- Is there anything at all left of the Bush
administration's case for going to war in Iraq or, for
that matter, the way it has been fought?
answer seems increasingly doubtful given what appears to
be an accelerating cascade of news, leaks and admissions
by senior administration officials over the past several
weeks. Consider what has been disclosed in just the last
On Monday, Pentagon chief Donald
Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations in New
York that he had never seen any "strong, hard evidence
that links" ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein with
the al-Qaeda terrorist network, which was one of the
administration's two major justifications for the war.
One day later, the New York Times confirmed
reports by Knight Ridder newspapers about the existence
of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) study on the
Iraq-based Jordanian "arch-jihadi", Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, which had found no concrete evidence to
support the administration's prewar insistence that
Saddam's government had given him safe haven or that he
coordinates his actions in any way with al-Qaeda.
On Wednesday, Charles Duelfer, the chief US
weapons inspector in Iraq and head of the CIA's Iraq
Survey Group, pounded the final nail in the coffin of
the second most commonly cited justification for the
March 2003 invasion. His final report concluded not only
that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) at
the time of the invasion, but that he made no effort to
reconstitute them after United Nations weapons
inspectors left the country in 1998.
report, which was based an 18-month search for Iraq's
weapons and covered more than 1,200 suspect sites in
Iraq, a review of more than 41 million documents,
interviews with Saddam, his top staff and many Iraqi
weapons-program scientists and engineers, concluded that
while Saddam was hoping to rebuild a WMD program -
particularly one of nuclear weapons - his ability to do
so had actually deteriorated over the previous five
years, in stark contrast to the administration's
warnings and Bush's current campaign rhetoric that
Saddam posed "a gathering threat" to the United States
and its allies.
As Illinois Democratic Senator
Dick Durbin put it, the latest findings mean that the
Bush administration had "created a worst-case scenario
on virtually no evidence".
If that were not
enough to throw the administration on the defensive,
consider what else has come out over the past week or
so, as well as the sources of the information.
On Monday, the former US viceroy in Baghdad,
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) chief Paul Bremer,
was quoted as telling an insurance group the
administration "never had enough troops on the ground"
in Iraq, whether during the invasion, to prevent
looting, or over the months that followed.
has been precisely the critique of quite a number of
retired military officers, many Democrats - most
especially, of course, presidential candidate Senator
John Kerry - and a number of prominent Republican
senators, who themselves have become increasingly vocal
about the administration's performance in Iraq.
And while White House officials tried hard to
convince reporters that Bremer had never requested more
troops, two "senior officials" contacted by the New York
Times on Tuesday admitted that the CPA chief, who has
been prominently mentioned as a possible secretary of
state in a second Bush term, had indeed pressed for more
forces, even before he went to Baghdad in June 2003.
The Bremer story broke just one day after the
Times ran an unusually long investigative report on how
another specific and highly questionable pre-war
administration allegation - that 60,000 aluminum tubes
Baghdad tried to buy in early 2001 was firm evidence
Saddam Hussein was trying to build a nuclear weapon.
Based primarily on interviews with officials
throughout the US intelligence community, the report
found that nuclear-engineering experts at the Energy
Department had shot down the notion - which originated
with a junior CIA analyst who, according to the Times,
"got his facts wrong, even about the size of the tubes"
- within 24 hours of its being raised in 2001, and did
so in four detailed reports that followed.
from the now-discredited report that Iraq tried to buy
uranium "yellowcake" from Niger, as well as the
testimony of a self-proclaimed Iraqi nuclear scientist
handled by the exiled Iraqi National Congress, the tubes
were the only evidence for any nuclear program at all,
according to the Times report.
within the intelligence agencies persisted, the
administration, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney
and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, raised
the specter of a "mushroom cloud" as the only proof, and
worked to keep both the public and the Congress in the
dark about the dissenting views in the Energy and State
These latest revelations come
against a background as well of what has become an
escalating battle between the White House and CIA career
officers, who apparently are seriously concerned about
the agency being blamed for mistaken estimates in the
lead-up to the war, especially in the super-heated
environment of a presidential campaign and amid
considerable politicking over a pending reorganization
of the entire US intelligence community.
while Bush and Cheney last month were fending off
charges by Kerry and the Democrats that the situation in
Iraq was increasingly chaotic as a result of
administration incompetence, CIA officials leaked
details of a classified National Intelligence Estimate
delivered to the White House in August that concluded
the best-case scenario in Iraq over the next 16 months
was more of the instability and violence that have
prevailed since April.
As likely, according to
the leaked assessment, was that Iraq could dissolve into
A second document drafted two months
before the invasion by the National Intelligence
Council, which is chaired by the CIA, predicted a number
of the challenges - including a strong anti-American
insurgency and a surge in anti-American sentiment
throughout the Muslim world - Washington would face as a
result of war.
The two leaks provoked an
outraged response titled "The CIA's insurgency" by
editorial writers at the the Wall Street Journal, which
was one of the leading voices for war, as well as from
other neo-conservative voices.
James Pavitt, a
career CIA officer who retired as head of the agency's
clandestine service in July, told the Times he had never
in his 31-year career seen such "viciousness and
vindictiveness" in the fight between the CIA and its
political masters, but could not resist a kicker of his
"There was nothing in the intelligence
[produced by the CIA] that was a casus belli"
that would justify war with Iraq, he said, echoing