Leftists are predictably and tiresomely crowing “We told you so” in response to Scott McClellan’s tattler book. With the assistance of memeorandum, I selected one of the more serious leftist slime jobs and deconstructed it here.
The site is “Nukes & Spooks,” a blog by three McClatchy journalists. Their article contains a summary of the left’s disingenuous indictment against the Bush administration, based entirely on their own previous reporting, thereby making the point that McClellan’s book adds nothing new to the debate (the same point I made Wednesday). What they’re complaining about, though, is nothing more than normal governance in an uncertain environment, and review of their article confirms that that’s all they have. They’re trying to paint ordinary government workers as Snidely Whiplash, complete with maniacal cackle and curling moustaches. It would be funny if they weren’t so successful at it.
Here’s their indictment:
* The Bush administration was gunning for Iraq within days of the 9/11 attacks, dispatching a former CIA director, on a flight authorized by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, to find evidence for a bizarre theory that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the first World Trade Center attack in 1993.
The troubles with Iraq predated 9/11 by about 15 years. The US Congress had already confirmed US policy of regime change in Iraq as early as 1998, based on the invasion of Kuwait, followed by 7 years of Iraqi intransigence in meeting UN requirements. If the complaint is that the administration had Iraq in mind before 9/11, the only sane response is “Of course; why shouldn’t they have?”
Furthermore, administration personnel had discussed Middle East strategy far in advance of 9/11, and even in advance of taking office, and already had a plan in mind for pacifying the anti-American sentiment that was brewing in the Middle East. Yes, that plan involved Iraq. That the McClatchy folks find this somehow ominous suggests they think it’s a bad thing to be aware of current tensions and have a plan in mind. Color me unimpressed.
The alleged connection between the 1993 WTC bombing and Iraq was still under consideration at the time. I don’t recall that the administration used it as a reason supporting the Iraq invasion, for which reason I can’t imagine why it’s somehow damning that they sent someone to verify its accuracy. Yes, they already had Iraq in their sights; go reread the previous two paragraphs if you wonder why.
* Bush decided by February 2002, at the latest, that he was going to remove Saddam by hook or by crook. (Yes, we reported that at the time).
Yes, and if you’ll read the article they linked to, you’ll discover that the Bush administration stated this plainly and in public. There was certainly no outcry against his doing so at the time; the most common liberal response was that if we attacked Hussein, he’d use his WMDs on our troops, sending tens of thousands home in body bags. What, exactly, is their indictment? That they publicly stated that they intended to fulfill a policy that had been decided by an act of Congress in 1998? We’re supposed to be aghast at THAT? Why?
* White House officials, led by Dick Cheney, began making the case for war in August 2002, in speeches and reports that not only were wrong, but also went well beyond what the available intelligence said at that time, and contained outright fantasies and falsehoods.
If you’ll read the McClatchy article they claim proves Cheney went “well beyond what the available intelligence said at that time,” what you’ll find is that we had no hard evidence pointing to an unusual breakthrough in weapons technology. If you’ll read Cheney’s speech that they linked to, you’ll discover that he acknowledges this and explains why it’s meaningless, because Hussein was engaged in an ongoing pattern of deception that had hoodwinked our intelligence, and the UN’s, before. Cheney’s point was that if we know Hussein is working on weapons, and we know he’s deceiving inspectors about what he’s doing, we’d be insane to simply assume he’s not getting anywhere. That’s not fantasy; that’s a sober assessment. To say otherwise is to counsel foreign policy based solely on wishful thinking; and if the administration HAD taken that passive approach, and Hussein had developed serious weapons, they would have condemned them for that, too. (Author’s update: Cheney’s argument here was echoed by Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller on the Senate floor on October 10, 2002. “We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam Hussein has been able to make in the development of weapons of mass destruction.” I’m curious to know how alleged misinformation could have produced Rockefeller’s agreement with such an argument.)
* Dissenters, or even those who voiced worry about where the policy was going, were ignored, excluded or punished.
There’s always dissent to any major decision. Some point of view always loses. Anybody who wants to claim that their sober opinions were ignored will get plenty of opportunity to do so from any administration, discussing any topic. I can’t think of a single policy in any administration in which the complaint that “dissenters were ignored” could not be raised — for which reason I simply can’t understand what the indictment is supposed to be here. What is it, besides an insane demand that the President submit every internal decision to nationwide scrutiny?
They name Joseph Wilson among the dissenting voices. We already know why he was ignored — he was not even part of the administration, and he lied.
* The Bush administration didn’t even want to produce the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs that’s justly received so much criticism since.
The administration’s case against Iraq contained a series of indictments that were already well-documented and had long been the subject of public debate. Claims included that Hussein had brutalized his own population, had destabilized the region by building an unusually large military and attacking his neighbors, had flouted UN resolutions, had fired at US aircraft, had reconstituted forbidden weapons programs, and had sponsored international terrorism. To my knowledge, the only parts of the entire case that have ever been disputed are the quantity of chemical weapons (but it’s admitted that he had some), the robustness of the nuclear program (but it’s admitted that he had one), and the use of aluminum tubes for nuclear weapons (they were actually for a missile system that was also forbidden by the terms of the UN agreement.) The bulk of the US case against Hussein was indisputable.
The call for an unwanted NIE was simply one of dozens of instances of the Democrats in Congress attempting to exercise unconstitutional powers over the conduct of the Executive branch of government. And I’m just curious: doesn’t the later criticism vindicate the assessment that an NIE was uncalled for?
