When White House spokesman Scott McClellan opened up his daily press briefing yesterday, he said, “This will be the only question of the briefing.” He was joking. But it turned out that the first question–a response to the news the Iraq Survey Group had ended its hunt for weapons of mass destruction after finding absolutely nothing–was practically the only question of the day. Here’s that first query:
The fact that the Iraq Survey Group has now folded up its field operations, can you explain to us if there is any sense of embarrassment or lack of comfort about the fact that after two years of looking, these people found nothing that the President and others assured us they would find?
McClellan did the usual. He did not answer the query.
McClellan: I think the President already talked about this last October in response to the comprehensive report that was released by Charles Duelfer [the Iraq Survey Group chief] at that point. Charles Duelfer came to the White House in December; the President took that opportunity to thank him for all the work that he had done. The two discussed how Saddam Hussein’s regime retained the intent and capability to produce weapons of mass destruction, and they also discussed how he was systematically gaming the system to undermine the sanctions that were in place, so that once those sanctions were eliminated — which was something he was trying to do through the U.N. oil-for-food program — then he could begin his weapons programs once again. And I think the President talked about the other issues back in October. Nothing has changed from that time period.
And nothing has changed in terms of the White House’s response to the absence of WMDs. Bush refuses to address the consequences of having misled the nation and the world. Before the war, he stated that there was “no doubt” that Iraq was loaded to the gills with WMDs. It was Saddam Hussein’s possession of these deadly weapons, Bush argued, that rendered him a “direct” threat that had to be neutralized immediately. Bush and his aides repeatedly asserted there was no if about Iraq’s WMDs. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported it had found no evidence of a revived nuclear weapons program in Iraq, yet Bush and Dick Cheney insisted Hussein had reconstituted such a program. The UN’s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said he was concerned about the possibility that Iraq might have kept WMDs hidden from inspectors, but he also stated that discrepancies in Iraq’s accounting of its previous WMD material did not mean that Iraq actually possessed such dangerous goods.
But the Bush gang said it knew better. Secretary of State Colin Powell made that now-infamous presentation to the UN; everything he declared as a fact turned out to be wrong. Bush left himself no wiggle room on the subject of Iraq and WMDs. He declared, “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated, “There’s no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons….We all know that. A trained ape knows that.” (Paging that trained ape.) White House mouthpiece Ari Fleischer said, “The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it.”