Had the CIA's recent conclusion been reached two years ago, either within the administration or by Congress, the case for going to war would have been greatly weakened. In fact, as NBC News reported last March (and as almost nobody has picked up since), the Bush administration had several opportunities to bomb Zarqawi's camp well before the war. On at least two occasions the U.S. military drew up plans for an attack. But the White House rejected the proposals—mainly because shutting down Zarqawi's operation would have removed a key rationale for invading Iraq. This was a jaw-dropping bit of cynicism: Bush sold, and continues to sell, the war in Iraq as a major campaign in the global war on terrorism, yet he repeatedly passed up the chance to neutralize or kill one of the most dangerous terrorists (Zarqawi has spent much of his time lately chopping off the heads of foreign contractors) for fear of weakening the case for war.
Today comes the long-awaited 900-plus-page report by Charles Duelfer, the CIA's chief weapons inspector, which concludes pretty much what his predecessor, David Kay, figured out—that on the eve of the war Saddam Hussein had neither weapons of mass destruction nor a viable program for producing such weapons; that his capabilities were deteriorating; that his military might was diminishing, not gathering; that, in short, he posed no real threat. Duelfer did find that Saddam intended to reconstitute his programs once sanctions were dropped. Another way of stating this point: The sanctions were working; they were keeping Saddam Hussein in his box.
Finally, on the matter of the Bush administration's efforts to revive Iraq's economy, a report this week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies—a conservative Washington-based think tank—finds that for every dollar spent on aid to Iraq, only 27 cents filters down to projects benefiting Iraqis. The rest pays for administrative and management costs. (This is what happens when 85 percent of contracts are awarded to big U.S. or British firms, while just 2 percent go to Iraqi companies.) Add to this the fact that Bush has spent only a small fraction of the $18.5 billion that Congress appropriated for reconstruction, and the verdict can only be that we're doing just slightly more than squat. The evidence is seen in the continued electrical blackouts and the grave shortfall of basic services. The result is that Iraqis who might otherwise have been compliant citizens join the insurgency—or at least let the insurgents pass without turning them in. (For an excellent analysis on the insurgency's composition, click here.)
So, President Bush may well need to deliver a major policy address on all this sometime soon. Today, though, he just told the cheering throngs that he's strong and resolute while his opponent's a flip-flopper.