1. Excuse: Iraq’s regime might have destroyed stockpiles of WMD prior to an invasion, either in the hopes of embarrassing the U.S. or in the faint hope that it could save its skin by declining to use them.
Merits of the excuse: It would at least explain something.
Problem with the excuse: It would show that S.H. was more deterrable than anyone had a right to hope prior to the invasion. Certainly it vindicates the judgement of those who argued that S.H. could be deterred by the U.S.
2. Excuse: The C.I.A. didnâ€™t pass the information up to higher-level people in the admin. Oops.
Merits of the excuse: None.
Problem with the excuse: Transparent lie. The WaPo worked this angle a day or two ago, but by the end of the day a more convincing counterspin had emerged from the C.I.A. Dick Cheneyâ€™s office, for example, investigated the uranium story and found it to be bogus. Come on, folks, at least lie with a little imagination.
(And the WaPo should be ashamed of itself for printing an angle it surely knew was bogus. This kind of deal â€“ I’ll spin your story, you’ll give me access later â€“ is really smarmy. What’s more, the only check on this kind of smarminess is public ridicule. Everyone join in!)
3. Excuse: This war wasnâ€™t really about WMD. It was about an agreement that S.H. had with the U.S. that ended the first Gulf War. S.H. plainly didnâ€™t live up to that agreement when he obstructed serious inspections for 12 long years. The U.S. stepped in to enforce it when no one else would.
Merits of the excuse: Itâ€™s clearly true that S.H. didnâ€™t live up to his end of the bargain. And he sure acted as if he had something to hide.
Problems with the excuse: Um . . . wasn’t war supposed to be a last resort? There were all kinds of military solutions falling short of full-scale war which might well have fit the terms of the agreement. Anyway, there are a whole lot of agreements that get enforced by measures short of full-scale war.
4. Excuse: Well, I didnâ€™t support the war on the basis of claims about WMD and A.Q. I supported it for humanitarian reasons. So bugger off.
Merits of the excuse: Gets writer told-you-so-points.
Problems with the excuse: The American people didn’t support the war on this basis. So, first, there’s something seriously wrong about the fact that the admin manipulated people into supporting the war for bogus reasons. Second, don’t get too smug. Your reasons for supporting the war depend on something which might prove even harder than finding WMD: the ability of the U.S. to make good on it’s pre-war promises to provide stability and democracy. Stay tuned, your turn for recriminations and rebukes may be next.
5. Excuse: It would have been plainly irresponsible not to assume that Iraq had WMD, based on any reasonable assessment of S.H.â€™s character, Iraqâ€™s past behavior, and reports from defectors. So the admin might have spun the evidence they had about Iraqâ€™s WMD programs, but they clearly expected to be vindicated. So itâ€™s not exactly a lie.
Merits of the excuse: It’s fair as far as it goes.
Problems with the excuse: It doesn’t go that far. The admin talked the public into the war by making specific claims. They said “Trust us.” And people did. They shouldn’t have. But they should have been able to. That’s the scandal.
6. Excuse: The admin wasnâ€™t alone in expecting to find WMD. Most of its critics did too. That includes Blix and all the people who warned that Iraq might use itâ€™s WMD as a reason not to invade.
Merits of the excuse: Yeah, lots of people thought they had WMD.
Problems with the excuse: Lots of people thought they had WMD because the U.S. said it had specific intelligence to that effect. And lots of people who thought Iraq had WMD thought that the problem could be managed without invasion. It hardly damages their case that there were no WMD.
7. Excuse: The intelligence we get out of countries like Iraq is usually out of date. So if the C.I.A. reported that Iraq was X amount of time away from nukes, that was the most conservative estimate. To be safe, we should halve or quarter all its estimates.
Merits of the excuse: C. Rice tried this one out before the war, so I’m anticipating its resurrection as the Bush camp gets more desperate. It has the merit of being correct on at least one occasion, and intelligence history buffs could probably point to more. When Kamel defected from Iraq in 1995, the extent of Iraq’s nukes program was revealed. This was particularly embarrassing to the U.N. inspectors and it jolted many into realizing that lots of things could go on in Iraq without our becoming aware of it, even with U.N. inspectors on the ground.
