Nine Arguments for War
A lot has been written on the case for war so far, but the Chicago Tribune's editorial truth squadding is among the most comprehensive. The conclusions are so heavily fortified with facts and context that even if you don't agree with them, you've got to admire their effort.
The Tribune editorial board has identified nine major areas of argumentation advanced by the Bush administration in making the case for war. For each general rationale, the board is producing an expansive editorial to deconstruct the arguments, examining what was said then and exploring what we know now. So far, the first three in the nine-part series have been published.
The first of these ginormous editorials, which ran on Nov. 20, examined administration claims about Iraq's biological and chemical weapons capabilities and assessed how much of a threat Iraq really was in that area. The editorial concluded that although there may not have been evidence of stockpiles, the Iraqi regime was working hard to create and maintain rapid production capabilities. As the editorial notes, who needs stockpiles of weapons when they can be made on the spot?
But, argues the Tribune, "In putting so much emphasis on weapons, the White House advanced its most provocative, least verifiable case for war when others would have sufficed." Hussein, a supporter of Palestinian terrorists and a breaker of U.N. resolutons, was a destabilizing force in the Middle East, according to the Tribune, and he needed to be taken down. "Put short, the bumper-sticker accusation that 'Bush lied -- People died' would be moot today if the president had stuck to known truths."
Editorial number two in the series examined the issue of the U.N. resolutions, Hussein's violations of which formed another key component of the administration's case for war. This part of the case was of utmost importance to our soon-to-be coalition partners, particularly British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who needed to seek some sort of international mandate in order to convince the folks back home of the war's necessity.
The issue here is not whether the administration genuinely cared about preserving the legitimacy of the United Nations; rather, it is whether the statements the adminsitration made about Hussein's violations of U.N. resolutions were truthful, and indeed, it appears those claims were among the most stable foundations of the case for war.
Today's editorial looks at the administration's contentions that Iraq was attempting to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs, which had been dismantled following the Gulf War. The Tribune notes that the adminsitration was relatively frank about the fact that it didn't know exactly how far Iraq's nuclear program had come, although all the statements did assume that Iraqi nukes were somewhere in the pipeline. Cheney at one point asserted that "we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."
The editorial points to lots of intelligence information that had for years warned of Hussein's nuclear ambitions and concludes, "If the White House manipulated or exaggerated that intelligence before the war in order to paint a more-menacing portrait of Saddam Hussein, it's difficult to imagine why. For five years, the official and oft-delivered alarms from the U.S. intelligence community had been menacing enough."
So far, it seems the Tribune is coming down on the side that there was no manipulation of the intelligence itself -- largely, the administration seems to have been sticking to claims, at least on WMD, that were straight from the intel agencies. I am still unconvnced, however, that the presentation of the intelligence was not manipulated insofar as key information that cast doubt on the really scary stuff was conspicuously absent from administration statements.
Yes, as the Tribune points out, the president did explicitly state in 2002 that we didn't know exactly how close Hussein was to possessing a nuclear weapon, but he finished that statement of uncertainty by adding, "and that's the problem." But why omit the major U.S. intelligence studies (see page 2 of the pdf) conducted between 1997 and 2000 that concluded that "Iraq did not appear to have reconstituted its nuclear weapons program."
One expects politicians to leave out information that challenges their positions when they're on the campaign trail or on the Senate floor, arguing for more money to build a bridge or some such. One hopes they would not do such a thing when making the case for something as serious as a war.
Keep an eye out for the Tribune's upcoming editorials on issues like Iraq's alleged ties to Al Qaeda, at chicagotribune.com/iraq. I'll also post links right here to the other editorials in the series as they appear.
The Once and Future Threat, 12/04/2005
Did Iraq Export Terror?, 12/07/2005
'The Virus of Democracy', 12/11/2005
Iraq and Al Qaeda, 12/14/2005
Butchery in Baghdad, 12/18/2005
'Your liberation is near', 12/21/2005
Judging the case for war, 12/28/2005
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