Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Cooking the War

By Donald Sensing

I have deliberately stayed apart from the arguments about whether President Bush cooked intelligence in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. The reason is that I pledged myself after the last election that I would not do partisan politics on this site. I have not kept this promise completely, but I've come pretty close.

But enough is enough. My son is fighting in Iraq. He called via satellite phone yesterday and related taking part this week in a very large infantry, armor and air power raid against terrorists in the Fallujah vicinity. Prominent Democrats are accusing President Bush of lying to them and the American people, of cooking the intelligence about Iraq and claiming that their votes to authorize war were mistakes. They have crossed a line that I cannot in conscience ignore.

The question of the accuracy of the intelligence regarding Saddam and WMDs is certainly legitimate. Questions about the conduct of war are legitimate - I have not been kind at times to the administration about that, especially about Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's deliberate discarding of studies by the Army Staff before the war that the prospective invasion force was to small by about half to secure the country effectively when organized resistance ceased.

I don't have a problem with inquiring whether the intelligence was "bent" by the administration. But it's been done. The Senate Intelligence Committee addressed at this issue in its "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq."

The Committee found no evidence that the IC's [Intelligence Community's] mischaracterization or exaggeration of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capbilities was the result of political pressure.

The Committee detailed the many failures of the intelligence community, but there was no misuse of the intelligence assessments by the administration.

In fact, the president acted in the only responsible manner possible in light of the assessments he was given. These assessments included the unanimous conclusions by the intelligence services of England, France and Germany that Iraq was well on the way to becoming a nuclear power. The German assessment was actually bleaker than any of the other three powers.

Let's go back to Jan. 27, 2003, when Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix delivered his report to the UN as required and said the following:

Resolution 687 in 1991, like the subsequent resolutions I shall refer to, required cooperation by Iraq, but such was often withheld or given grudgingly. ...

... Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace. ...

As we know, the twin operation declare and verify, which was prescribed in Resolution 687, too often turned into a game of hide and seek. ...

While Iraq claims, with little evidence, that it destroyed all biological weapons unilaterally in 1991, it is certain that UNSCOM destroyed large biological weapons production facilities in 1996. The large nuclear infrastructure was destroyed and the fissionable material was removed from Iraq by the IAEA. ...

For nearly three years [since Dec. 1999] , Iraq refused to accept any inspections by UNMOVIC. ...

Resolution 1441 was adopted on 8 November last year and emphatically reaffirmed the demand on Iraq to cooperate. It required this cooperation to be immediate, unconditional and active. ...

[Blix then spent a few paragraphs reporting that ther inspection regime cionsisted of two parts, process and access. Access, he said, was satisfactory with only a few problems. But he recounted a number of times the inspectors were harrassed. Then:]

Paragraph 9 of Resolution 1441 states that this cooperation shall be "active." It is not enough to open doors. Inspection is not a game of catch as catch can. Rather, as I noted, it is a process of verification for the purpose of creating confidence. It is not built upon the premise of trust. Rather, it is designed to lead to trust, if there is both openness to the inspectors and action to present them with items to destroy or credible evidence about the absence of any such items. ...

On 7th of December 2002, Iraq submitted a declaration of some 12,000 pages in response to paragraph 3 of Resolution 1441 ...

These reports [that is, two reports by Blix's commission] do not contend that weapons of mass destruction remain in Iraq, but nor do they exclude that possibility. They point to a lack of evidence and inconsistencies which raise question marks which must be straightened out if weapons dossiers are to be closed and confidence is to arise. They deserve to be taken seriously by Iraq, rather than being brushed aside as evil machinations of UNSCOM.

Regrettably, the 12,000-page declaration, most of which is a reprint of earlier documents, does not seem to contain any new evidence that will eliminate the questions or reduce their number. ...

The nerve agent VX is one of the most toxic ever developed. Iraq has declared that it only produced VX on a pilot scale, just a few tons, and that the quality was poor and the product unstable. ...

UNMOVIC, however, has information that conflicts with this account. ...

There are also indications that the agent was weaponized. In addition, there are questions to be answered concerning the fate of the VX precursor chemicals, which Iraq states were lost during bombing in the Gulf War or were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq. ...

