and James Muhammad

No weapons of mass destruction creates problem for Bush

UNITED NATIONS(–The Iraq war and removal of Saddam Hussein was supposed to be the glue that would seal Pres. George W. Bush’s campaign for re-election. The photo-op of Mr. Bush in a bomber jacket greeting sailors on the USS Abraham Lincoln was already packaged and ready for delivery for use in countless campaign ads. But, the further Mr. Bush gets from the invasion of the tiny Muslim nation, the more haunting it becomes to his future.

Despite his current high popularity rating, the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq–the pretext for invading the country–has politicians, commentators and the American public abuzz over whether the war was justified.


Citing numerous occasions where Bush administration officials declared the existence of the types of weapons that would wreak havoc on American citizens that would dwarf 9-11–including statements by the President himself, and the display, complete with graphics and charts, put on by Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations a month before the war–critics now say that not only was there a rush to war, but lies were told to justify it.

“Presidential statements, particularly on matters of national security, are held to an expectation of the highest standard of truthfulness,” said John W. Dean, who served as counsel to Republican President Richard Nixon.

“A president cannot stretch, twist or distort facts and get away with it. President Lyndon Johnson’s distortions of the truth about Vietnam forced him to stand down from re-election. President Richard Nixon’s false statements about Watergate forced his resignation,” Mr. Dean wrote in a June 6 column, inadvertently addressing the issue of impeachment of Pres. Bush that is being discussed on Capitol Hill.

But Colin Powell–whose credibility as a fair player has been tarnished by his UN presentation and his turn toward a more hawkish policy–defended the administration during the Sunday, June 8 television talk show stump and in other reports.

“Iraq had chemical weapons, they used chemical weapons. We have no doubt whatsoever, that over the last several years they have retained chemical weapons and capability to start up production of such weapons,” he said, adding that he spent four days and nights at CIA headquarters to assure the veracity of the intelligence he presented to the UN on Feb. 7.

“Slowly, but surely, we are finding” the evidence, he said.

Still, U.S. News and World Report magazine reported that during those days at CIA headquarters, Mr. Powell threw pages of his report in the air, exclaiming, “I’m not reading this. This is bulls–,” obviously outraged by the “fabrications” in the report by hawks who wanted an excuse to get at Saddam’s oil, or those left over from the first Bush administration who wanted to “finish the job” that was left incomplete during the first Gulf War.

Further implicating “bad intelligence” was the magazine’s June 9 issue revelation of a Defense Intelligence Agency report titled “Iraq: Key Weapons Facilities–An Operational Support Study,” issued last September that found “no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or whether Iraq has–or will–establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities.”

Even as the UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, was presenting his last report June 5 to the Security Council on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine was quoting the Bush administration’s chief hawk, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, as saying the “weapons of mass destruction” argument was used because “it was the one everyone could agree on.”

That, perhaps, goes to the crux of why UN weapons inspectors could not find evidence of the continuation or resumption of programs of weapons of mass destruction during their months in Iraq.

“As I have noted before, this does not necessarily mean that such items could not exist. They might. There remain long lists of items unaccounted for, but it is not justified to jump to the conclusion that something does not exist just because it is unaccounted for,” Dr. Blix said during his last report to the UN body. He retires from the post on June 30.

The following day, Mr. Blix cast further doubt on whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. During an interview with the BBC, he said his teams came up empty handed as they followed up U.S. and British leads at suspected sites across Iraq.

“We went to a great many sites that were given to us by intelligence, and only in three cases did we find anything … and they did not relate to weapons of mass destruction,” the BBC quoted Mr. Blix as saying.

“I must say, I was impressed by that, because we had been told that they would give the best intelligence they had. If this is the best intelligence they had and we find nothing, what about the rest?” he added.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was mobbed by UN reporters as he entered UN headquarters on the day of Mr. Blix’s testimony. They wanted to know if the secretary-general trusted the evidence presented to the UN, prior to the war, by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

“I think the search is going on and we will wait to see. So far, nothing has been found and Mr. Blix has also put out his report, and the Council is still seized of the problem. If the new team does not find something, obviously there will be lots of questions, and we are all aware of that,” Mr. Annan replied.

In Qatar, that same morning, Pres. Bush addressed the troops at Camp As Sayliyah. He said that Saddam Hussein “spent decades hiding tools of mass murder. He knew inspectors were looking for them. We are on the lookout. We’ll reveal the truth.”

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, told reporters, after Mr. Blix’s talk, that he had “no doubt that we will be able to establish that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

Mr. Negroponte said that Mr. Blix’s report demonstrates that unresolved issues from 1998 remain unresolved to this day.

“I would counsel patience,” Ambassador Negroponte said, in a statement of complete irony. It was the same request that Mr. Blix had asked for–patience–before pulling out of Iraq at the hint of a coming U.S. invasion.

In Congress, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committee have announced plans to conduct a joint inquiry into whether evidence was manufactured to justify attacking Iraq, while the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence plans its own examination.

The CIA said it has called in former agency analysts to study ongoing investigations of the information the CIA gave the departments of Defense and State.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also is coming under relentless criticism for his support of the war in light of the evidence. The British and Danish parliaments also have launched investigations into whether evidence used to support the war was skewed.

Supporters of Mr. Blair, however, say it is premature to call for inquiries over weapons of mass destruction.

“The conspiratorial notion that Mr. Blair and others actively invented or warped official intelligence to make the case for war is more presumed than proven,” a recent editorial in the Times of London said. The editorial asked for a period of common sense, until the coalition inspectors complete a comprehensive search.

Some supporters of Pres. Bush have suggested that the Bush administration is under no obligation to prove that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

“We don’t have the burden of finding weapons of mass destruction now–not because hindsight vindicates our action as a humane liberator of the Iraqi people–but because we never had the burden in the first place,” argued columnist David Lambaugh, a Missouri attorney and an analyst for the conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation.