It is notoriously difficult to prove a negative. At what point can you be sure that something does not in fact exist? For example, if I lose my glasses and begin to search for them in my apartment, when do I abandon the search and conclude: I must have left them at the office? Is it when I have checked all the pockets in my wardrobe? Looked under all the cushions in the apartment?
So it goes with the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Certainty may not come for a long time. Let’s add that it was entirely reasonable to argue–though some disagreed–that Saddam Hussein possessed such weapons. After all, it’s a matter of record that he had them before the Gulf War, and the United Nations inspectors sent in after the war to destroy them reported that some materials were still unaccounted for.
But questions of fact cannot be resolved by thinking. Evidence is required. And if the evidence is used to justify a war, then it must be both unchallengeable and readily producible. Before the war, the Bush Administration stated on dozens of occasions and in the most unequivocal terms that it had such evidence. Now–nine weeks after the end of Saddam’s regime–it is clear that no evidence of the required quality existed. The public trust was abused. The world was deceived. That the unequivocal evidence was missing before the war will remain a fact even if, somewhere down the road, weapons of mass destruction are found. “We know where they are,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. But he did not know. How could he, when the intelligence agency of his own Defense Department was stating that there was “no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has–or will–establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities.” The war was fought on false premises. One might hope that some of the war’s supporters would now reconsider their position. I know of no such case. Instead, we have been presented with an entire bestiary of excuses–ones so inventive, it has some interest in its own right.
1. The UN Said So. Columnist Robert Kagan of the Washington Post has written an almost touchingly plaintive column listing all those who credited the mistake, as if widespread belief could make falsehood true. Among those mentioned are not only President Clinton and other Clinton officials but, of all people, the leaders of Germany and France–temporarily de-demonized for the purpose. Even the head of the UN inspection team, Hans Blix, is cited. In fact, of course, Blix never stated, as the Bush Administration did, that there were weapons of mass destruction but only that there was some evidence that there might be weapons of mass destruction. The crux of the argument was whether the inspectors should be given more time to resolve doubt into certainty–one way or another. The Administration itself has joined in the unexpected rehabilitation of the UN. The White House communications director, Dan Bartlett, has said there is proof of an Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program because “the UN Security Council passed a resolution that confirmed it.”