Slow Burn: The Road to the Iraq War

Season 5: Episode 3

Mushroom Clouds

How weapons of mass destruction became the Bush administration’s rallying cry for war.


Episode Notes

To start a war of choice, you need a casus belli—a case for war. Why did the Bush administration settle on weapons of mass destruction as its case for war? And how did it make that case to the American people?

Season 5 of Slow Burn is produced by Noreen Malone, Jayson De Leon, and Sophie Summergrad. Mixing by Merritt Jacob.

Sources for This Episode


Draper, Robert. To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq, Penguin Press, 2020.

Isikoff, Michael and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Crown, 2006.

Rich, Frank. The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth in Bush’s America,

Penguin Press, 2006.  

Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq, Simon & Schuster, 2004. 


Ganguzza, Mark and Kathleen Hughes. “Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the War,” PBS, April 25, 2007.


Althaus, Scott L. and Devon M. Largo. “When Osama Became Saddam: Origins and Consequences of the Change in America’s Public Enemy #1,” PS: Political Science & Politics, October 2004.

Barry, John. “Exclusive: The Defector’s Secrets,” Newsweek, March 2, 2003.

Broad, William J and Judith Miller. “Iraq’s Deadliest Arms: Puzzles Breed Fears,” New York Times, Feb. 26, 1998.

Bumiller, Elisabeth. “Bush Aides Set Strategy to Sell Policy on Iraq,” New York Times, Sept. 7, 2002.

Cleminson, Frank Ronald. “What Happened to Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction?,” Arms Control Today.

Goldberg, Jonah. “Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two,” the National Review, April 23, 2002.

Gordon, Michael R. and Judith Miller. “U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts,” New York Times, Sept. 8, 2002.

Gregg II, Gary L. “George W. Bush: Foreign Affairs,” UVA Miller Center.

Hersh, Seymour M. “The Stovepipe,” the New Yorker, Oct. 19, 2003.

Hoffman, Lisa. “Meet Dr. Germ: She built Iraq’s deadly stockpiles,” Scripps Howard News Service, Dec. 2, 2002.

Iraq,” Gallup.

Iraq: A Chronology of UN Inspections,” Arms Control Today.

IRAQ: Weapons Inspections: 1991-1998,” Council on Foreign Relations, Feb. 3, 2005.

Isikoff, Michael. “The Phantom Link to Iraq,” Newsweek, April 28, 2002.

Kessler, Glenn. “The Iraq War and WMDs: An intelligence failure or White House spin?,” Washington Post, March 22, 2019.

Moore, David W. “Majority of Americans Favor Attacking Iraq to Oust Saddam Hussein,” Gallup, Aug. 23, 2002.

Pincus, Walter. “No Link Between Hijacker, Iraq Found, U.S. Says,” Washington Post, May 1, 2002.

Pincus, Walter. “Records Could Shed Light on Iraq Group,” Washington Post, June 9, 2008.

Rieff, David. “Were Sanctions Right?,” New York Times, July 27, 2003.

Rowley, Storer H. “Embargo Takes High Toll on Iraqis’ Health,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 14, 1994.

Shanker, Thom. “On Tour With Rumsfeld, the Jacket Stays on and the Monkeys Stay Away,” New York Times, June 16, 2002.

Whitaker, Brian. “Is This British-Trained Woman at the Heart of a Germ Warfare Plot?,” Guardian, Sept. 25, 2002.

Wright, Robin. “‘Dr. Germ’: One of the World’s Most Dangerous Women,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 7, 1995.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

Selling the War on the Sunday News Shows

What it was like to produce interviews with guests like Dick Cheney and Bush administration officials.


About the Show

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq without provocation. Most Americans supported the war—as did most politicians and intellectuals, both liberal and conservative. Today, it’s universally considered a disaster.

Hosted by award-winning reporter Noreen Malone, the fifth season of Slow Burn explores the people and ideas that propelled the country into the Iraq war, and the institutions that failed to stop it. How did the Iraq catastrophe happen? And what was it like to watch America make one of its most consequential mistakes?

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  • Noreen Malone is the host of Slow Burn Season 5. Formerly, she was the editorial director of New York magazine and a host of Slate’s The Waves. Her magazine reporting has earned a George Polk Award.