Problems with the excuse: I sure hope C. Rice was lying when she said this was a good general rule of thumb. The history of intelligence failures shows a broad trend in the opposite direction. Click here for a recent article with examples of this. Also, Kamel’s remarks to U.N. inspectors were rarely reported accurately. Kamel had indeed dropped a bomb, so to speak, on the inspectors. But he also said that Iraq had halted its nukes program.
8. Excuse: It was reasonable to assume that after 1998, Iraq would have restarted it’s WMD programs. But suppose they hadn’t. It would still have left us with a serious long term problem, likely to be exacerbated by the eventual removal of the sanctions. The real problem was the fact that Iraq was likely restart its programs later. Even if Iraq relinquished its WMD dreams for the moment, it would never relinquish them permanently. And that poses a long term problem which the far-seeing Bush admin decided to deal with rather than postpone.
Merits of the excuse: This is the best excuse, in my opinion, though I would hardly describe Bush as far-seeing. The whole case for or against the war, as I understood it then, and as I understand it now, pivots around this problem. It’s unfair of critics to think that the failure to discover WMD gets them off the hook here. Everyone has to deal with this problem.
Problems with the excuse: First, the war wasn’t sold on these grounds. It was sold on false grounds. Second, although I can’t argue it here, I’ve argued many times that there were better solutions to this admittedly real problem.
9. Excuse: We had indirect proof all along that S.H. had something to hide: He preferred to sacrifice a great deal rather than cooperate with inspectors. Why would he have done that if he hadn’t had something to hide?
Merits of the excuse: Hmmmm. I confess, he did seem guilty.
Problems with the excuse: There are at least three other perfectly good (non-competing) explanations for S.H.’s behaviour. First, the U.S. made clear right from the start of the sanctions regime in 1991 that they would last for the duration of S.H.’s regime. He had no reason to think that they would ever be lifted. Why cooperate with inspections if there’s no light at the end of the tunnel? (This isn’t to excuse S.H. for anything, only to explain that that’s how S.H. might have seen itâ€”which is what this excuse focuses on itself.) Second, U.S. demands were designed to humiliate S.H. Both sides rightly saw loss of face as a threat to S.H.’s rule, which is why the U.S. pushed maximalist demands and S.H. resisted them. Third, having a rep as a guy who might or might not have WMD did help S.H. maintain internal rule. It even discouraged some in the U.S. from backing an invasion. So S.H. might have seen something substantial to gain in keeping his rep the way it was, despite all its costs.
10. Excuse: Bush is too stupid to lie. And the people around him are ideologues who genuinely believed what they said.
Merits of the excuse: Gosh, if Bush gets through this relatively unscathedâ€”and he might wellâ€”I think this’ll be what does it. No defender of the admin is gonna bite for it, but that hardly matters. This excuse will also get some boost from the absurd taboo against claiming that the president is a practiced liar.
Problem with the excuse: Oy vey! Is this what we’ve come to? Anyways, even if Bush didn’t lie, he still showed terrible judgement by believing people who either lied or were themselves ideologues.
11. Excuse: It’s in the nature of intelligence reporting that much of it is ambiguous and filled with error. Critics of the admin confuse the issue by pretending that this isn’t always the case.
Merits of the excuse: Yeah, it’s true that much intelligence is ambiguous and error-prone.
Problems with the excuse: That’s precisely why the admin shouldn’t have presented a set of supposedly irrefutable facts to the public and the security council, all the while hinting darkly that there were many other secrets which they couldn’t afford to declassify (if so, where are they now?).
12. Excuse: Let’s get real. This might be a mini-scandal. But it’s clearly not as great a threat to American democracy as a President lying under oath about oral sex. Where’s your sense of perspective?
Merits of the excuse: It’s probably gonna work.
Problems with the excuse: Wow, the American chattering class has a lot to answer for. What a bunch of losers.
13. Excuse: It’s still to early to tell. You have to have some patience. They’ll show up.
Merits of the excuse: I suppose it buys people time. Given the public’s short attention span, that’s a good thing for the admin. (It’s also a fair excuse for some of the current disorder in Iraq. It really is too soon to tell. What really matters is how Iraq looks in 5 years.)
Problems with the excuse: They have enough high-ranking people in custody that something should have come out by now. The chances of something unambiguous emerging at this point seem fairly slim. Not impossible, but getting slimmer every day.
Is it rude to point out that we had firm assurances that they knew where the stuff was, but couldn’t tell Blix because he would botch it?