Finally, some honesty. But mounting problems for the White House.
The CIA’s chief weapons inspector, David Kay, has driven the final nail into the coffin where rests the Bush administration’s policy of preemptive war. It turns out that there was nothing to preempt.
Which calls into question why more than 500 U.S. troops have been killed and at least 6,000 severely wounded–and why untold thousands of Iraqi army conscripts and civilians have also been killed. (Precise figures are impossible to come by since U.S. casualties are flown back to the United States in the dead of night, and proconsul Paul Bremer has instructed Iraqi authorities to stop counting civilian casualties.)
Nothing to preempt also means that the U.S./UK attack on Iraq last March falls into the category of “preventive war” explicitly condemned by international law. Which also means that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s political career is in jeopard, as is the political future of other gullible leaders of the “coalition of the willing”–in Australia, for example, and in even in Denmark.
You will not have heard this on FOX news, but the Australian Senate has already formally censured Prime Minister John Howard for misleading the country on Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) and for suppressing a key report from Australian intelligence warning that still more widespread terrorism could be expected to follow any attack on Iraq.
The fact that Kay came up empty-handed also means that the transparently disingenuous remarks of President George W. Bush and his senior aides in attempting to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq will fall far short of what the White House needs in order to defend the most misguided and destructive U.S. foreign policy decision since Vietnam.
Announcing last week that he was leaving his job as searcher-in-chief for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, Kay dared not say “Mission Accomplished.” Rather, he said he believed that “probably 85 percent of the significant things” have now been found–but no WMD. He dutifully urged that the other 15 percent be pursued under his successor, Charles Duelfer, but Duelfer is openly skeptical that he will have any better luck.
Deulfer told the press on Jan. 9 “the prospect of finding chemical weapons, biological weapons is close to nil at this point.” He noted that the inspectors have debriefed many knowledgeable Iraqi scientists, who “have every incentive to show them where the WMD are, and they have come up with nothing.”
Nevertheless, senior administration officials are still putting up a hopeful front. One told the press on Saturday that until “all” the Iraqis involved in WMD programs are interviewed, the “jury is still out” on the accuracy of U.S. intelligence. Another said yesterday that it would be premature to make any definitive judgment until “millions and millions of pages” of documents have been translated from the Arabic.
To his credit, Kay is having none of that. “Why could we all be so wrong?” he asks; and his lament is all too reminiscent of Robert McNamara’s “We were wrong, terribly wrong” on Vietnam. Kay initially had been a strong supporter of the attack on Iraq and, when appointed chief inspector, he exuded confidence that he would find the weapons.
Most of the answer is to be found in a novel, faith-based approach to intelligence analysis–an approach that applies the theorem propounded by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Secretary of State Colin Powell rang a change on that theme last week when he provided this explanation: “What we demanded of Iraq was that they prove the negative of our hypothesis.”
Vice President Dick Cheney and the true believers working in the sizable intelligence apparat in his office have kept faith with the Rumsfeld theorem–Kay’s and Duelfer’s apostate comments notwithstanding. In an interview with National Public Radio last week, Cheney insisted that inspectors in Iraq may still find WMD. This expression of faith was accompanied by a litany of other assertions discredited by Kay and others; for example, that trailers found in Iraq posed “conclusive evidence” that Saddam Hussein “did in fact have programs for WMD.”
Kay made short shrift of that lingering canard when he alluded to a new intelligence community consensus that the trailers were actually designed to produce hydrogen for weather balloons, or perhaps rocket fuel.
For good measure, Cheney threw in the old saw about a link between one of the 9/11 hijackers and Iraq, and cited the compendium of unconfirmed reports on such links that was prepared by Rumsfeld disciple Douglas Feith, sent to the Senate, and then leaked immediately to the right-wing Weekly Standard. Powell, however, recently admitted there is no concrete evidence of such ties, despite his conjuring up a “sinister nexus” in his UN speech on Feb. 5, 2003. And, in a highly unusual move, the Defense Department disavowed Feith’s litany when it hit the press.
On WMD Cheney insisted, “It’s going to take some additional considerable period of time in order to look in all the cubbyholes (sic) and ammo dumps… where you’d expect to find something like that.” This is not the first hint that Cheney has dropped that he would like to string out the quest for WMD until after the November election, while asking the American people in the interim to keep faith.
Other senior officials appear to be hedging their faith in the gullibility of American voters. They are urging the president to say, “The CIA made me do it.”
Quizzed on WMD by reporters last week, Powell explained that his UN speech was based on “what our intelligence community believed was credible.” (This is a far cry from the “solid sources” he earlier said were the underpinning of that speech.) Powell complained to the reporters, “If they (the Iraqis) didn’t have any (WMD), then why wasn’t that known beforehand?” Why indeed?
Whom to Blame?
Were not a campaign for the presidency in full swing, FOX and other U.S. media that serve as dummies for administration ventriloquists might succeed in cutting off the legs of this major story. But, clearly, that will not be possible. It appears likely that Karl Rove and the president’s other political advisers are now telling Bush that Cheney’s tough-it-out attitude has run its course.
Do we have a volunteer to take the fall? Yes–CIA Director Tenet, who for months has been telling intimates that he intends to leave his post soon anyway. President Bush’s gratuitous accolades for the CIA yesterday, however, suggest that he has not yet been persuaded to jettison him. So it appears possible that the CIA director (widely referred to in Washington as “Teflon Tenet”) may survive to serve another day.
Why? Because he is useful. He has done what he has been told to do–even when this meant scandalizing his analysts by acquiescing in Secretary Powell’s request that Tenet sit directly behind him at the UN in an obvious attempt to give CIA’s imprimatur to “intelligence” his analysts knew to be highly dubious. Besides, Tenet knows far too much about what Bush had been told before 9/11.
Tenet might even agree to stay on and cooperate in a campaign to blame the administration’s misguided decisions on Iraq on the intelligence community. This even though he knows better than anyone that those decisions predated by at least several months the National Intelligence Estimate conjured up quickly in the fall of 2002. The draft of that estimate was not to inform policy decisions; rather, it was used to persuade Congress to cede to the president its constitutional power to declare war.
That the malleable Tenet will comply with just about anything was clear in his acquiescence in Rumsfeld’s cynical request early last year to keep track of how good the intelligence would prove to be regarding WMD–chutzpah of the highest order, since it was the “mini-CIA” Rumsfeld created in the Pentagon that fed Bush the lion’s share of adulterated “intelligence” on those putative weapons.
So most signs point to Tenet being a willing scapegoat, if that is what the White House decides. Kay has already said that fundamental errors in pre-war intelligence assessments were so serious that the intelligence community should overhaul its collection and analysis efforts. In response, an intelligence official said lamely, “it is premature to say that the intelligence community’s judgments were completely wrong or largely wrong–there are still a lot of answers we need.”
RAY McGOVERN, a 27-year career analyst with the CIA, is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and co-director of the Servant Leadership School, an outreach ministry in the inner city of Washington, DC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared on tompaine.com.