False reasons for war in Iraq cannot be forgiven
A Senate committee has affirmed that the White House exaggerated reasons for invading Iraq five years ago.
A new Senate report concluding that the Bush administration exaggerated available evidence leading to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq is hardly a revelation. Richard Clarke, the president's counterterrorism chief at the time, told of the White House puffery a year later, followed by the 9/11 Commission finding of "no credible evidence" and last month's affirmation in former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's tell-all book.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its findings last week, accusing President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other top officials of overstating the Iraq threat in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Clarke wrote that Bush had asked him a day after the al-Qaida attacks to look for "any shred" of evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved.
Clarke found no such evidence. Nor was there any substance to the beliefs that Saddam was developing nuclear weapons and had links to al-Qaida. Without such ties, attacking Iraq was a departure from the U.S. war against terrorism and a grave error that continues to cost the nation in lives, treasure and reputation.
The concern that Saddam had stored large amounts of chemical and biological weapons was widely believed, although wrong. However, in September 2002, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the weapons were buried so deeply that "airstrikes alone" could not eliminate them.
Two months latter, the National Intelligence Council reported to Rumsfeld that the underground weapons were "vulnerable to conventional, precision-guided, penetrating munitions because they are not deeply buried." Rumsfeld did not pass the information along to senators.
The Bush administration has acknowledged that its intelligence was flawed. Part of the reason was that Defense Department officials refused to allow "potentially useful and actionable intelligence" to be shared with intelligence agencies, according to the Senate report.
Of course, the fact that the invasion of Iraq was mistaken does not mean that U.S. troops should be withdrawn precipitously, a point on which both presidential candidates agree. Sen. John McCain, who supported the war from the beginning, says the troop surge he proposed is working and says it can result in "victory" by the end of his four-year term.
Sen. Barack Obama, who opposed going to war in Iraq from the start, plans a complete withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2009 but has said that may change because of facts on the ground. A timetable for withdrawal is needed to impress upon Iraqi leaders that they must prepare to take full charge of their country.