Memo To: Democratic presidential contenders
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Diplomacy Failed?
When Congress last fall gave President Bush authority to use military force to disarm Iraq, it did so on the President’s assurance that he would only do so as a last resort, when diplomacy failed. So just before the bombs began falling on March 19, the President signed letters to the House and Senate assuring the Congress that diplomacy had failed. No matter the progress the U.N. inspectors were insisting they were making in stripping Iraq clean of WMD, the administration insisted it was not getting the cooperation from the Iraqis needed to discover the hidden weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein could use to terrorize the region or even the U.S. homeland. We are now coming closer to a time when the administration begins to sense that maybe Hans Blix and Mohammed Baradei and Scott Ritter were right, and that Iraq almost certainly did not have secret caches of biological or chemical weapons and that in another few months that could be so certified. Now that the war is over, especially those of you candidates who hold seats in the House and Senate, perhaps you can resurrect those administration assurances that “diplomacy failed.” That’s what the Loyal Opposition is expected to do in our two-party constitutional democracy.
In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, Doyle McManus and Bob Drogin wrote a lengthy report headlined: “U.S. to Step Up Its Search for Banned Arms: More than 1,000 experts will be sent to look for evidence of the still unproven claim that Iraq has hidden weapons of mass destruction.” The Pentagon is assembling a “survey group” of 1000 experts, the story said, to search for the WMD and “it may take as long as a year to complete the search.”
The most interesting quote came from David Albright, the universally respected scientist who headed the U.N. inspection team on nuclear weapons in the UNSCOM phase. Albright has been on almost every talk show at least a dozen times in recent months, commenting on these issues, always supporting the administration’s justification for the use of force to disarm. He told the LATimes he concluded long ago that the administration was overstating the likelihood that Iraq had rebuilt its nuclear weapons program and now is increasingly skeptical of claims that Iraq had a huge arsenal of chemical and biological weapons: "If there are no weapons of mass destruction, I'll be mad as hell," Albright said. "I certainly accepted the administration claims on chemical and biological weapons. I figured they were telling the truth. If there is no [weapons of mass destruction program], I will feel taken, because they asserted these things with such assurance."
In Wednesday’s Washington Post, staff writer Barton Gellman adds to the concern growing in Washington that maybe this will be a wild goose chase: "'Bush launched and justified the war with a flat declaration of knowledge ‘that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.’ Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who took the lead public role in defending that proposition, said, among other particulars, that ‘our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent.’ With little to show after 30 days, the Bush administration is losing confidence in its prewar belief that it had strong clues pointing to the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction concealed in Iraq, according to planners and participants in the hunt. After testing some -- though by no means all -- of their best leads, analysts here and in Washington are increasingly doubtful that they will find what they are looking for in the places described on a five-tiered target list drawn up before fighting began.”
The President took a big gamble, after all, not that the United States could win a unilateral, pre-emptive war with Iraq. That was never in question. The gamble was that those intelligence sources who were tipping off the CIA about secret hiding place were right, and the UN inspectors wrong. Whoops!