The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Iraq WMD evidence reconsidered

It seems everybody these days is finally accepting that the intelligence on Iraq's WMD program was fundamentally flawed and influenced by politics. It may be that President Bush's recent decision to pull out the 400 WMD-finding team from Iraq that is sparking the debate, but others have been ruminating about this for a while.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced a new report looking at the intelligence gathering process and comes out with some interesting findings, namely that inspections were working, that Iraq was not an immediate threat, that "intelligence failed and was misrepresented," that the "terrorist connection was missing," and much more.

In the meantime, Kenneth M. Pollack, a leading "liberal" pro-war intellectual and former expert on WMDs, just wrote this article for the Atlantic Monthly. Pollack of course wrote one of the most celebrated arguments for a war in 2002, Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, which convinced many people that war was not just the loony hawks' option. Now he writes:

What we have learned about Iraq's WMD programs since the fall of Baghdad leads me to conclude that the case for war with Iraq was considerably weaker than I believed beforehand. Because of the consensus among American and foreign intelligence agencies, outside experts, and former UN weapons inspectors, I had been convinced that Iraq was only years away from having a nuclear weapon—probably only four or five years, as Robert Einhorn had testified. That estimate was clearly off, possibly by quite a bit. My reluctant conviction that war was our only option (although not at the time or in the manner in which the Bush Administration pursued it) was not entirely based on the nuclear threat, but that threat was the most important factor in it.

The war was not all bad. I do not believe that it was a strategic mistake, although the appalling handling of postwar planning was. There is no question that Saddam Hussein was a force for real instability in the Persian Gulf, and that his removal from power was a tremendous improvement. There is also no question that he was pure evil, and that he headed one of the most despicable regimes of the past fifty years. I am grateful that the United States no longer has to contend with the malign influence of Saddam's Iraq in this economically irreplaceable and increasingly fragile part of the world; nor can I begrudge the Iraqi people one day of their freedom. What's more, we should not forget that containment was failing. The shameful performance of the United Nations Security Council members (particularly France and Germany) in 2002-2003 was final proof that containment would not have lasted much longer; Saddam would eventually have reconstituted his WMD programs, although further in the future than we had thought. That said, the case for war—and for war sooner rather than later—was certainly less compelling than it appeared at the time. At the very least we should recognize that the Administration's rush to war was reckless even on the basis of what we thought we knew in March of 2003. It appears even more reckless in light of what we know today.

This week, other liberal hawks -- Pollack again, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Jacob Weisberg and Fareed Zakaria -- are arguing out and doing some navel-gazing on Slate -- so far we have Monday and Tuesday's debates. Christopher Hitchens' entry on Tuesday shows him at his provocative best -- or worst, depending on which side of the fence you're standing on. Kaplan's contribution on the same day is also interesting, if only because he seems to be the only one who has changed his mind about being pro-war.