Only one good reason exists for not describing
President George W. Bush and all the officials around him who urged on the invasion of Iraq in order to rid the country of
its weapons of mass destruction, as outright liars.
One powerful factor would always have inhibited
these leaders, including Britain's Tony Blair, from engaging in an explicit lie when they claimed, at the United Nations and
before the world, to be certain that these weapons existed:
They would have known back then that they
would be exposed eventually.
As, indeed, has now happened. After two months
of intensive searching, not a scrap of evidence has been uncovered of any weapons at all, let alone of any battle-ready ones
that might have constituted, as claimed, an "imminent threat."
We are dealing with something less than lying
but also something a good deal more than an honest mistake.
At best, Bush and aides such as Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell may have been guilty of believing what they wanted to believe.
They wanted to depose Saddam Hussein and
believed, genuinely, that his downfall could lead to a fundamental transformation of the Middle East. It would include the
negotiation of a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the development of democracy in Iraq that
could function as an alternative regional role model to Islamic militancy and terrorism.
These visionary goals may never be achieved.
But that in no way invalidates the ambition and imagination of this vision.
To achieve it, Bush seized on the issue of
weapons of mass destruction because it was politically saleable to the U.N. and to the American public. At the same time,
officials, in agencies like the CIA, tailored analyses, as bureaucrats often do, to suit the needs of their superiors.
This is the best-case analysis of what has
The worst-case analysis is a lot worse. This
is that there has been sustained deception, exaggeration and manipulation.
Moreover even if one omits those at the top
like Bush and Blair it is clear that quite a few officials in Washington have long been aware that the justification for war
was extremely suspect, if not outright spurious.
For instance, it turns out that senior Al
Qaeda officials, who were captured in Afghanistan and then interrogated in Guantanamo, Cuba, had long ago stated unequivocally
that there were no ties between their organization and Saddam Hussein. Osama bin Laden, they said, wanted to have nothing
to do with the Iraqi strongman.
This evidence was suppressed and Powell,
in his presentation to the U.N. last February, repeated the allegation of Al Qaeda-Saddam ties.
It turns out, as well, that last year the
Defense department's own intelligence unit (set up by Rumsfeld and so hawkish in its assessments) concluded that there was
no concrete evidence of any continuing weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq.
Since the war's end, senior Iraqi scientists
who have been interrogated insisted that all the programs to develop these weapons and the raw chemical and biological materials
were destroyed in the mid-'90s.
Bush keeps insisting the proof will still
be found. Scraps of evidence, like two so-called mobile laboratories are paraded excitedly and then quietly dropped. (It appears
that these trailers were used for pumping up balloons for scientific experiments.)
The embarrassing and bitter truth is that
Saddam was not lying. (Saddam was a monumental fool, perhaps out of pride, not to have welcomed in the U.N. inspectors).
The far more bitter truth is that Bush and
many around him were, if not lying exactly, either victims of intelligence written to suit their political needs, or were
knowing participants in a huge fraud.
That the casus belli was either fraudulent
or substantially erroneous doesn't mean that the war was unjustified. Iraqis have been freed from their jail and their madhouse.
Reconstruction is going badly at present, but for the first time ever, a possibility exists of Iraqis living a more or less
normal, decent life.
It means, instead, that Bush and his administration
have lost their credibility in international affairs. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
On North Korea, on Iran, on every kind of
major international issue.
Bush can no longer claim the benefit of the
doubt. He won't always be wrong. He won't always be crying wolf.
But he was party to a massive deception.
He didn't trust others the U.N., world opinion enough to tell them the full truth. It's going to take him quite a while to
win back the trust of others.
1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.