Duelfer added an intriguing new dimension to the debate—a possible plot line of why Hussein had hoarded not his weapons but, rather, his ability to produce them. To give that dimension context: A nation capable of producing toxic weapons on relatively short notice wouldn’t need to keep stockpiles.

Hussein had come “palpably close” to eradicating UN sanctions against Iraq, Duelfer concluded, by corrupting the UN’s oil-for-food program, plundering it to bribe officials and citizens of influential countries. “He sought to balance the need to cooperate with UN inspections—to gain support for lifting sanctions—with his intention to preserve Iraq’s intellectual capital for WMD and with a minimum of foreign intrusiveness and loss of face.”

Duelfer’s bottom line: As soon as Hussein’s friends at the UN succeeded in removing sanctions from Iraq, the dictator would rebuild his prior WMD programs—and enhance them by acquiring nukes.

On March 31 of this year, a blue-ribbon panel of 10 members, the clumsily named Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, issued the most blistering critique of the U.S. intelligence community’s performance before the war. The bipartisan panel was headed by senior federal appeals Judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican, and Charles Robb, a Democrat and former senator from Virginia.

The Silberman-Robb commission blamed the “dead wrong” intelligence about Iraq on analysts who were “too wedded to their assumptions.” But it also said those analysts were at the mercy of intel agencies that “collected precious little intelligence for them to analyze, and much of what they did collect was either worthless or misleading.” As a result, policymakers were reliant on an intel community that didn’t communicate how much it didn’t know.

So, given that vacuum, had the Bush administration pressed analysts to exaggerate the threat posed by Iraq? “The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments,” the report stated. “That said, it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.” In the context of the report, that reads more as a slap at the intelligence community than at policymakers who acted on bad data.

As this page summed up the Silberman-Robb report at the time, the panelists said it was the intelligence community that failed the president—by relying too much on inferences rather than facts, by refusing to look critically at its own assumptions, by giving him briefings that exaggerated the danger, and by relying on information from sources who lied.

Did administration officials also lie about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs? Whatever verdict history delivers, Americans by the tens of millions will go to their graves convinced that verdict is its own nefarious falsehood.

Rewind the clock three years. The Bush administration, singed by accusations that it had failed to anticipate Sept. 11, clearly was determined not to be taken by surprise again. Officials saw in Iraq an anti-American regime that had used weapons of mass destruction to kill people by the thousands and that, after the Persian Gulf war, had been caught lying about the vast quantities of illicit weaponry it had stockpiled. Then there was the pre-war testimony of even the administration’s harshest critic, French President Jacques Chirac. “There is a problem—the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq,” Chirac told Time magazine in February 2003. “The international community is … right in having decided Iraq should be disarmed.” In other words, Chirac disagreed not with Bush’s assessment of Iraq, but rather with Bush’s proposed remedy.

In making their case for war, Bush and his top aides frequently implied—speaking with genuine belief or with Machiavellian wiles—that Iraq was an imminent threat, even if they didn’t use that word. Bush, in fact, rejected an imminence test in his 2003 State of the Union address: “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent,” he said. “Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?”

Absent new disclosures in future reports, memoirs or other evidence, history’s likely verdict is that the president overplayed the weak hand that the intelligence services dealt him. Those agencies had their own nightmares to live down: Prior to the Gulf war, they had underestimated Iraq’s progress toward building nuclear bombs.

But there was no need for the administration to rely on risky intelligence to chronicle many of Iraq’s sins. This page stands by an opinion argued here in January 2004:

In putting so much emphasis on weapons, the White House advanced its most provocative, least verifiable case for war when others would have sufficed. With his support for Palestinian and other terrorists, Hussein was a destabilizing force in the Middle East. His ballistic missiles program, which threatened such U.S. allies as Israel, Kuwait and Turkey, grossly violated the UN’s last-chance Resolution 1441—as did his refusal even to divulge the status of his weapons programs. Worse, with the UN failing to enforce its demands, Hussein freely perpetuated the genocidal slaughter of his people.

Based on Hussein’s indisputable record, the president had ample cause to want regime change in Iraq. Put short, the bumper-sticker accusation that “Bush lied—People died” would be moot today if the president had stuck to known truths.

Postscript (December 28): For a copy of the final installment in the Chicago Tribune‘s The Road To War series, its defense of the American aggression over Iraq, see below.

Incredibly, as late as today, December 28, 2005, the editorial voice of this major American newspaper can still argue that, “After reassessing the administration’s nine arguments for war, we do not see the conspiracy to mislead that many critics allege”!

And it can still conclude that:

Seventeen days before the war, this page reluctantly urged the president to launch it. We said that every earnest tool of diplomacy with Iraq had failed to improve the world’s security, stop the butchery–or rationalize years of UN inaction. We contended that Saddam Hussein, not George W. Bush, had demanded this conflict….[T]he totality of what we know now…affirms for us our verdict of March 2, 2003.

