The White House had a public relations blitz going on Sunday, and I was so focused on the Condoleezza Rice angle that I missed Secretary of State Colin Powell’s comments. He appeared on ABC-TV’s “This Week,” also issuing the line of the day in defense of U.S. intelligence that seemed to justify going to war with Iraq.
Powell said, referring to Iraq throwing out U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998, that “From 1998 until we went in earlier this year, there was a period where we didn’t have benefit of U.N. inspectors actually on the ground, and our intelligence community had to do the best they could. And I think they did a pretty good job.”
This is incredible.
There were, in fact, United Nations inspectors in Iraq from late November 2002 to mid-March 2003 looking for -- and failing to find -- Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, but Powell acts as though they were not there. (If you read his comment about “until we went in” to refer to inspectors, his comments make no sense, so I have to assume he’s talking about military force.)
Somehow the inspectors in Iraq until 1998 were worthy providers of intelligence, but the inspectors in Iraq for those recent three-plus months were not.
It’s worth pointing out that on Feb. 25, inspections chief Hans Blix told the United Nations that Saddam Hussein had made “positive” gestures, The Washington Post noted, “including providing new documents describing its disposal of banned weapons programs in the early 1990s,” consistent with what defector Hussein Kamel had said, and with what scores of Iraqi military officers and scientists have told us since. But “only minutes” later, Bush spoke to brush that apparent progress aside, saying to the United Nations that Hussein had “been successful at gaming the system, and our attitude is it’s now time for him to fully disarm ... now is the time.”
Inspections then: vital. Inspections this time: ignored. Yet they were one of our few sources of new intelligence, and apparently some of the only intelligence upon which we could rely.