* The October 2002 NIE was flawed, no doubt. (My note: see?) But it contained dissents questioning the extent of Saddam’s WMD programs, dissents that were buried in the report. Doubts and dissents were then stripped from the publicly released, unclassified version of the NIE.
Yes. They assessed the evidence, reported what they believed was correct, and omitted what they believed was incorrect. This sounds like normal procedure to me. What’s the indictment?
* The core of the administration’s case for war was not just that Saddam was developing WMDs, but also that, unchecked, he might give them to terrorists to attack the United States. Remember smoking guns and mushroom clouds? Inconveniently, the CIA had determined just the opposite: Saddam would attack the United States only if he concluded a U.S. attack on him was unavoidable. He’d give WMD to Islamist terrorists only “as a last chance to exact revenge.”
Leftists love to say that “the core” of the admininstration’s case was WMDs, but that was only one point; I outline the more complete case above, in the paragraph beginning “The administration’s case against Iraq…” They ignore the rest and focus on WMDs because that’s the only part of the case that’s even remotely debatable. They’ve done it so many times that they’re no longer aware how dishonest a tactic it is; but it’s dishonest, and at some point they must have known it.
As to what the CIA had “determined,” the interesting point is that the later evaluation of captured Iraqi documents concluded something very different. The research documents that Hussein’s government cooperated extensively with various terrorist organizations (of which al Qaeda is only one of dozens), that Hussein habitually used terrorism as a tool of statecraft, that his goals included attacks on America wherever he could pull it off, and even that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda when their goals coincided. This research confirms a major complaint the Bush administration leveled against Saddam Hussein’s government.
So the indictment against the Bush administration here has become that they rejected a CIA assessment that was incorrect. They should be applauding here, not condemning. In fact, I can’t imagine indicting the Bush administration for ignoring just about anything George Tenet told them.
* The Bush administration relied heavily on an Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi… The same INC-supplied “intelligence” used in the White House propaganda effort (you got that bit right, Scott) also was fed to dozens of U.S. and foreign news organizations.
I can’t comment on Chalabi, as I don’t know how much they relied on him. I simply know what the administration’s publicly stated case was; and I can’t find any part of it that was inaccurate, other than the quantity of chemical weapons and the intended use of aluminum tubes. And frankly, I’m not convinced that the quantity of chemical weapons was inaccurate; there’s some evidence that such weapons were found but not categorized as WMDs (because the shells weren’t filled, the chemical agents were still in barrels,) and some more evidence suggesting they might have been moved.
* It all culminated in a speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003 making the case against Saddam. Virtually every major allegation Powell made turned out later to be wrong.
To be sure, that wasn’t the culmination of anything other than an attempt to involve the UN. The real culmination was the President’s State of the Union address the previous month, which was pretty accurate (yes, even the famous 16 words that they later wimped out and waffled on. Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium, and British intelligence did tell us this.) But Powell’s report documented Iraqi efforts to sidestep inspectors, which was true. It documented that Hussein never intended to cooperate with the UN, which we know to have been true. It documented comments that many of the weapons had been evacuated; no evidence rebutting this has ever been presented, and it explains why we didn’t find stockpiles of chemical weapons. It documented weapons sites that had held weapons, but were empty when the UN inspectors arrived; there’s no reason to doubt this. “Virtually every allegation Powell made turned out later to be wrong?” They wish.
* The Bush administration tried to link Saddam to al Qaida and, by implication, to the 9/11 attacks.
I listened to several broadcasts in which Vice President Cheney stated very, very clearly that they did not believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks; they did believe, however, that he was involved in financing and abetting international terrorists. This turned out to have been correct.
* An exhaustive review of Saddam Hussein’s regime’s own documents, released in March 2008, found no operational relationship between Saddam and al Qaida.
The same review found extensive relationships between Hussein’s regime and international terrorist groups, both explicit and implicit, and found an indirect relationship with al Qaeda. This report confirmed nearly everything the Bush administration had been saying about Iraq’s involvement in international terrorism. The extent of McClatchy’s sheer, outright lying on this subject has been documented earlier on this blog.
* The Bush administration failed to plan for the rebuilding of postwar Iraq, as we were perhaps the first to report.
That they failed to plan is simply false. That the plan was not so good, is true. The error of Paul Bremer’s approach to post-war Iraq is pretty well documented by now. We’ve adjusted. It’s working better now.
The claim that the Bush administration was somehow criminally negligent in its approach to the Iraq war, and got everything wrong, is false in nearly every particular. There are a few items they got wrong in the run-up, which is inevitable when relying on foreign intelligence. There are a lot more items they got exactly right. What we’re looking at in the McClatchy article is a hit job against a fairly ordinary administration. Scott McClellan adds nothing but another assenting voice to the worst, most incharitable interpretation of what was actually a fairly sensible policy process.
Update: Doug Feith, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy during the Bush administration, wrote a much more cogent book than Scott McClellan about the decision-making process in the run-up to the Iraq war, entitled War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism.
He addresses the inaccuracies of leftist memes like the McClatchy screed much more credibly than I ever could, by virtue of the fact that he was involved personally. Visit the web site he set up for marketing the book,
which contains a number of since-declassifed source documents. Also, note the distinction between the press’ reception of Feith’s remarkably accurate insider account with that of McClellan’s: Both the Washington Post and the New York Times refused to review Feith’s book, which disputes the leftist line.