What do you have to believe in order to keep alive your conviction that the Bush administration conspired to launch a lie-based war? As with (I admit) the pro-war case, the ground of argument has a tendency to shift. I saw two examples in Washington last week. An exceptionally moth-eaten and shabby picket line outside Ahmad Chalabi’s event on Wednesday featured a man with a placard alleging that Bush had prearranged the 9/11 attacks. I know a number of left and right anti-warriors who have flirted with this possibility but very few who truly believe it. (Even Gore Vidal, who did at one point insinuate the idea, has recently withdrawn it, if only on the grounds of the administration’s incompetence.)
But then there is the really superb pedantry and literal-mindedness on which the remainder of the case depends. This achieved something close to an apotheosis on the front page of the Washington Post on Nov. 12, where Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus brought complete gravity to bear. Is it true, as the president claimed in his Veterans Day speech, that Congress saw the same intelligence sources before the war, and is it true that independent commissions have concluded that there was no willful misrepresentation? Top form was reached on the inside page:
But in trying to set the record straight, [Bush] asserted: “When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support.” The October 2002 joint resolution authorized the use of force in Iraq, but it did not directly mention the removal of Hussein from power.
A prize, then, for investigative courage, to Milbank and Pincus. They have identified the same problem, though this time upside down, as that which arose from the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, during the Clinton-Gore administration, in 1998. That legislation—which passed the Senate without a dissenting vote—did expressly call for the removal of Saddam Hussein but did not actually mention the use of direct U.S. military force.
Let us suppose, then, that we can find a senator who voted for the 1998 act to remove Saddam Hussein yet did not anticipate that it might entail the use of force, and who later voted for the 2002 resolution and did not appreciate that the authorization of force would entail the removal of Saddam Hussein! Would this senator kindly stand up and take a bow? He or she embodies all the moral and intellectual force of the anti-war movement. And don’t be bashful, ladies and gentlemen of the “shocked, shocked”faction, we already know who you are.
It was, of course, the sinuous and dastardly forces of Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress who persuaded the entire Senate to take leave of its senses in 1998. I know at least one of its two or three staffers, who actually admits to having engaged in the plan. By the same alchemy and hypnotism, the INC was able to manipulate the combined intelligence services of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, as well as the CIA, the DIA, and the NSA, who between them employ perhaps 1.4 million people, and who in the American case dispose of an intelligence budget of $44 billion, with only a handful of Iraqi defectors and an operating budget of $320,000 per month. That’s what you have to believe.
A few little strokes of Occam’s razor are enough to dispose of this whole accumulation of fantasy. Suppose that every single Iraqi defector or informant, funneled out of a closed and terrified society by the INC, had been a dedicated and conscious fabricator. How could they persuade a vast organization, equipped with satellite surveillance that can almost read a license plate from orbit, of a plain untruth? (Leave to one side the useful intelligence that was provided by the INC and that has been acknowledged.) Well, what was the likelihood that ambiguous moves made by Saddam’s agents were also innocuous moves? After decades in which the Baathists had been caught cheating and concealing, what room was there for the presumption of innocence? Hans Blix, the see-no-evil expert who had managed to certify Iraq and North Korea as kosher in his time, has said in print that he fully expected a coalition intervention to uncover hidden weaponry.
And this, of course, it actually has done. We did not know and could not know, until after the invasion, of Saddam’s plan to buy long-range missiles off the shelf from Pyongyang, or of the centrifuge components buried on the property of his chief scientist, Dr. Mahdi Obeidi. The Duelfer report disclosed large latent facilities that were only waiting for the collapse of sanctions to resume activity. Ah, but that’s not what you said you were looking for. … Could pedantry be pushed any further?
We can now certify Iraq as disarmed, even if the materials once declared by the Saddam regime and never accounted for have still not been found. Why does this certified disarmament upset people so much? Would they rather have given Saddam the benefit of the doubt? Much more infuriating about the current anti-Chalabi hysteria is this: He turns up in Washington with a large delegation of Iraqi democrats, including a female Shiite ex-Communist, several Sunni dignitaries from the “hot” provinces, and the legendary Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi, who led a genuine insurgency among the Marsh Arabs for 18 years. And the American left mounts a gargoyle picket line outside and asks silly and insulting questions inside, about a question that has already been decided. What a travesty this is. Not only do the liberal Democrats apparently want their own congressional votes from 1998 and 2002 back. It sometimes seems that they are actually nostalgic for the same period, when Saddam Hussein was running Iraq, and there were no coalition soldiers to challenge his rule, and when therefore by definition there was peace, and thus things were more or less OK. Their current claim to have been fooled or deceived makes them out, on their own account, to be highly dumb and gullible. But as dumb and gullible as that?