July 25, 2003

Bush Must Account for WMD Allegations

Cato's Doug Bandow argues that conservatives should not allow the issue of WMD allegations to fade away:

Which means it is entirely fair to ask the administration, where are the WMD? The answer matters for the simplest practical reasons. Possible intelligence failures need to be corrected. Washington's loss of credibility should be addressed; saying "trust me" will be much harder for this president in the future or a future president.

Stonewalling poses an even greater threat to our principles of government. It matters whether the president lied to the American people. Political fibs are common, not just about with whom presidents have had sex, but also to advance foreign-policy goals. Remember the Tonkin Gulf incident, inaccurate claims of Iraqi troop movements against Saudi Arabia before the first Gulf war, and repetition of false atrocity claims from ethnic Albanian guerrillas during the Kosovo war.

Perhaps the administration manipulated the evidence, choosing information that backed its view, turning assumptions into certainties, and hyping equivocal materials. That, too, would hardly be unusual. But no president should take the US into war under false pretenses. There is no more important decision: The American people deserve to hear official doubts as well as certitudes.

The point is not that the administration is necessarily guilty of misbehavior, but that it should be forced to defend its decision-making process.

Pointing to substitute justifications for the war just won't do. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz notes that the alleged al-Qaeda connection divided the administration internally, and humanitarian concerns did not warrant risking American lives. Only fear over Iraqi possession of WMD unified the administration, won the support of allies, particularly Britain, and served as the centerpiece of the administration's case. If the WMD didn't exist, or were ineffective, Washington's professed case for war collapses.