The [Iraqi air force] document indicates that 13,000 chemical bombs were dropped by the Iraqi air force between 1983 and 1998, while Iraq has declared that 19,500 bombs were consumed during this period. Thus, there is a discrepancy of 6,500 bombs. The amount of chemical agent in these bombs would be in the order of about 1,000 tons. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must assume that these quantities are now unaccounted for.

The discovery of a number of 122 mm chemical rocket warheads in a bunker at the storage depot, 170 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, was much publicized. This was a relatively new bunker, and therefore the rockets must have been moved here in the past few years at a time when Iraq should not have had such munitions. The investigation of these rockets is still proceeding.

Iraq states that they were overlooked from 1991 from a batch of some 2,000 that were stored there during the Gulf War. This could be the case. They could also be the tip of a submerged iceberg. The discovery of a few rockets does not resolve, but rather points to the issue of several thousand of chemical rockets that are unaccounted for. ...

I might further mention that inspectors have found at another site a laboratory quantity of ... a mustard [gas] precursor. ...

I turn to biological weapons. I mention the issue of anthrax to the council on previous occasions, and I come back to it as it is an important one. Iraq has declared that it produced about 8,500 liters of this biological warfare agent, which it states it unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991.

Iraq has provided little evidence for this production and no convincing evidence for its destruction.

There are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared and that at least some of this was retained over the declared destruction date. It might still exist. ...

As I reported to the council on the 19th of December last year, Iraq did not declare a significant quantity, some 650 kilos, of bacterial growth media, which was acknowledged as reported in Iraq's submission to the Amorim panel in February 1999. As a part of its 7 December 2002 declaration Iraq resubmitted the Amorim panel document but the table showing this particular import of media was not included. The absence of this table would appear to be deliberate, as the pages of the resubmitted document were renumbered.

In the letter of 24th of January this year to the president of the Security Council, Iraq's foreign minister stated that, I quote, "All imported quantities of growth media were declared." This is not evidence. I note that the quantity of media involved would suffice to produce, for example, about 5,000 liters of concentrated anthrax. ...

Our Iraqi counterparts are fond of saying that there are no proscribed items and if no evidence is presented to the contrary, they should have the benefit of the doubt; be presumed innocent.

UNMOVIC, for its part, is not presuming that there are proscribed items and activities in Iraq. But nor is it, or I think anyone else, after the inspections between 1991 and '98 presuming the opposite, that no such items and activities exist in Iraq. Presumptions do not solve the problem; evidence and full transparency may help. ...

This report could not possibly build confidence that Iraq was at heart a peaceful nation with no intentions of retaining or reconstituting mass-destructive weapons programs. Quite the opposite, the report reasonably led to concluding that Iraq was determined to do exactly the opposite. Furthermore, the president knew that there were real and substantive connections between Iraq and al Qaeda, even though Iraq was not linked to the 9/11 attacks. For example, Iraqi Fedayeen Saddam Lt. Col. Ahmed Hikmat Shakir:

Six days after September 11, Shakir was captured in Doha, Qatar. He had in his possession contact information for several senior al Qaeda terrorists: Zahid Sheikh Mohammed, brother of September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; Musab Yasin, brother of Abdul Rahman Yasin, the Iraqi who helped mix the chemicals for the first World Trade Center attack and was given safe haven upon his return to Baghdad; and Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, otherwise known as Abu Hajer al Iraqi, described by one top al Qaeda detainee as Osama bin Laden's "best friend."

Much, much more at the link. Then there's this summary by Richard Miniter. Were there constant, enduring ties between Saddam and Osama bin Laden? No. But both men hated the United States. Saddam had billions of dollars at his disposal while bin Laden has merely a few tens of millions, not enough to run an ambitious, worldwide terror program. (One al Qaeda perp captured after the bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1988 complained bitterly that bin Laden wouldn't pay for a doctor's visit for the perp's pregnant wife.) As Stephen Hayes summarized, "I would certainly never argue that they were buddies. It was an on-again, off-again relationship based, as [Sen. Evan] Bayh says, on mutual exploitation and a common enemy."

