Monday, January 02, 2006

Chicago Tribune editorial: Judging the case for war

Dec 28 2005 Chicago Tribune editorial: Judging the case for war (in Iraq)

Did President Bush intentionally mislead this nation and its allies into war? Or is it his critics who have misled Americans, recasting history to discredit him and his policies? If your responses are reflexive and self-assured, read on.

On Nov. 20, the Tribune began an inquest: We set out to assess the Bush
administration's arguments for war in Iraq. We have weighed each of those nine
arguments against the findings of subsequent official investigations by the 9/11
Commission, the Senate Intelligence Committee and others. We predicted that this
exercise would distress the smug and self-assured--those who have
unquestioningly supported, or opposed, this war.

The matrix below summarizes findings from the resulting nine editorials. We
have tried to bring order to a national debate that has flared for almost three
years. Our intent was to help Tribune readers judge the case for war--based not
on who shouts loudest, but on what actually was said and what happened.

The administration didn't advance its arguments with equal emphasis.
Neither, though, did its case rely solely on Iraq's alleged illicit weapons. The
other most prominent assertion in administration speeches and presentations was
as accurate as the weapons argument was flawed: that Saddam Hussein had rejected
12 years of United Nations demands that he account for his stores of deadly
weapons--and also stop exterminating innocents. Evaluating all nine arguments
lets each of us decide which ones we now find persuasive or empty, and whether
President Bush tried to mislead us.

In measuring risks to this country, the administration relied on the same
intelligence agencies, in the U.S. and overseas, that failed to anticipate Sept.
11, 2001. We now know that the White House explained some but not enough of the
ambiguities embedded in those agencies' conclusions. By not stressing what
wasn't known as much as what was, the White House wound up exaggerating
allegations that proved dead wrong.

Those flawed assertions are central to the charge that the president lied.
Such accusations, though, can unfairly conflate three issues: the strength of
the case Bush argued before the war, his refusal to delay its launch in March
2003 and his administration's failure to better anticipate the chaos that would
follow. Those three are important, but not to be confused with one
another.

After reassessing the administration's nine arguments for war, we do not
see the conspiracy to mislead that many critics allege. Example: The accusation
that Bush lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs overlooks years of global
intelligence warnings that, by February 2003, had convinced even French
President Jacques Chirac of "the probable possession of weapons of mass
destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq." We also know that, as early as
1997, U.S. intel agencies began repeatedly warning the Clinton White House that
Iraq, with fissile material from a foreign source, could have a crude nuclear
bomb within a year.

Seventeen days before the war, this page reluctantly urged the president to
launch it. We said that every earnest tool of diplomacy with Iraq had failed to
improve the world's security, stop the butchery--or rationalize years of UN
inaction. We contended that Saddam Hussein, not George W. Bush, had demanded
this conflict.Many people of patriotism and integrity disagreed with us and
still do. But the totality of what we know now--what this matrix chronicles--
affirms for us our verdict of March 2, 2003. We hope these editorials help
Tribune readers assess theirs.
THE ROAD TO WAR: THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S NINE ARGUMENTS

Biological and chemical weapons

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

The Bush administration said Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Officials trumpeted reports from U.S. and foreign spy agencies, including an October 2002 CIA assessment: "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions."

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Many, although not all, of the Bush administration's assertions about weapons of mass destruction have proven flat-out wrong. What illicit weaponry searchers uncovered didn't begin to square with the magnitude of the toxic armory U.S. officials had described before the war.

THE VERDICT

There was no need for the administration to rely on risky intelligence to chronicle many of Iraq's other sins. In putting so much emphasis on illicit weaponry, the White House advanced its most provocative, least verifiable case for war when others would have sufficed.

Iraq rebuffs the world

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

In a speech that left many diplomats visibly squirming in their chairs, President Bush detailed tandem patterns of failure: Saddam Hussein had refused to obey UN Security Council orders that he disclose his weapons programs--and the UN had refused to enforce its demands of Hussein.

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Reasonable minds disagree on whether Iraq's flouting of UN resolutions justified the war. But there can be no credible assertion that either Iraq or the UN met its responsibility to the world. If anything, the administration gravely understated the chicanery, both in Baghdad and at the UN.

THE VERDICT

Hussein had shunted enough lucre to enough profiteers to keep the UN from challenging him. In a dozen years the organization mass-produced 17 resolutions on Iraq, all of them toothless. That in turn enabled Hussein to continue his brutal reign and cost untold thousands of Iraqis their lives.

The quest for nukes

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

Intelligence agencies warned the Clinton and Bush administrations that Hussein was reconstituting his once-impressive program to create nuclear weapons. In part that intel reflected embarrassment over U.S. failure before the Persian Gulf war to grasp how close Iraq was to building nukes.

