We don’t know, says the Bush administration.
And we don’t care, says the public.
That seems to sum up the matter of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Bush crew still hasn’t uncovered evidence that its prewar pronouncements about WMD were on (or close to) the mark. Nor has it been able to explain why the Pentagon did not move expeditiously during and after the war to secure suspected WMD sites, particularly nuclear facilities that were known to hold large quantities of radioactive material that could be of value to anyone seeking to build a nuclear or dirty bomb.
The Pentagon did announce it had found several tractor trailers that it concluded were mobile biological weapons labs. But not a spot of biological agent had been found on them. Two former UN weapons inspectors–David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security, and a scientist who asked not to be identified–told me that even if these trailers had been thoroughly scrubbed, there should be trace residues that would indicate what was done in them. Moreover, these trailers–as threatening as they might have been–were hardly the bulk of Bush’s case against Iraq.
Still, Bush has not had to answer the tough questions regarding WMD. Such as, where are they? No wonder: last week, The Washington Post published a front-page story–“No Political Fallout for Bush on Weapons”–that reported polls showed Americans “unconcerned about weapons discoveries.” If the public doesn’t care, it’s not likely Republicans will be rushing to hold congressional hearings to grill Bush aides on this subject. The war, the Post noted, was supported by over 70 percent of the public.
But the postwar may be a different matter. Last week, Democratic and Republican senators began criticizing the Bush administration’s handling of postwar Iraq. At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking Democratic, whacked Paul Wolfowitz, asking the deputy defense secretary, “When is the president going to tell the American people that we’re likely to be in the country of Iraq for three, four, five, six, eight, ten years, with thousands of forces and spending billions of dollars? Because its’ not been told to them yet.” (Biden supported the war.) Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, noted, “We may have underestimated or mischaracterized the challenges of establishing security and rebuilding Iraq.” Senator Richard Lugar, who chairs the committee, remarked, “I am concerned that the administration’s initial stabilization and reconstruction efforts have been inadequate.” In a Washington Post op-ed, Lugar gently jabbed at Bush: “Clearly, the administration’s planning for the post-conflict phase in Iraq was inadequate.” He estimated the US occupation will last at least five years and observed that the final tab may hit $100 billion.