One of the most powerful senators of the opposition party took to the floor of the US Senate in October 2002 and said:

I am forced to conclude, on all the evidence, that Saddam poses a significant risk.

Some argue it would be totally irrational for Saddam Hussein to initiate an attack against the mainland United States, and they believe he would not do it. But if Saddam thought he could attack America through terrorist proxies and cover the trail back to Baghdad, he might not think it so irrational.

...At the end of the day, we cannot let the security of American citizens rest in the hands of someone whose track record gives us every reason to fear that he is prepared to use the weapons he has against his enemies.

That would be Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democrat and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who voted for the resolution authorizing war against Iraq. So can we claim, "Rockefeller lied, people died?" Then in the last week Sen. Rockefeller told interviewer Chris Wallace that he was not responsible for that vote.

I'll go even farther than merely recount the history that Democrats are deliberately distorting. Let's pretend that then-CIA director George Tenet never told the president that Saddam's possession of WMDs was "a slam dunk." Imagine that instead the country's intelligence chief had told President Bush:

(1) There was some uncertainty about what the data indicated,

(2) There was disagreement among intelligence professionals on the status of Saddam's weapons programs,

(3) The consensus of the American IC was that it was much more likely than not that Saddam possessed some quantity of chemical weapons and had active programs to preserve or reconstitute his biological-weapons program and atomic-weapon program. This report was buttressed by officials such as Ambassador Joe Wilson, sent by the CIA to Nigeria, where he found that although Iraq had not actually obtained uranium ore from the country it had made the attempt. (Oh, you didn't know that such is exactly what Wilson reported?)

Blix's report, btw, would stay the same.

Even had there been uncertainty about Iraq's weapons programs, there was ample just cause to invade Iraq and topple Saddam. In fact, Sen. Hillary Clinton said to the Senate on Oct. 10, 2002 that

But if we get a clear requirement for unfettered inspections [from the UN], I believe the authority to use force to enforce that mandate is inherent in the original 1991 UN resolution, as President Clinton recognized when he launched Operation Desert Fox in 1998.

At the request of the United Methodist News Service, I wrote an article for its release in Feb. 2003 that UMNS entitled, "Just cause exists for action against Iraq."

Saddam's regime threatens American lives and the peace of the entire Middle East. The Bush administration and the U.N. inspectors have provided conclusive proof of Iraq's programs to develop mass-destructive weapons and its extensive efforts to conceal them - efforts that continue to this day. There is solid evidence of Iraq's links to transnational terrorists. Saddam's regime is brutally repressive of its own people.

Whether the status quo with Iraq constitutes a cause for war should be debated. That the status quo should continue cannot be faithfully maintained. The question is not whether Saddam's regime must be ended and the Iraqi people freed; the question is only how. We pray that open war may yet be avoided. But to fail to act effectively to accomplish the just end is to make oneself an accomplice of injustice and ally oneself with murderous oppression. ...

A key fact is being overlooked in today's debate. The choice is not really between peace and war. We have not been at peace with Iraq since 1991, and Saddam wages war upon his own people every day. The issue is not beginning a war, but how long the present war will continue. Absent Iraqi compliance, the choice is between brief, controlled warfare imminently or the continued suffering of the Iraqi people, the continued absence of peace and almost certainly a truly terrible war later.

President Kennedy's words during the Cuban missile crisis still apply: "We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security... The 1930s taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war. ... Our policy has been one of patience and restraint, but now further action is required. ... The greatest danger of all would be to do nothing."

I also explained Saddam's murderous regime against his own people (like this). I stand by every word, including what I wrote about WMDs. Why? Because it's worth remembering that the only reason we have certainty now about Saddam's WMD programs is because we invaded Iraq. As Tod Lindberg points out,

We took down the Saddam government, arrested and detained as many senior Iraqi officials and weapons scientists as we could find, questioned them thoroughly, scoured the country for biological and chemical weapons supplies, and found evidence of programs variously abandoned or discontinued or on hold.

We found, however, no clear record of when or how (or whether) Saddam had destroyed whatever stockpiles he may once have possessed. Nor did we find any evidence that Saddam had done anything more than suppress his chemical, biological or nuclear ambitions for prudential reasons. On the contrary, there was ample reason to conclude that he hoped to reconstitute such programs at the first opportunity.

