WASHINGTON -- The CIA is snooping around itself and other spy agencies to see if prewar reports of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda were exaggerated. The suspense is killing me. The delicious part is that the review was suggested by Donald Rumsfeld, a main culprit in twisting the intelligence to justify a strike on Baghdad. It's like O.J. vowing to find the real killer. When the CIA reports weren't incriminating enough about Saddam Hussein last autumn, Rummy started his own little CIA within the Pentagon to ferret out information to back up the hawks' imperial schemes. It will be interesting to see how a man who never admits he's wrong wriggles out of admitting he's wrong, after his investigation fingers him for hyping.
When Colin Powell went to the UN in February to make the case for attacking Iraq, he raised the specter of 25,000 liters of anthrax, tons of chemical weapons and a dictator on the brink of a nuclear bomb.
Flash forward to May. Stymied U.S. arms inspectors are getting ready to leave Iraq, having uncovered moldy vacuum cleaners, pesticides and playground equipment, but nary a WMD. One of the weapons hunters compared his work to a Scooby-Doo mystery - stuff seems pretty scary at first, but then turns out to be explainable. Even before the war, some CIA analysts and British spymasters were complaining of puffed-up intelligence. Now Congress wants to know if it was flawed as well. As Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, put it: "This could conceivably be the greatest intelligence hoax of all time." Her innocence is touching. The Iraq WMD's and ties to Al Qaeda were merely MacGuffins, as Alfred Hitchcock called devices that drove the plot but were otherwise inconsequential.
The plot was always to remake the Middle East, while remaking a George W. Bush into a Ronald Reagan. And the Bushies were not above playing on American fears and desire for 9/11 payback.
Far from being chagrined about the little problem of having no casus belli, and no plan for smoothly delivering Pax Americana to Iraq and Afghanistan, the hawks are hawking the next regime change. If Iraq was not harboring Al Qaeda and going nuclear, then certainly Iran is.
"Of course, they have senior Al Qaeda in Iran, that's a fact," Rummy said at the Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. "Iran is one of the countries that is, in our view, assessed as developing a nuclear capability, and that's unfortunate."
Bushies were also hinting that Iran may have been involved in the attack on a Western compound in Saudi Arabia - before our intelligence sources are sure. And the United States cannot let Iran foment desire in Iraq for a Shiite fundamentalist government.
Citing newspaper reports that said one of the organizers of the Saudi attacks was hiding in Iran, Bill Kristol beat the drum on Fox News: "Indeed, bin Laden's son is probably in Iran. And that looks like the place where they are reconstituting Al Qaeda. Plus, Iran has been a larger sponsor of terror, including perhaps the terror, indirectly at least, that hit Jerusalem today. Are you willing to get serious about Iran?" (Mr. Kristol is obviously ready to watch another war from his living room.)
The administration is panicky about Iran's nuclear program, which the mullahs threw into overdrive after America attacked Iraq. Some neo-cons would like Israel to take out Iran's nuclear reactor, as it did Iraq's in '81; but Israel wants America to do it. Some are pushing shah nostalgia, suggesting that Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last shah of Iran, could be the next Chalabi.
The Taliban and Al Qaeda are resurgent; Afghanistan and Iraq are a mess; the vice police are back arresting women in Afghanistan and looters are tearing up archeological sites in Iraq; Saddam and Osama are still wanted, dead or alive. Yet the MacGuffin has moved on.
It is paradoxical that the hawks were passionate about breeding idealism by bringing democracy to the Middle East, but are unconcerned about breeding cynicism by refusing to admit mistakes or overreaching.
By the time the CIA delivers its report, it will be time to investigate how our intelligence was hyped in the prelude to the strike on Iran.
Copyright © 2003 the International Herald Tribune