Well. At least in denying that its investigation uncovered any evidence of a conspiracy to mislead on the part of the regime that launched the war in March, 2003, the Chicago Tribune was honest enough not to assert that the principals behind this late 2005 exercise in defense of the American aggression were free of any similar conspiracy.

Now that really would have been too much to stomach.

For those of you with some concern about the real world, I strongly urge you to take a look at the report from the ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Conyers:

The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War, December 20, 2005. (For the PDF version of the complete report.)

It provides a powerful counterpoint to all of this bunk shoveled at us in recent weeks by the Chicago Tribune.


Chicago Tribune
December 28, 2005
Judging the case for war

Did President Bush intentionally mislead this nation and its allies into war? Or is it his critics who have misled Americans, recasting history to discredit him and his policies? If your responses are reflexive and self-assured, read on.

On Nov. 20, the Tribune began an inquest: We set out to assess the Bush administration’s arguments for war in Iraq. We have weighed each of those nine arguments against the findings of subsequent official investigations by the 9/11 Commission, the Senate Intelligence Committee and others. We predicted that this exercise would distress the smug and self-assured–those who have unquestioningly supported, or opposed, this war.

The matrix below summarizes findings from the resulting nine editorials. We have tried to bring order to a national debate that has flared for almost three years. Our intent was to help Tribune readers judge the case for war–based not on who shouts loudest, but on what actually was said and what happened.

The administration didn’t advance its arguments with equal emphasis. Neither, though, did its case rely solely on Iraq’s alleged illicit weapons. The other most prominent assertion in administration speeches and presentations was as accurate as the weapons argument was flawed: that Saddam Hussein had rejected 12 years of United Nations demands that he account for his stores of deadly weapons–and also stop exterminating innocents. Evaluating all nine arguments lets each of us decide which ones we now find persuasive or empty, and whether President Bush tried to mislead us.

In measuring risks to this country, the administration relied on the same intelligence agencies, in the U.S. and overseas, that failed to anticipate Sept. 11, 2001. We now know that the White House explained some but not enough of the ambiguities embedded in those agencies’ conclusions. By not stressing what wasn’t known as much as what was, the White House wound up exaggerating allegations that proved dead wrong.

Those flawed assertions are central to the charge that the president lied. Such accusations, though, can unfairly conflate three issues: the strength of the case Bush argued before the war, his refusal to delay its launch in March 2003 and his administration’s failure to better anticipate the chaos that would follow. Those three are important, but not to be confused with one another.

After reassessing the administration’s nine arguments for war, we do not see the conspiracy to mislead that many critics allege. Example: The accusation that Bush lied about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs overlooks years of global intelligence warnings that, by February 2003, had convinced even French President Jacques Chirac of “the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq.” We also know that, as early as 1997, U.S. intel agencies began repeatedly warning the Clinton White House that Iraq, with fissile material from a foreign source, could have a crude nuclear bomb within a year.

Seventeen days before the war, this page reluctantly urged the president to launch it. We said that every earnest tool of diplomacy with Iraq had failed to improve the world’s security, stop the butchery–or rationalize years of UN inaction. We contended that Saddam Hussein, not George W. Bush, had demanded this conflict.

Many people of patriotism and integrity disagreed with us and still do. But the totality of what we know now–what this matrix chronicles– affirms for us our verdict of March 2, 2003. We hope these editorials help Tribune readers assess theirs.


Biological and chemical weapons


The Bush administration said Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Officials trumpeted reports from U.S. and foreign spy agencies, including an October 2002 CIA assessment: “Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions.”


Many, although not all, of the Bush administration’s assertions about weapons of mass destruction have proven flat-out wrong. What illicit weaponry searchers uncovered didn’t begin to square with the magnitude of the toxic armory U.S. officials had described before the war.


There was no need for the administration to rely on risky intelligence to chronicle many of Iraq’s other sins. In putting so much emphasis on illicit weaponry, the White House advanced its most provocative, least verifiable case for war when others would have sufficed.

Iraq rebuffs the world


In a speech that left many diplomats visibly squirming in their chairs, President Bush detailed tandem patterns of failure: Saddam Hussein had refused to obey UN Security Council orders that he disclose his weapons programs–and the UN had refused to enforce its demands of Hussein.


Reasonable minds disagree on whether Iraq’s flouting of UN resolutions justified the war. But there can be no credible assertion that either Iraq or the UN met its responsibility to the world. If anything, the administration gravely understated the chicanery, both in Baghdad and at the UN.


Hussein had shunted enough lucre to enough profiteers to keep the UN from challenging him. In a dozen years the organization mass-produced 17 resolutions on Iraq, all of them toothless. That in turn enabled Hussein to continue his brutal reign and cost untold thousands of Iraqis their lives.