Then we come to the Duelfer Report, named after the chief of the US Iraq Survey Group, led by Charles Duelfer. No actual WMDs in Iraq, said the report, and that's where people usually stop. But the report also stated that:

Saddam wanted to re-create Iraq's banned weapons programs, including nuclear weapons.

Saddam was determined to develop ballistic missiles and tactical chemical weapons when the U.N. sanctions were either lifted or corroded.

Saddam retained the industrial equipment to help restart these programs, having increased from 1996 to 2002 his military industrial spending 40-fold and his technical military research 80-fold. Even while U.N. weapons inspectors were in Iraq, Saddam's scientists were performing deadly experiments on human guinea pigs in secret labs.

To what end? The overlooked section of the Duelfer report could not have put it any clearer: "Iraq would have been able to produce mustard agents in a period of months and nerve agent in less than a year or two." While Saddam had abandoned his biological weapons programs, he retained the scientists and other technicians "needed to restart a potential biological weapons program," and he "intended to reconstitute long-range delivery systems [that is, missiles] and . . . the systems potentially were for WMD." These conclusions were based on interviews with Saddam Hussein, his closest advisers, and his weapons scientists, along with the kind of industrial equipment the Iraqi government imported and maintained.

The report also explained that materiel prohibited to Iraq by the UN was arriving in quantity "virtually no problem" from France, China, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and elsewhere.

There is no doubt - none whatsoever - that had the status quo ante bellum continued, my Feb. 2003 assessment for UMNS would have proven tragically true: had we not warred upon Saddam in 2003, we would have faced much more terrible war later.

So what to make of the current Democratic attacks upon the president? Fred Hiatt wrote in the Washington Post Nov. 14, of the "questions" about the use of the intelligence,

"Those aren't irrelevant questions," says Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). "But the more they dominate the public debate, the harder it is to sustain public support for the war."

What Lieberman doesn't say is that many Democrats would view such an outcome as an advantage. Their focus on 2002 is a way to further undercut President Bush, and Bush's war, without taking the risk of offering an alternative strategy -- to satisfy their withdraw-now constituents without being accountable for a withdraw-now position.

Many of them understand that dwindling public support could force the United States into a self-defeating position, and that defeat in Iraq would be disastrous for the United States as well as for Mahdi and his countrymen. But the taste of political blood as Bush weakens, combined with their embarrassment at having supported the war in the first place, seems to override that understanding.

Michael Barone put it this way:

The Democrats are trying to relitigate the prewar intelligence issue in the hopes of delegitimizing this administration. But in delegitimizing the administration, they also tend to delegitimize the efforts of the U.S. government, including military personnel, in Iraq and generally in the war against Islamic terrorism. To the extent they delegitimize the United States, they are hurting the cause of freedom for millions of people. I do not say the Democrats are being unpatriotic, a word they seem fixated on. So far as I am aware, no responsible Republican has charged that they are unpatriotic; John McCain refused Bob Schieffer's invitation to do so. But I do say this: The Democrats who are peddling the Big Lie of "Bush lied" are doing so either (a) deliberately to injure the cause of the United States and of freedom in the world or, as I think, (b) with reckless disregard of whether they injure the cause of the United States and of freedom in the world. What they are doing may suit their political needs, but it hurts our country.

So Barone shrank from saying "the Democrats are being unpatriotic"? I won't.

Listen, Senators Reid, Rockefeller, former Sen. Edwards, Sen. Kerry and your rhetorical allies: I have known many patriots. My son, fighting in Iraq, is a patriot. And you, sirs, are no patriots. You are actively betraying my son and his comrades. You are giving comfort to the enemy.

Have you no shame? No, I think not.

Update: Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), on the other hand, remains the moral voice of sanity in his party, as he proved yesterday; read the whole thing (hat tip: Jim Miller). Which is, btw, why he gained my support in 2004's Tennessee primary.

I would also point out that Sen. Hillary Clinton has, on this issue, stood fast with her years-long assertion that Saddam Hussein was a grave threat to the United States and that it was right to remove him from power, although she has been critical of the unpreparedness of the administration for managing Iraq after the campaign.