Back to the tangled web files ...
Knocked on his heels by increasing evidence that he willfully deceived the American public, President Bush is off to a new strategy of spreading around the blame. Let's call it the anti-buck gambit. Don't pass the buck. Just get an M-80, light it, put it over in the corner with the buck on top of it. Then no more buck, no more problem.
In any case, back to our story. The new line is, well, okay maybe we were wrong. But everyone else was wrong too. So who's gonna cast the first stone.
Said the president yesterday at an Army base in Louisiana: "My administration looked at the intelligence and we saw a danger. Members of Congress looked at the same intelligence, and they saw a danger. The United Nations Security Council looked at the intelligence and it saw a danger. We reached a reasonable conclusion that Saddam Hussein was a danger."
Filling in the blanks here, the argument is that everyone thought Saddam had WMD. So it's not my mistake. It's everyone's mistake.
Now, this is dishonest at a number of levels. But let's just pick one. When it comes to what constitutes a threat, all 'WMD' are not created equal. Mustard gas is close to irrelevant weighed against the threat of nuclear weapons, especially effectively deliverable ones. And on this there was in fact fierce and public disagreement. Let's take the UN and their inspectors versus the White House.
One of the key points the White House never mentions is that, notwithstanding what people thought before the return of inspectors, we found out quite a lot during the brief period when inspectors were in the country. And almost all of what we learned was damaging to the White House's case for war. Indeed, one reason for the hurry to start the war was the fear that the case would collapse entirely. (For a broader discussion of what the UN knew and what we 'knew', see this excellent piece by Fareed Zakaria in a recent Newsweek.)
In any case, one of the key findings was the IAEA's determination, after its initial round of inspections, that there was no evidence that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. For a variety of technical reasons, it's much more difficult to hide a real nuclear weapons program from inspectors who are on the ground in your country than it is to hide, say, a chemical or biological weapons program.
So the IAEA's judgment came with a lot of weight -- at least to those who were interested in knowing the state, or even the existence, of Iraq's nuclear efforts.
So the UN (the IAEA is, in effect, a part of the UN) definitely disagreed with the White House on the WMD issue.
And what was the White House's response? Recall this exchange between Vice President Cheney and Tim Russert on the eve of the war ...
MR. RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree, yes. And you'll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. Let's talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We've got, again, a long record here. It's not as though this is a fresh issue. In the late '70s, Saddam Hussein acquired nuclear reactors from the French. 1981, the Israelis took out the Osirak reactor and stopped his nuclear weapons development at the time. Throughout the '80s, he mounted a new effort. I was told when I was defense secretary before the Gulf War that he was eight to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon. We found out after the Gulf War that he was within one or two years of having a nuclear weapon because he had a massive effort under way that involved four or five different technologies for enriching uranium to produce fissile material.
We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He's had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq's concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don't have any reason to believe they're any more valid this time than they've been in the past.
That of course would be the same Vice President Cheney who told Hans Blix before he took on his job that "we will not hesitate to discredit you" if Blix failed to march to the White House's tune.
They can run and they can hide. They can pass the buck, eat the buck, blow up the buck, hide it in the drawer, twiddle their thumbs and hope everyone forgets about it. But this buck is a MIRVed missile. And it's coming right for them.