As an MSNBC analyst before the war, former United Nations weapons inspector David Kay often seemed more like a cheerleader for the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy than he did an impartial expert on Iraq’s weapons programs. So it was not surprising that the White House tapped him last summer to lead the effort to locate such weapons.
Now, seven months later, Kay has resigned, concluding that Iraq had no active nuclear weapons program and possessed no biological or chemical weapons. “I don’t think they existed,” he said of the latter in a Reuters interview, explaining that they were eliminated in the mid-1990s by UN inspectors and by Iraq itself, and that there were no significant efforts to make new ones.
The justification used by Kay and other weapons experts who supported the US case a year ago is that even the UN inspectors believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But in fact, chief inspector Hans Blix went out of his way before the war to say that the UN inspectors did not know whether Iraq still had proscribed weapons.
Faced with new revelations about the lack of WMD, the Administration at first simply repeated its earlier allegations. As Kay was preparing to announce his resignation, NPR aired an interview with Vice President Cheney in which he continued to deceive and dissemble: “We still don’t know the whole extent of what [the Iraqis] did have. It’s going to take some additional, considerable period of time in order to look in all the cubbyholes and ammo dumps and all the places in Iraq where you’d expect to find something like that”–this despite the fact that Kay’s replacement had already said that he believed the chances of finding chemical or biological weapons in Iraq are now “close to nil.” Cheney, never one to let truth interfere with ideologically driven beliefs, also insisted that semi-trailers found in Iraq were “conclusive evidence” that Saddam “did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction.” Kay had earlier told the New York Times that the trailer assertions were an embarrassing fiasco.
When such tactics failed to quell rising questions, the White House moved to refine its dissembling strategy, promising to look into what went wrong with the intelligence-gathering process but only after the Iraq Survey Group has completed its work at some unspecified time in the future, most likely after the November election. In pursuing such delaying tactics, the Administration seems to be more interested in covering up its lies and deceptions than it is in American national security.
Democrats in Congress are correct to call for an independent commission to study the critical failure in our intelligence community, but even more important is an investigation into the White House’s systematic abuse of the facts and the intelligence process. In today’s hyper-interdependent world, our national security depends on the cooperation of other nations. It is not reasonable to expect these nations to act with us if they have doubts about the quality of our intelligence or must constantly question the hidden motives behind our foreign policy decisions.
As Representative Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said after Kay’s resignation, “The potential threat posed by Iraq’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was central to the case for war. In light of Dr. Kay’s statement, the President owes the American public and the world an explanation.”