Looking for WMD in All the Wrong Places

Bush & PowellKnowing that I am a bit quick to cry foul over anything the Bush administration does, I have tried to reserve judgment on the current, somewhat desperate, so far unsuccessful search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the run-up to the recent war there was predicated on half-truths, falsehoods and specious intelligence; a decent overview of the situation as it stands this week is available at The Economist. Clearly, any WMD program that Saddam Hussein may have had in place does not live up to the tremendous advance billing given to it by the Bush administration. If weapons of mass destruction are indeed found in Iraq, I’m convinced it will be a discovery guided by serendipity rather than intelligence.Though I have little doubt that the Iraqi regime was in fact up to no good and was probably producing some sort of weapons, what’s at issue here is credibility. The burden is not just to find some sign, any sign of wrongdoing, it’s to find the clear-cut, incontrovertible proof that those weapons were as imminent a threat as the administration led the world to believe. What they’ve found so far — mobile trailers that may or may not have been employed for nefarious purposes — is insufficient evidence to even begin to justify George W. Bush’s rhetoric.

The tone that the administration has been using has shifted from one of absolute, urgent conviction to one of mush-mouthed equivocation. John Dean — who admittedly would probably like to show up in the results for any Google search on the word ‘impeachment’ — suggests that this back-pedaling leaves Mr. Bush in legal hot water. In an exhaustive legal column at CNN.com, Dean makes several convincing points, including an inventory of 43’s “explicit and declarative” statements in the run-up to war. The examples he cites leave no doubt that the case that the administration was making to the American public was: “Saddam Hussein absolutely, positively has weapons of mass destruction that he is ready to use at any moment.” The past few weeks have not borne this out.

This is crime, and as Paul Krugman suggests in the New York Times, it has the potential to be the worst scandal since Watergate. I agree with him, and I agree with Dean that this sort of cynical, political manipulation is grounds for impeachment (and obviously far more serious than lying about extramarital sex). The worst of it though is that, given the Bush administration’s track record of extra-legal political maneuvering and the absolutely minimal flack that they have received for it thus far, the American public just doesn’t seem to care.