Eight weeks after the war’s end in Iraq and with no evidence of the alleged weapons of mass destruction, America’s three major newsweeklies featured articles on Monday related to the possibility that the Bush administration either lied about or grossly exaggerated the existence of WMD.
Newsweek, TIME and U.S. News and World Report examined the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq possessed biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, the primary argument for justifying the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
While some American editorial pages and columnists have persistently pressed for answers about the discrepancy between what the administration claimed and the lack of credible evidence, European papers have taken a much more aggressive stance, creating mounting problems for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
But after three high-profile magazines raised the issue in the same week, the debate in America will likely intensify.
“WMD seems to stand for weapons of mass disappearance,” said TIME magazine.
Over a two-week period, TIME interviewed dozens of current and former officials. These officials said three factors contributed to the problem: (1) “treating the worst-case scenario as fact;” (2) “glossing over ambiguities;” and (3) “fudging mistakes.”
When asked why the Bush administration overreached, Lawrence Korb, who worked in the Reagan Pentagon, told TIME, “They came in with a world view, and they looked for things to fit it.”
Another official said that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “was deeply, almost pathologically distorting the intelligence.”
Newsweek magazine said, “The case that Saddam possessed WMD was based, in large part, on assumptions, not hard evidence.”
Yet President Bush and leaders in his administration spoke with absolute certainty that Iraq had WMD.
“Bush administration officials wanted to be able to say, for certain, that Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of chem-bio weapons; that he could make a nuclear bomb inside a year; that he was conspiring with Al-Qaeda to attack America,” said Newsweek magazine. “And that is, by and large, what they did say.”
U.S. News and World Report also underscored the sketchiness of the intelligence information and the drive by some in the Bush administration to make the case for WMD.
The magazine said that on Feb. 1 American officials met for six hours deciding what Secretary of State Colin Powell should say at the United Nations Security Council about Iraq, a presentation which persuaded many Americans to back the invasion.
In that meeting, Powell reportedly threw some pages in the air, according to U.S. News. “I’m not reading this,” he said. “This is bulls—.”
What becomes clear from these reports is the conflict between the intelligence community and the policy-making community. Additionally, disagreement flared within the Bush administration. Those pressing hardest for war were Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, their staffs and the Defense Policy Board. Those most skeptical about the evidence were Powell and his staff.
Unanswered questions concern the quality of American intelligence and the exertion of political pressure on the intelligence service to fudge the data.
Two congressional hearings on the claims of WMD are likely, as is a parliamentary investigation.