The quest for nukes


Intelligence agencies warned the Clinton and Bush administrations that Hussein was reconstituting his once-impressive program to create nuclear weapons. In part that intel reflected embarrassment over U.S. failure before the Persian Gulf war to grasp how close Iraq was to building nukes.


Four intel studies from 1997-2000 concurred that “If Iraq acquired a significant quantity of fissile material through foreign assistance, it could have a crude nuclear weapon within a year.” Claims that Iraq sought uranium and special tubes for processing nuclear material appear discredited.


If the White House manipulated or exaggerated the nuclear intelligence before the war in order to paint a more menacing portrait of Hussein, it’s difficult to imagine why. For five years, the official and oft-delivered alarms from the U.S. intelligence community had been menacing enough.

Hussein’s rope-a-dope


The longer Hussein refuses to obey UN directives to disclose his weapons programs, the greater the risk that he will acquire, or share with terrorists, the weaponry he has used in the past or the even deadlier capabilities his scientists have tried to develop. Thus we need to wage a pre-emptive war.


Hussein didn’t have illicit weapons stockpiles to wield or hand to terrorists. Subsequent investigations have concluded he had the means and intent to rekindle those programs as soon as he escaped UN sanctions.


Had Hussein not been deposed, would he have reconstituted deadly weaponry or shared it with terror groups? Of the White House’s nine arguments for war, the implications of this warning about Iraq’s intentions are treacherous to imagine–yet also the least possible to declare true or false.

Waging war on terror


Iraq was Afghanistan’s likely successor as a haven for terror groups. “Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror … ” the president said. “And he cannot be trusted. The risk is simply too great that he will use them, or provide them to a terror network.”


The White House echoed four years of intel that said Hussein contemplated the use of terror against the U.S. or its allies. But he evidently had not done so on a broad scale. The assertion that Hussein was “harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror” overstated what we know today.


The drumbeat of White House warnings before the war made Iraq’s terror activities sound more ambitious than subsequent evidence has proven. Based on what we know today, the argument that Hussein was able to foment global terror against this country and its interests was exaggerated.

Reform in the Middle East


Supplanting Hussein’s reign with self-rule would transform governance in a region dominated by dictators, zealots and kings. The administration wanted to convert populations of subjects into citizens. Mideast democracy would channel energy away from resentments that breed terrorism.


U.S. pressure has stirred reforms in Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and imperiled Syria’s regime. “I was cynical about Iraq,” said Druze Muslim patriarch Walid Jumblatt. “But when I saw the Iraqi people voting . . . it was the start of a new Arab world… The Berlin Wall has fallen.”


The notion that invading Iraq would provoke political tremors in a region long ruled by despots is the Bush administration’s most successful prewar prediction to date. A more muscular U.S. diplomacy has advanced democracy and assisted freedom movements in the sclerotic Middle East.

Iraq and Al Qaeda


President Bush: “… Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy–the United States of America. We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade…. Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bombmaking and poisons and deadly gases.”


Two government investigative reports indicate that Al Qaeda and Iraq had long-running if sporadic contacts. Several of the prewar intel conclusions likely are true. But the high-ranking Al Qaeda detainee who said Iraq trained Al Qaeda in bombmaking, poisons and gases later recanted.


No compelling evidence ties Iraq to Sept. 11, 2001, as the White House implied. Nor is there proof linking Al Qaeda in a significant way to the final years of Hussein’s regime. By stripping its rhetoric of the ambiguity present in the intel data, the White House exaggerated this argument for war.

The Butcher of Baghdad


Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell: “For more than 20 years, by word and by deed, Saddam Hussein has pursued his ambition to dominate Iraq and the broader Middle East using the only means he knows–intimidation, coercion and annihilation of all those who might stand in his way.”


Human Rights Watch estimates that Hussein exterminated 300,000 people. Chemical weapons killed Iraqi Kurds and Iranians; Iraqi Shiites also were slaughtered. Tortures included amputation, rape, piercing hands with drills, burning some victims alive and lowering others into acid baths.


In detailing how Hussein tormented his people–and thus mocked the UN Security Council order that he stop–the White House assessments were accurate. Few if any war opponents have challenged this argument, or suggested that an unmolested Hussein would have eased his repression.

Iraqis liberated


President Bush and his surrogates broached a peculiar notion: that the Arab world was ready to embrace representative government. History said otherwise–and it wasn’t as if the Arab street was clamoring for Iraq to show the way.


The most succinct evaluation comes from Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.): “Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them.”


The White House was correct in predicting that long subjugated Iraqis would embrace democracy. And while Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites have major differences to reconcile, a year’s worth of predictions that Sunni disaffection could doom self-rule have, so far, proven wrong.

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