"I'm confident that our search will yield that which I strongly believe: that Saddam had a weapons program," declared President George W. Bush at his press conference yesterday. President Bush may be confident, but he may be the only one.
The Washington Post has a front-page story noting that not even one Iraqi scientist has apparently provided any information about Iraqi WMDs or about WMD development programs. Presumably our crack interrogators at the CIA, DIA, and FBI have promised them riches, immunity from prosecution, safety for their families, medals, a house in Fairfax county, and U.S. citizenship if only they will 'fess up. But so far, nada, zip, nuthin'. If they knew anything about WMDs what else would they be holding out for?
We hear the excuse that Iraq is a big country (size of California), and that's true, but one might think that surely, with a team of some 1300 WMD searchers deployed on the ground, at least one of the scores of alleged sites for the production or storage of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons identified by our intelligence agencies should have yielded some evidence by now.
President Bush at his press conference acknowledged, "[I]n order to placate the critics and the cynics about intentions of the United States, we need to produce evidence [for WMDs]." That would indeed be nice.
In an op/ed in today's Washington Post, Morton Abramowitz, a senior fellow at the Century Fund, notes, "[I]t has become clear that the U.S. intelligence agencies did not have much empirical evidence about Iraq's programs..." Consequently, adds Abramowitz, "Our intelligence analysis system has been wounded, its integrity made suspect at home and abroad." The American public and the rest of the world will be understandably skeptical when U.S. intelligence agencies next claim there is a looming crisis somewhere. Unfortunately, there might be a real wolf lurking in the future, but after hearing them cry wolf in Iraq, how can we trust our government agencies either to know that for sure or, more darkly, to be telling us the truth?
After trying to pass the buck on bum uranium claim in his State of the Union Speech to CIA director George Tenet and then to National Security assistant Stephen Hadley, President Bush finally said yesterday, "I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course." What does that mean? It should mean, at the very minimum, that he order a searching and independent investigation into how the intelligence gathering and evaluation process went wrong and then clean house. Cleaning house means firing "yes men" and appointing people who can stand up to pressure from the White House and who have the integrity to resign to protest unwarranted interference. Come to think of it, why didn't Tenet resign?
Who knows, maybe barrels of anthrax and nerve gas buried in some godforsaken part of the Iraqi desert will turn up. But what if they don't? Tony Blair's answer in his speech to the U.S. Congress seems right: "If we are wrong, we will have destroyed a threat that at its least is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering. That is something I am confident history will forgive."
Just don't forget and forgive the intelligence failures. Fix them now.