Monday, January 26, 2004


David A. Kay, who just quit as leader of the hunt for Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, comes off in The New York Times today as candid and trustworthy. Some of his comments, though, produce a nagging doubt.

U.S. intelligence analysts felt no White House pressure before the war to prove Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, he says, and that’s swell. But “the analysts included caveats on their reports [that] ‘tended to drop off as the reports would go up the food chain,’ ” the Times quotes him as saying. And even when information was shown to be false -- specifically the Nigerian uranium claim -- it was used to buttress the case for invasion.

Kay’s comments, then, are less than reassuring, but they are fascinating.

Particularly notable is that Kay says President Clinton’s 1998 bombing of Iraq “destroyed much of the remaining infrastructure in chemical weapons programs.”

Since it came on the eve of his impeachment, great cynicism accompanied the bombing. The campaign seemed like a desperate attempt to distract from Clinton’s humiliation, and it was appalling that people had to die for his vanity. To hear there was actually sound reasoning behind the attack, and that it had meaningful results, puts the strike in new light -- and turns up the heat on the spotlight focused on the Iraq war. Clinton’s act, which had significant international support, has apparently been borne out as relying on good data; Bush, in contrast, has had to deny that his essentially unilateral war was about weapons of mass destruction.

The White House is moving toward saying it had bad data. In fact, that’s a con.

In explaining his attack, Clinton cited Iraqi actions against U.N. inspections and said he acted because the inspectors said “that even if they could stay in Iraq, their work would be a sham”; Bush’s false deadline, again in contrast, forced U.N. inspectors out of Iraq, despite progress being made.

Bush ended the flow of new data proving there were no weapons of mass destruction, even though U.S. intelligence had relied hugely on the inspectors’ data in the 1990s.

It’s difficult to accept all of Kay’s comments at face value. But it’s even more difficult to accept them at all without making the actions of President Bush and his administration look all the more irresponsible.

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