"Lies" Substantiated By Intelligence Information

From a column in this morning's WaPo. Sen. Rockefeller's Senate Intelligence Committee report that supposedly proves "Bush lied"? Check out its actual conclusions:

  • On Iraq's nuclear weapons program? The president's statements "were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates."
  • On biological weapons, production capability and those infamous mobile laboratories? The president's statements "were substantiated by intelligence information."
  • On chemical weapons, then? "Substantiated by intelligence information."
  • On weapons of mass destruction overall (a separate section of the intelligence committee report)? "Generally substantiated by intelligence information." Delivery vehicles such as ballistic missiles? "Generally substantiated by available intelligence." Unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to deliver WMDs? "Generally substantiated by intelligence information."

And later:

  • statements regarding Iraq's support for terrorist groups other than al-Qaeda "were substantiated by intelligence information."
  • Statements that Iraq provided safe haven for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other terrorists with ties to al-Qaeda "were substantiated by the intelligence assessments,"
  • and statements regarding Iraq's contacts with al-Qaeda "were substantiated by intelligence information."

The "Bush lied" meme makes me crazy for two reasons. The first is that Bush did not lie or cajole anyone into believing Saddam had WMD. The whole world's intelligence services --especially France's-- convinced Bush that he did. The UN believed it and issued 16 resolutions regarding it; France, Germany & England believed it. The very same politicians who now denounce Bush's "lies" believed it and voted accordingly. Saddam went out of his way to make everyone believe it. If I threaten to kill you with what turns out to be a very realistic looking fake gun, whose fault is it if you shoot me dead? Saddam is the only one who lied.

But columnist Fred Hiatt makes the second, more important point that is the real failure of the anti-war crowd. By making Bush a scapegoat, we ignore the underlying difficulty of intelligence failure --which, in the tricky cases of Iran and Pakistan--remains a huge problem both moral and political.
the phony "Bush lied" story line distracts from the biggest prewar failure: the fact that so much of the intelligence upon which Bush and Rockefeller and everyone else relied turned out to be tragically, catastrophically wrong.

And it trivializes a double dilemma that President Bill Clinton faced before Bush and that President Obama or McCain may well face after: when to act on a threat in the inevitable absence of perfect intelligence and how to mobilize popular support for such action, if deemed essential for national security, in a democracy that will always, and rightly, be reluctant.

Update: I could file this one under Annals of No Connection, but: US knew Saddam had good relationship with al-Zarqawi before the war.