As of today–at least as of this moment–there has been no dramatic October Surprise orchestrated by the Bush crowd: no invasion of Iran, no capture of Osama bin Laden, no anti-Kerry charge that derails the challenger’s campaign. And the time for any last-minute play is passing quickly. But Bush and his aides have successfully prevented another sort of October surprise, for in the weeks leading up to E Day a number of inconvenient and uncomfortable questions for Bush have continued to go unanswered. On several fronts, the Bushies have been able to dodge controversies without providing complete accounts. For example, as has been widely reported, the CIA’s inspector general’s report on the screw-up over Iraq’s WMD is not being released before November 2. With voting already under way–thanks to early voting–and about to finish in days, they have run out the clock on critical matters, several of which might have had an impact on the final tally. Here is merely a partial list.
Those MIA WMDs. The contentious issue of the supposed WMDs in Iraq was resolved recently when the Duelfer report confirmed the earlier findings of weapons hunter David Kay: Iraq had neither WMDs nor active WMD programs in the years before the invasion of Iraq. Months ago, the Senate intelligence committee released a report noting that the intelligence community’s prewar conclusions on Iraq’s WMD were “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” But what has gone uninvestigated is how Bush and his administration used that intelligence. The Senate intelligence committee, which is run by Republicans, promised a review of this important topic–but only after the election. The case is clear that Bush did overstate the flawed intelligence. For instance, the CIA reported (wrongly) that Iraq had an active bioweapons program, but Bush said publicly that Iraq had “stockpiles” of biological weapons. No official inquiry, however, has examined how Bush and his national security team misused–or abused–the intelligence presented to them. This would be a relatively easy endeavor. Investigators would review the intelligence reports presented to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others, and then compare this information to what these and other administration figures declared publicly. Senate intelligence committee aides have told me such an exercise need not take more than a few months. Yet the committee pushed back this part of its investigation until after the voting. The reason is obvious. And Bush has escaped having to deal with headlines noting that he stretched the intelligence to grease the way to war.
Prewar planning–or the lack thereof. It’s no secret that the Bush administration did not prepare adequately for the aftermath of its invasion of Iraq. But there is not much in the public record about the conversations that did or did not occur within the White House on what to do after the invasion. Bob Woodward has reported that Secretary of State Colin Powell reminded Bush of the Pottery Barn rule: if you break it, you’ve bought it. But there has been no congressional inquiry into the prewar planning. What exactly was Bush’s attitude regarding the predictable and not-so-predictable post-invasion challenges? How did his national security team handle–or not handle–the matter? Was any of this ever discussed at the presidential level? If so, what was said? If not, why not?