The United States went to war on the basis of false claims. More than 800 Americans and countless Iraqis have lost their lives because of these false claims. The American taxpayer has to pay up to $200 billion–and maybe more–because of these false claims. The United States’ standing in the world has fallen precipitously because of these false claims. Two days before the war, when George W. Bush justified the coming invasion of Iraq by saying “intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal” weapons of mass destruction, he was dead wrong. And when he later claimed his decision to attack Iraq had been predicated upon “good, solid intelligence,” he was dead wrong.
The debate is over–or it should be. According to the report released today by the Senate intelligence committee, the intelligence community–led by the CIA–“overstated” and “mischaracterized” the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. In the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, produced hastily and haphazardly in October 2002, the intelligence community concluded that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed chemical and biological weapons, was “reconstituting” its nuclear weapons program, was supporting an “active” and “advanced” biological weapons program, and was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle “probably intended to deliver” biological weapons. All of these critical findings, the committee report says, “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.”
As Senator Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, put it at a press conference, this is one of the “most devastating…intelligence failures in the history of the nation.” The 500 page report repeatedly details instances when the intelligence community botched its job by ignoring contrary evidence, embracing questionable sources, and rushing to judgments that just so happened to fit the preconceived notions of the Bush Administration. If CIA director George Tenet had not said good-bye to the CIA the day before the report came out, he would deserve immediate dismissal. But the report–justifiably harsh in its evaluation of the CIA–is part of an effort to protect Bush and his lieutenants. The political mission: make the CIA the fall guy.
The report does not examine how Bush and his senior aides handled and represented the flawed intelligence. Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the committee, has delayed that portion of the investigation and other aspects of the inquiry (including the role played by Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress and the controversial actions of the office of Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy). The results of the committee’s work on these fronts are not expected to appear until next year–that is, after the election.
But the case is already undeniable. Bush and his lot overstated the overstatements of the intelligence community. The National Intelligence Estimate said Iraq had an extensive biological weapons program. Bush said Hussein was sitting on a “massive stockpile” of biological weapons. The NIE concluded (also falsely) that Iraq was developing unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to hit the United States with biological weapons. Bush warned that Iraq already had a “growing fleet” of UAVs ready to hit the United States. The NIE noted that Iraq was “reconstituting” its nuclear weapons program but had no nuclear weapons yet. Bush said, “We don’t know whether or not [Hussein] has a nuclear weapon”–a comment suggesting he might possess one.