When George W. Bush speaks, the listener is often left guessing whether the President of the United States intends to deceive or is merely ignorant of basic facts. Either is always possible, since Mr. Bush is as capable of deception as any politician, and more indolent than many whenever “hard work” is required.
That unflattering question arose again this week when Mr. Bush went out to talk about the final report of the Iraq Survey Group. The chances that he actually read the dense, thousand-plus pages delivered to his desk by Charles Duelfer, the President’s hand-picked chief weapons inspector, were of course minimal. In any case, the likelihood that he could bring himself to describe the report’s findings honestly was equally small, because they decimate his justifications for war.
Although he acknowledged that the Duelfer report “confirms the earlier conclusion that Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there,” the President went on to declare that the report also “raises important new information about Saddam Hussein’s defiance of the world and his intent and capability to develop weapons. He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction. And he could have passed that knowledge on to our terrorist enemies. Saddam Hussein was a unique threat, a sworn enemy of our country, a state sponsor of terror. And America and the world are safer for our actions.”
The least that can be expected of a hard-working chief executive, perhaps, is to read the “key findings” of a report on such important matters, especially since those findings are summed up in fewer than 20 pages. If we assume that Mr. Bush read those key findings—or that someone told him about them—then he must also know the following:
• “Iraq’s ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program,” which served as the most important rationale for war, had “progressive decayed” since 1991—and Mr. Duelfer “found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program.” Here, too, the report confirms that “aggressive” U.N. inspections had neutralized the Iraqi nuclear program. (The report also suggests that Saddam was chiefly concerned about the “Iranian threat” if and when Teheran got the bomb.)
• “Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991″—and Mr. Duelfer also saw no “credible indications” that the regime had “resumed production of chemical munitions” since then, or even sought to acquire “precursor chemicals in bulk” to make them. Once more, the report emphasizes Saddam’s concern with deterring Iran—and mentions no evidence that he would have given chemical weapons to terrorists.
• The Duelfer team discovered “no direct evidence that Iraq, after 1996, had plans for a new [biological weapons] program or was conducting BW-specific work for military purposes.” Although Iraq initially tried to preserve those facilities, that effort ended when the regime razed its Al Hakam weapons plant. For seven years prior to the invasion, Iraq had conducted no “illicit research into [biological warfare] agents.” As for those “mobile labs” featured in Colin Powell’s scary presentation to the U.N. Security Council, they were “almost certainly designed and built exclusively for the generation of hydrogen.”
• Iraq possessed “plans or designs for three long-range ballistic missiles,” but that effort, too, had been stymied by the United Nations. In December 2002, the Iraqi regime revealed its new missile systems to the U.N. inspectors led by Hans Blix, who were busy dismantling those rockets a few months later when the invasion began.
• “Iran was the preeminent motivator” of Iraq’s desire to re-create its destroyed W.M.D. arsenal, as Mr. Duelfer explains in his comments on “regime strategic intent.” Saddam hoped to revive his chemical and nuclear weapons programs someday—mainly because he feared his mortal enemies in Iran rather than the United States or even Israel. Nowhere do Mr. Duelfer’s “key findings” mention Al Qaeda or other terrorists (to whom Baghdad presumably could have passed chemical or biological weapons when the dictator still had them, a decade ago, but did not).
In short, the Duelfer report proves that Iraq was in no sense a “gathering threat” to us—as the President continues to insist in his stump speeches. The Iraqi regime’s diminished power presented a problem not nearly as grave as those posed by North Korea, Iran and Al Qaeda.
After last year’s invasion, those who had publicly doubted the firm assurances of the President and his cabinet about Saddam’s possession or imminent acquisition of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons were told to wait patiently for inspections to be completed. The White House couldn’t wait another eight weeks for the U.N. inspections to conclude, but asked the world to withhold judgment for 18 months on its preemptive attack.
Now the truth is here, belated yet still devastating—which is why the President still speaks as if he doesn’t know it.