The official rationales for the war in Iraq now lie in tatters. Earlier in the week, the CIA and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conceded that Saddam Hussein had no links to al-Qaida. Yesterday, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney accepted the findings of Charles Duelfer, their chief weapons inspector, that Saddam didn't have WMD after all.
The Duelfer report, President Bush said to reporters on the South Lawn, "confirms the earlier conclusion of David Kay that Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there." Yet, he quickly added, going to war was still the right—the necessary—course of action.
Cheney, speaking in Miami, went further, claiming that the Duelfer report bolstered the case for war. "Delay, defer, wait," he said, "wasn't an option."
Is there any logic to this position? Is it legitimate to acknowledge that the reasons for war were mistaken, but the war itself was still justified? Let's take a close look at their words.
Bush's main point was this:
Based on all the information we have today, I believe we were right to take action and America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison. He retained the knowledge, the means, and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction. And he could have passed that knowledge on to our terrorist enemies.
"He retained the knowledge …"
Alas, knowledge of how to build an A-bomb slipped out as far back as 1946 when the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission published the Smyth Report. Hundreds, maybe thousands of physicists throughout the world know how to put together a "nuclear device."
"… the means …"
Actually, the Duelfer report states that Saddam Hussein did not have the means. It concludes that, after the 1991 war, "Iraq's ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapon program progressively decayed." Iraq destroyed its chemical-weapons stockpile in '91, and "there is no credible indication that Baghdad resumed production." The biological-weapons program was "put on the shelf" after the last facility was destroyed by U.N. inspectors in 1996.
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