“We were all wrong.”
David Kay, the recently resigned chief WMD hunter who has declared that it is unlikely Iraq had any weapons of mass destruction in the years before the war, uttered these words while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 28. They were meant to explain the tremendous gap between the prewar claims that Iraq was loaded with weapons of mass destruction and the reality that Kay says he found: no actual weapons and “no indication of a production process that would have produced [WMD] stockpiles.” Embarrassed by Kay’s disclosures, defenders of the invasion of Iraq have wrapped themselves in his we-were-all-wrong pronouncement. President Bush has said, “We all thought [WMDs] were there.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan–who as of this writing has not been able to say the word “wrong”–has repeatedly maintained that “our intelligence was based on views shared by intelligence agencies around the world and the United Nations.” It’s a variant of Kay’s we-all-blew-it explanation. The intent is clear: If everyone was wrong about the WMDs, then no one–especially not Bush–is to blame now.
But Kay was incorrect. Not everybody was mistaken on the question of Iraq’s WMDs. Not UN inspectors, including Hans Blix, who worried about Saddam Hussein’s WMD capabilities but questioned whether discrepancies in Iraq’s accounting meant stockpiles existed. Not US intelligence analysts who argued that critical pieces of evidence were not solid. And there were many nongovernment experts who disputed the Bush Administration’s WMD allegations. It was Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and other aides who missed the mark. Bush, in response to mounting pressure, has created a commission to study the prewar intelligence, but there is already a record supporting the serious charge that he and his colleagues made assertions before the invasion that were not supported by the intelligence they possessed.
Administration officials and other war backers have pointed to an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to justify their prewar statements about Iraq’s unconventional weapons. An NIE is supposed to be the summation of the intelligence community’s best information on a subject, and this one did say, “Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons.” This assessment, it seems at the moment, was a historic failure, and it remains to be determined if it was the result of good-faith errors or political pressure and manipulation. But even this NIE–which included qualifiers and acknowledged serious disagreements within the intelligence community–did not contain evidence to support the more dramatic allegations that Bush put forward. A review of the declassified “key judgments” of the NIE and other pieces of intelligence–including a speech Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet gave at Georgetown University on February 5 to defend his agency–clearly shows that Bush and his national security team overstated what now appears to have been overstated intelligence.