Now that the Bush administration has finally stopped wasting millions of tax dollars each month on the futile search for the weapons of mass destruction it promised would be found in Iraq, it is time for an accounting.

First off, let’s be clear about the fact that there was never any credible evidence to suggest that Iraq had a serious WMD program — let alone the “stockpiles” of already-produced weaponry that the president and his aides suggested. Twenty-three members of the Senate and 133 members of the House rejected the intensive lobbying by the administration and the pliable press for the use-of-force resolution that Bush would use as his authorization to launch a preemptive war. Among those who voted “no” were the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and key members of the Senate and House committees responsible for intelligence, armed services and foreign relations — all of whom had followed the issue for years and saw no evidence of a threat sufficient to justify an invasion of Iraq. Former President Jimmy Carter and others with long-term knowledge of the issues involved were critical of the rush to war, as were dozens of prominent players in the nation’s political, foreign service, intelligence and military elites.

So the suggestion that there was broad acceptance of the premise that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs, or was deep into the process of developing them, is absurd. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had access to the same information as those who recognized that there was not a sufficient threat to merit military action by the United States. They chose to dismiss that information, and instead to peddle as genuine a fabricated threat.

When we look at what they said, however, it is clear that some pushed the lies more aggressively than others.

To be sure, Bush said outrageous things. For instance, in February 2002, he told the admittedly gullible folks at the American Enterprise Institute, “In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world — and we will not allow it.”

Unless he was referring to someone other than Saddam Hussein, Bush was wrong. Dramatically wrong. But not, arguably, as wrong as Vice President Dick Cheney when he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on August 26, 2002, that, “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”

Ouch, that’s really wrong. Why, that’s almost as wrong as when Cheney told an Air National Guard event in Denver on December 1, 2002, that, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group or a terrorist individual.” Or when Cheney appeared on NBC-TV’s Meet the Press on March 16, 2003, to say of Saddam Hussein: “we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

Long after it had become clear that the invading forces of the United States were not going to turn up any of the promised weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Cheney continued to promote the lie. Even after the arms inspector David Kay’s report raised damning doubts about Iraq’s ability to produce WMDs, Cheney told a crowd in Denver on November 7, 2003, that Saddam Hussein had “cultivated weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.”

Cheney’s refusal to back off the WMD claim actually became an embarrassment to the Bush reelection campaign when the president was forced to say publicly in 2004 that he could not confirm the statements his own vice president was making.

So if even Bush backed away from Cheney, where was the vice president getting these crazy ideas?

Gee, could have been the national security advisor? Condoleezza Rice, the Dr. Strangelove of the Bush administration, spent much of 2002 promoting the fantasy that Iraq posed a nuclear threat. Famously, she declared on CNN on September 8, 2002, that, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Don’t expect Bush or Cheney appear before a Congressional committee to explain themselves anytime soon. But, conveniently, Rice will have to do so this week, as part of the process of reviewing her nomination to serve as Secretary of State. It seems as if this might be an appropriate point for Congress to begin holding the administration accountable.


John Nichols’ book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, “This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president.” Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, “The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton’s no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting).”

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.