Reason #2 to Vote for Kerry: The Iraq Decision

The biggest single decision that Bush has made during his presidency – to launch a US takeover of Iraq in order to protect the US from Iraq’s WMDs – revealed substantially poor judgment. UN inspections could have achieved exactly the same result as the invasion as far as WMDs are concerned, but with dramatically lower costs. In this post I’ll try to summarize the evidence for this argument.

Note that this is a different issue from the manifest incompetence that the Bush administration displays daily in the running of post-Saddam Iraq. The utterly inept management of Iraq since April 2003 is staggering, but if I limit myself to just five reasons to vote for Kerry it is trumped by the dangerously poor judgment that Bush displayed in making the decision to invade in the first place.

Supporters of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq argue that until we invaded, the best intelligence we had indicated that Iraq had WMDs, and that Bush could only base his decision on the information he had at the time. But the premise of this argument is quite wrong.

There is a lot of specific, well-documented evidence to show that the White House knew BEFORE they launched the invasion of Iraq that the case for Iraq’s WMDs was faulty. The data that indicated that Iraq might have WMDs consisted of relatively few pieces of information — and at the time of Bush’s decision to go to war, the White House already knew that each of those pieces of evidence was probably wrong.

Bush presented the best evidence for WMDs in Iraq in his State of the Union in 2003, and Powell described it in detail in his address to the UN in February 2003.

  • Bush and Powell both cited as evidence that Iraq had WMDs the allegation that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Niger. Yet the White House knew that this was untrue back in 2002, due to the CIA investigation led by Wilson. And while the results of Wilson’s investigation were concealed by the White House until after the invasion, it was still publicly known through other sources that the Iraq-Niger story was untrue in March 2003, before Bush launched the invasion. So there can be no doubt that Bush knew that this evidence of Iraq’s WMDs was mythical when he made his decision to invade.
  • Bush and Powell both said that Iraq had tried to obtain aluminum tubes that were specifically for their nuclear program. However, back in 2002 experts from both the Dept. of Energy and Dept of State told the White House (and Powell) that the tubes were actually probably not for a nuclear program. And in February of 2003 the International Atomic Energy Agency reported its assessment that “Based on available evidence, the IAEA team has concluded that Iraq’s efforts to import these aluminum tubes were not likely to have been related to the manufacture of centrifuges.” Again, this reveals that at the time of his decision Bush knew that this did not constitute evidence of WMDs in Iraq.
  • Powell also presented an array of all of the other evidence that the US had that Iraq had WMDs, including some dramatic satellite photos showing supposed WMD activity. However, even before Powell made his speech his own intelligence analysts warned that many of the pieces of evidence in his speech should not be included.

More generally, as most of us have read by now, the Bush administration pressured analysts to come up with intelligence evidence that there were WMDs. Furthermore, the Bush administration systematically revealed only intelligence that supported their claims that Iraq had WMDs, while ignoring or suppressing evidence that Iraq did not have WMDs. Because they had caused these changes in the intelligence-filtering process themselves, the administration knew full well that the intelligence they were relying on was incomplete and unreliable.

As a result, a large group of intelligence veterans from the CIA and other agencies, including Democrats and Republicans alike, wrote this in a letter to the White House: “While there have been occasions in the past when intelligence has been deliberately warped for political purposes, never before has such warping been used in such a systematic way to mislead our elected representatives into voting to authorize launching a war.”

Furthermore, while the evidence for WMDs in Iraq was known by the Bush administration to be weak or bogus, the positive evidence against WMDs in Iraq was steadily growing. The UN weapons inspections regime was working, and making it more clear with each passing week that there were no WMDs in Iraq. From Hans Blix’s testimony to the UN in February of 2003:

“Since we arrived in Iraq, we have conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites. All inspections were performed without notice, and access was almost always provided promptly. In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming.”

“Inspections are effectively helping to bridge the gap in knowledge that arose due to the absence of inspections between December 1998 and November 2002. More than 200 chemical and more than 100 biological samples have been collected at different sites. Three-quarters of these have been screened using our own analytical laboratory capabilities at the Baghdad Centre (BOMVIC). The results to date have been consistent with Iraq’s declarations.”

“In my 27 January update to the Council, I said that it seemed from our experience that Iraq had decided in principle to provide cooperation on process, most importantly prompt access to all sites and assistance to UNMOVIC in the establishment of the necessary infrastructure. This impression remains, and we note that access to sites has so far been without problems.”

These statements indicate pretty clearly that UN inspections were gaining access wherever they needed to, that Iraq was cooperating to a reasonable degree, and that it was becoming increasingly clear that there were no WMDs. And again, let me reiterate the crucial point: Bush knew all of this BEFORE he decided to invade Iraq.

What’s the significance of all of this? Simple: Bush thought that Iraq had WMDs despite the overwhelming preponderance of evidence at his disposal (and which turned out to be exactly right) that indicated that Iraq did not. The fact that Bush could make such a grave and costly decision based on his “instincts” rather than on actual evidence displays a disturbing lack of connectedness to the real world.

If Bush were only using that poor judgment to make bad business or personal decisions (as his lousy record as a businessman suggests he has consistently done), then that would be his own problem. But he’s our president. We can not afford to have a president with a proven record of such catastrophically poor judgment. And that’s another reason why I’m voting for Kerry.