As the question of whether the Republican presidential candidates would have ordered the invasion of Iraq given what we know now becomes the must-answer question of the day, all of the candidates are quick to say that Bush was misled by bad intelligence in making his decision. David Corn debunks that nonsense.
Here are a few examples of how Bush and Cheney cooked the books:
In an August 2002 speech that kicked off the administration’s campaign for war against Iraq, Cheney asserted, “Simply stated, there’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” But earlier in the year, Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, had told Congress that Iraq possessed only “residual” amounts of WMD. There was no confirmed intelligence at this point establishing that Saddam had revived a major WMD operation. As Cheney made this claim, Anthony Zinni, a former commander in chief of US Central Command, was on the stage. He was stunned to hear Cheney say that Iraq was actively pursuing WMD. As he laterrecalled, “It was a shock. It was a total shock. I couldn’t believe the vice president was saying this, you know? In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD, through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program.” In other words, bad intelligence did not cause Cheney to make this categorical, bold, and frightening statement. He just did it.
In September 2002, Cheney insisted there was “very clear evidence” Saddam was developing nuclear weapons: Iraq’s acquisition of aluminum tubes that were to be used to enrich uranium for bombs. But Cheney and the Bush White House did not tell the public that there was a heated dispute within the intelligence community about this supposed evidence. The top scientific experts in the government had concluded these tubes were not suitable for a nuclear weapons program. But one CIA analyst—who was not a scientific expert—contended the tubes were smoking-gun proof that Saddam was working to produce nuclear weapons. The Bush-Cheney White House embraced this faulty piece of evidence and ignored the more-informed analysis. Bush and Cheney were cherry-picking—choosing bad intelligence over good—and not paying attention to better information that cut the other way.
Cheney repeatedly referred publicly to a report that maintained that 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta had met secretly in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer—even though the CIA and FBI had dismissed this allegation. This is a damning example of Cheney citing discredited intelligence to score points. Intelligence experts had said there was nothing to this tale, but Cheney kept on mentioning the alleged Atta-Iraq connection to suggest Iraq was involved with the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 Commission later reconfirmed that this report of a Prague meeting was bunk.
The Atta allegation was part of a wider effort mounted by the Bush-Cheney administration to link Saddam to 9/11. In November 2002, Bush said Saddam “is a threat because he’s dealing with Al Qaeda.” Weeks earlier, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had claimed he had “bullet-proof” evidence that Saddam was tied to Osama bin Laden. In March 2003, Cheney asserted that Saddam had a “long-standing relationship” with Al Qaeda. The intelligence did not show this. As the 9/11 Commission later concluded, there had been no intelligence confirming significant contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Once again, Bush and Cheney were not being fooled by flawed intelligence; they were were pushing disinformation.
At a press conference at the end of 2002, Bush declared, “We don’t know whether or not [Saddam] has a nuclear weapon.” He clearly was suggesting that Saddam might already possess these dangerous weapons. Yet no intelligence at the time indicated that the Iraqi dictator had by then developed such weapons. The administration also insisted Saddam had been shopping for uranium in Africa, even though the intelligence on this point was dubious.
Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld weren’t given bad information by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, they pressured those agencies and distorted their findings in order to build a dishonest marketing campaign for the war. The notion that Saddam Hussein was even a remote threat to this country in 2003 is patently ridiculous.