Liberals, please stop it with the Iraq war lies.
There is plenty of criticism that can be leveled against George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, but he didn’t deliberately mislead the country about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
With the new cool question for 2016 Republican contenders being “knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq,” the debate about pre-Iraq war intelligence has once again come to the forefront. Predictably, some liberals have used the occasion to again trot out the wholly dishonest spin that the Bush administration concocted evidence and pressured the intelligence community into saying that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Here’s Peter Beinart, who actually supported the Iraq war, propagating this nonsense in The Atlantic:
To understand how ludicrous that position is, it’s worth remembering a few things. First, the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was extremely weak. Yes, the U.S. government in October 2002 produced a National Intelligence Estimate that appeared to suggest Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and a nuclear-weapons program. But a 2004 Senate review concluded that “most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) … either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” The NIE, which was produced under intense pressure from White House and Pentagon officials seeking a justification for war, painted a far more menacing picture of Iraq’s WMD programs than had previous U.S. assessments. As the head of British intelligence famously remarked, “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” The unclassified summary of the NIE was also far more categorical than the full, classified version, which, according to Florida Senator Bob Graham, was “pocked with dissent, conditions, [and] minority opinions on a variety of critical issues.” After reading the full NIE, Graham voted against authorizing war. Unfortunately, by one estimate, only a half-dozen other senators bothered to do so.
My colleague Matt Lewis addressed part of this earlier, pointing out that Democrats dating back to the Clinton administration believed Iraq had stockpiles of WMDs based on the intelligence they saw.
But the evidence against this lie is so much greater than that. Debunking this recurring myth in 2013, I wrote:
1.) Read the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s W.M.D programs. “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,” the report reads. The report goes on to say it has “high confidence” that “Iraq possesses proscribed chemical and biological weapons and missiles” and “Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons-grad fissile material.”
2.) Read Bob Woodard’s account of then-CIA director’s George Tenet’s briefing of the George W. Bush on the eve of the Iraq war. According to the Washington Post journalist, Tenet told Bush that it was a “slam dunk case” that Iraq had W.M.D.s. Tenet later said he was taken out of context, but that doesn’t seem to be the case and, in any event, Tenet doesn’t deny he was fundamentally confident that Iraq possessed W.M.D.s.
3.) General Tommy Franks, who led the invasion of Iraq in 2003, writes in his book that he was not only told by Egyptian and Jordanian leaders that Iraq possessed W.M.D.s, he was also told that Saddam would use them against invading American troops.
4.) Former CIA agent Kenneth Pollock has noted that the world’s most vaunted intelligence agencies, including some of those who opposed the war in Iraq, all believed Saddam Hussein possessed W.M.D.s. These include the intelligence agencies of Germany, Israel, Russia, Britain, China and France.
5.) As President Obama contemplated whether to authorize the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, he was told by CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell that the evidence indicating that Iraq had W.M.D.s before the Iraq war was “much stronger” than the evidence that bin Laden was living in the Abbottabad compound. “And I’m telling you, the case for W.M.D. wasn’t just stronger—it was much stronger,” he told the president.
In fact, Morell recently published a book where he reiterates the aforementioned point and emphatically states that the Bush administration did not pressure the CIA whatsoever to conclude there were WMDs in Iraq.
“The view that hardliners in the Bush administration forced the intelligence community into its position on WMD is just flat wrong,” he writes. “No one pushed. The analysts were already there and they had been there for years, long before Bush came to office.”
This is similar to the conclusion of 2005’s bipartisan Robb-Silberman Commission.
“[W]e closely examined the possibility that intelligence analysts were pressured by policymakers to change their judgments about Iraq’s nuclear, biological, chemical weapons programs,” the report reads. “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.”
But back to Morell’s new book.
“An NIE,” Morell writes, “represents the authoritative view of the entire intelligence community on an issue. They are carefully considered. The coordination sessions among the analysts are rigorous and NIEs are approved by the leadership of each agencies in the community.”
As for the conclusions laid out in the NIE that Iraq had stockpiles of WMDs, “there was little controversy” within the intelligence community, Morell continued.
“One agency, the State Department’s intelligence shop, dissented on one aspect of the paper, the nuclear question, but agreed on all others because almost everyone who had looked at the issue — from intelligence services around the world to think tanks and the United Nations itself — had come to the same conclusion,” he went on. “There were no outliers, no group with a different view. No one to force a broader debate that might have led to a more rigorous assessment on the part of the analysts. Group think turned out to be part of the problem.”
The only part left of Beinart’s nonsense indictment is that a British analyst argued in 2002 that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of removing Saddam Hussein from power. He is referring to the Downing Street Memo.
This is not much of a leg to stand on, but it is worth pointing to the late Christopher Hitchens dismissal of it. A child of Britain, Hitchens noted, “the English employ the word ‘fix’ in a slightly different way—a better term might have been ‘organized.'”
So criticize Bush’s decision to go into Iraq all you want. But the evidence was what it was. Our intelligence community got it wrong about Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Bush didn’t lie, nor did his administration pressure the intelligence community into concluding what it did about WMDs.
It would be nice if the left would stop falsifying history.