Two of today’s huge news stories form an ironic contrast. In England, the Chairman of the British Broadcasting Company resigned after Lord Hutton blasted the BBC for falsely claiming that the Blair administration had “sexed up” the intelligence dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The BBC’s Director General issued an apology for the network’s false coverage of the issue: “The BBC does accept that certain key allegations reported by Andrew Gilligan on the Today program on May 29 last year were wrong and we apologize for them.”
Meanwhile, in the U.S., David Kay testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he and virtually everyone else (including, I guess, Saddam himself) had been wrong about Iraq’s WMD stockpiles. What Kay had to say was not at all damning of the administration. He pointed out that Iraq was in “clear violation” of U.N resolution 1441. And he noted extensive efforts by the Iraqis to produce banned weapons, right up to the time of the invasion:
But none of that matters. The Democrats are beside themselves with glee. History will record, I expect, that “Bush lied!” And it seems that we are about to embark on what the British have just finished: an inquiry into whether the administration falsified the case for war.
We have discovered hundreds of cases, based on both documents, physical evidence and the testimony of Iraqis, of activities that were prohibited under the initial U.N. Resolution 687 and that should have been reported under 1441, with Iraqi testimony that not only did they not tell the U.N. about this, they were instructed not to do it and they hid material.
In a non-political world, the absence of WMDs in Iraq would not be problematic. As Kay pointed out in his testimony today, intelligence about such weapons has often been wrong, going back to the time of the Cuban missile crisis. Usually the error has been underestimating the likelihood that an outlaw regime has such weapons: Cuba, Iraq before the first Gulf War, Iran, Libya, North Korea. The fact that reliable intelligence is hard to obtain is an argument for upgrading our intelligence services, to be sure, but the reality is that closed societies are hard to penetrate. There will always be uncertainty. Given the destructive power of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, that uncertainty leads inexorably to the conclusion that rogue regimes can no longer be tolerated. In a more sensible world, the fact that our pre-war intelligence was apparently wrong would not be a problem for the administration. On the contrary, it would underscore the danger of failing to take action against terrorists and their supporters on the basis of reassuring intelligence.
But we do not live in a sensible world, and the failure to find WMDs will be, I am afraid, a body blow to the Bush administration. And here in America, there will not be a Lord Hutton to issue quasi-judicial findings. The battle will be fought on the campaign trail, and reported on by television networks and newspapers, virtually all of whom want President Bush to be defeated. We are in for a very tough fight.