Yesterday, I did a post about a column by Dan Froomkin in which he accused President Bush of “campaigning” in connection with his response to claims that he lied about matters of life and death. Froomkin also asserted, without citing any support, that “the charge that [Bush] intentionally misled the public in the run-up to war is built on a growing amount of evidence.” I noted that Froomkin relied on a story by his Washington Post colleagues Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus without acknowledging that those two had conceded that “intelligence agencies overwhelmingly believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction” prior to the time Bush invaded.
Today Froomkin responded as follows:
Mirengoff. . .writes: “If the overwhelming intelligence consensus was that Saddam had WMD, then Bush did not mislead the American people in making that claim. On this crucial point, Froomkin shows himself to be more partisan and less honest than Milbank and Pincus .”
But it was not the existence of Iraqi WMD in general that the public is feeling so misled about. Their existence had, indeed, been suspected for a long time — during which there was no serious talk of invasion.
More likely, it was the threat that Saddam might provide al Qaeda or other terrorist groups with nuclear weapons in particular — hyped by the Bush administration despite the lack of reliable specific intelligence — that launched the public stampede toward war.
Wow, if only the lawyers I litigate against conceded ground so easily. Froomkin has basically admitted that Bush didn’t intentionally mislead the public with respect to the one claim he made that turned out, as best we can tell, not be true — that Saddam had WMD.
Froomkin’s new point — that Bush misled the public by saying that Saddam might provide WMD to al Qaeda — fails at so many levels it’s difficult to know where to begin. First, Froomkin cites no evidence for his view that the public feels misled about this matter. The public knows, and is rightly concerned about, the fact that we didn’t find WMD. There’s no evidence that the public disbelieves that, if had Saddam had possessed WMD, he might have shared them with terrorists or used them himself. Notice too Froomkin’s dodge when he points to the absence of “reliable specific intelligence” that Saddam might share WMD with terrorists. What would constitute specific evidence that Saddam “might” do something? Bush’s point was that, given Saddam’s record (including his use of WMD) we shouldn’t wait to see if he shares or uses such weapons.
Second, as Milbank and Pincus have acknowledged, Bush shared with Congress the National Intelligence Estimate’s view that Saddam Hussein would not use weapons of mass destruction against the United States or turn them over to terrorists unless backed into a corner. So where is Froomkin’s “growing amount of evidence” that Bush engaged in deception?
Third, Bush is absolutely correct that most Democrats were as concerned as he was (and as any sensible person would be) about Saddam’s ties to terrorism and, hence, the danger of Saddam possessing WMD in a post 9/11 environment. Carl Levin stated on Dec. 12, 2001, “The war on terrorism will not be finished as long as [Saddam] is in power.” Jay Rockefeller said in Oct. 2002, “I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat.” Hillary Clinton stated that same month that Saddam “has also given aid and comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.” And John Kerry said, soon after we attacked Afghanistan, that “this doesn’t end with Afghanistan by any imagination. . .It is absolutely vital that we continue for instance [after] Saddam Hussein.” (All quotations via Wes Pruden) Like President Bush, they understood the risk that possession of WMD by Saddam would pose after 9/11. Like President Bush, they believed that Saddam possessed WMD. The first proposition was mainly a matter of common sense. The second was what our intelligence said.
Finally, Froomkin once again is deeply misleading when he writes that Saddam’s possession of WMD “had, indeed, been suspected for a long time — during which there was no serious talk of invasion,” thus suggesting that the possession issue had little bearing on the decision to invade. For one thing, there was serious talk (or what passed for that during the Clinton administration) of attacking Saddam in 1998. Second and more importantly, Froomkin fails to grasp (or willfully ignores) the implications of 9/11. It was one thing for Saddam to possess WMD in the pre-9/11 environment. Once the threat posed by al Qaeda became too apparent to ignore, the threat that Saddam would share WMD with that outfit or like-minded terrorists rose to a higher level. That, of course, is the import of the statements of Senators Levin, Rockefeller, Clinton, and Kerry.
If the Democrats want to argue that Bush’s “lie” was that Saddam might share WMD with the terrorists (not that Saddam possessed WMD) they should come right out and say so. Unfortunately, they are more clever than their friend Froomkin.