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Four intel studies from 1997-2000 concurred that "If Iraq acquired a significant quantity of fissile material through foreign assistance, it could have a crude nuclear weapon within a year." Claims that Iraq sought uranium and special tubes for processing nuclear material appear discredited.

THE VERDICT

If the White House manipulated or exaggerated the nuclear intelligence before the war in order to paint a more menacing portrait of Hussein, it's difficult to imagine why. For five years, the official and oft-delivered alarms from the U.S. intelligence community had been menacing enough.

Hussein's rope-a-dope

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

The longer Hussein refuses to obey UN directives to disclose his weapons programs, the greater the risk that he will acquire, or share with terrorists, the weaponry he has used in the past or the even deadlier capabilities his scientists have tried to develop. Thus we need to wage a pre-emptive war.

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Hussein didn't have illicit weapons stockpiles to wield or hand to terrorists. Subsequent investigations have concluded he had the means and intent to rekindle those programs as soon as he escaped UN sanctions.

THE VERDICT

Had Hussein not been deposed, would he have reconstituted deadly weaponry or shared it with terror groups? Of the White House's nine arguments for war, the implications of this warning about Iraq's intentions are treacherous to imagine--yet also the least possible to declare true or false.

Waging war on terror

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

Iraq was Afghanistan's likely successor as a haven for terror groups. "Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror ... " the president said. "And he cannot be trusted. The risk is simply too great that he will use them, or provide them to a terror network."

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

The White House echoed four years of intel that said Hussein contemplated the use of terror against the U.S. or its allies. But he evidently had not done so on a broad scale. The assertion that Hussein was "harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror" overstated what we know today.

THE VERDICT

The drumbeat of White House warnings before the war made Iraq's terror activities sound more ambitious than subsequent evidence has proven. Based on what we know today, the argument that Hussein was able to foment global terror against this country and its interests was exaggerated.

Reform in the Middle East

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

Supplanting Hussein's reign with self-rule would transform governance in a region dominated by dictators, zealots and kings. The administration wanted to convert populations of subjects into citizens. Mideast democracy would channel energy away from resentments that breed terrorism.

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

U.S. pressure has stirred reforms in Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and imperiled Syria's regime. "I was cynical about Iraq," said Druze Muslim patriarch Walid Jumblatt. "But when I saw the Iraqi people voting . . . it was the start of a new Arab world... The Berlin Wall has fallen."

THE VERDICT

The notion that invading Iraq would provoke political tremors in a region long ruled by despots is the Bush administration's most successful prewar prediction to date. A more muscular U.S. diplomacy has advanced democracy and assisted freedom movements in the sclerotic Middle East.

Iraq and Al Qaeda

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

President Bush: "... Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy--the United States of America. We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.... Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bombmaking and poisons and deadly gases."

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Two government investigative reports indicate that Al Qaeda and Iraq had long-running if sporadic contacts. Several of the prewar intel conclusions likely are true. But the high-ranking Al Qaeda detainee who said Iraq trained Al Qaeda in bombmaking, poisons and gases later recanted.

THE VERDICT

No compelling evidence ties Iraq to Sept. 11, 2001, as the White House implied. Nor is there proof linking Al Qaeda in a significant way to the final years of Hussein's regime. By stripping its rhetoric of the ambiguity present in the intel data, the White House exaggerated this argument for war.

The Butcher of Baghdad

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell: "For more than 20 years, by word and by deed, Saddam Hussein has pursued his ambition to dominate Iraq and the broader Middle East using the only means he knows--intimidation, coercion and annihilation of all those who might stand in his way."

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Human Rights Watch estimates that Hussein exterminated 300,000 people. Chemical weapons killed Iraqi Kurds and Iranians; Iraqi Shiites also were slaughtered. Tortures included amputation, rape, piercing hands with drills, burning some victims alive and lowering others into acid baths.

THE VERDICT

In detailing how Hussein tormented his people--and thus mocked the UN Security Council order that he stop--the White House assessments were accurate. Few if any war opponents have challenged this argument, or suggested that an unmolested Hussein would have eased his repression.

Iraqis liberated

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

President Bush and his surrogates broached a peculiar notion: that the Arab world was ready to embrace representative government. History said otherwise--and it wasn't as if the Arab street was clamoring for Iraq to show the way.

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

The most succinct evaluation comes from Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.): "Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them."

THE VERDICT

The White House was correct in predicting that long subjugated Iraqis would embrace democracy. And while Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites have major differences to reconcile, a year's worth of predictions that Sunni disaffection could doom self-rule have, so far, proven wrong.

Thanks to Sarah at Trying to Grok for the link. Thanks to the Politboro Diktat for the idea to preserve the whole article.

Eric

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