We don't know, says the Bush administration.
And we don't care, says the public.
That seems to sum up the matter of weapons of mass destruction in
Iraq. The Bush crew still hasn't uncovered evidence that its prewar
pronouncements about WMD were on (or close to) the mark. Nor has it
been able to explain why the Pentagon did not move expeditiously
during and after the war to secure suspected WMD sites, particularly
nuclear facilities that were known to hold large quantities of
radioactive material that could be of value to anyone seeking to
build a nuclear or dirty bomb.
The Pentagon did announce it had found several tractor trailers that
it concluded were mobile biological weapons labs. But not a spot of
biological agent had been found on them. Two former UN weapons
inspectors--David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and
International Security, and a scientist who asked not to be
identified--told me that even if these trailers had been thoroughly
scrubbed, there should be trace residues that would indicate what was
done in them. Moreover, these trailers--as threatening as they might
have been--were hardly the bulk of Bush's case against Iraq.
Still, Bush has not had to answer the tough questions regarding WMD.
Such as, where are they? No wonder: last week, The Washington Post
published a front-page story--"No Political Fallout for Bush on
Weapons"--that reported polls showed Americans "unconcerned about
weapons discoveries." If the public doesn't care, it's not likely
Republicans will be rushing to hold congressional hearings to grill
Bush aides on this subject. The war, the Post noted, was supported by
over 70 percent of the public.
But the postwar may be a different matter. Last week, Democratic and
Republican senators began criticizing the Bush administration's
handling of postwar Iraq. At a hearing of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking Democratic,
whacked Paul Wolfowitz, asking the deputy defense secretary, "When is
the president going to tell the American people that we're likely to
be in the country of Iraq for three, four, five, six, eight, ten
years, with thousands of forces and spending billions of dollars?
Because its' not been told to them yet." (Biden supported the war.)
Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, noted, "We may have underestimated
or mischaracterized the challenges of establishing security and
rebuilding Iraq." Senator Richard Lugar, who chairs the committee,
remarked, "I am concerned that the administration's initial
stabilization and reconstruction efforts have been inadequate." In a
Washington Post op-ed, Lugar gently jabbed at Bush: "Clearly, the
administration's planning for the post-conflict phase in Iraq was
inadequate." He estimated the US occupation will last at least five
years and observed that the final tab may hit $100 billion.
No one in the Senate yet is throwing bricks at a White House occupied
by a popular president. But the screw-ups in postwar Iraq are
becoming an unavoidable topic for legislators. The senior Democrats
and Republicans on both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and
the House International relations Committee have requested that the
General Accounting Office examine the entire US occupation in Iraq:
the security efforts, the relief programs, the awarding of contracts,
the economic plan, and the political rebuilding. This request was a
sign that senators and representatives in both parties have become
frustrated with the slow flow of information from the Bush
administration on its postwar endeavors. (The Bushies not sharing?
What a surprise.)
The turmoil in Iraq has also prompted Democratic presidential
candidates--including those who supported the war--to swing harder at
Bush. Writing for The Boston Globe, Senator Joseph Lieberman, who
twice in the op-ed identified himself as an advocate of the war,
griped, "In Iraq, shock and awe is giving way to stumble and fumble.
Weeks after a brilliant military victory, the Bush administration is
failing to secure the peace." He also complained that "many of the
most sensitive facilities in Iraq--sites we believed to house weapons
of mass destruction--were left unprotected and were looted after the
fighting ended." He might have been stretching things. It is clear
that nuclear materials were grabbed by parties unknown, but there is
no public indication that actual WMDs were in Iraq and snatched.
Senator John Edwards has blasted Bush's postwar policy as "confused
and chaotic," urging the White House to further involve the United
Nations and NATO in reconstituting Iraq. "Most disturbing," he
commented, "nuclear, chemical and biological facilities have been
left unprotected and have been ransacked--not only destroying
possible evidence about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, but
presenting a real threat such materials will end up in the hands of
terrorists." Senator John Kerry, who raised questions about the war
but ultimately backed it, took a different tack. He wrote to Bush
requesting that he "instruct the Secretary of Treasury to identify
Saudi Arabia as a primary money laundering concern [for terrorists]
under the authority provided" in the USA PATRIOT act. In doing so,
Kerry was implicitly criticizing the commander-in-chief of not doing
all he could to neutralize the evildoers. (Is the Saudi connection an
Achilles' heel for Bush? The Bush clan--including former President
Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker--have long had
business dealings in Saudi Arabia, and one cannot do business there
without cozying up to the autocrats. So how tough can Bush get with
Interviewed on CNN, Representative Dick Gephardt, another Democratic
fan of the war, defended Bush's prewar assertions about WMD. "We're
going to get to the bottom of this," he said. "It's going to take
time." Gephardt did remark that he wished "the president would talk
more about the various reasons that terrorism is upon us and what we
need to do....He keep saying we're going to get 'em. We all want to
get 'em, but there are a lot of other things we need to do to prevent
them from doing acts of terrorism." This was a milder rebuke those
hurled by his 2004 competitors.
The two main war-critics in the race for the Democratic nomination
have issued postwar reproaches in keeping with their different
styles. Representative Dennis Kucinich hit the House floor and asked,
in a raised voice, "Where are the weapons of mass destruction?
Indeed, what was the basis for the war? We spend $400 billion for
defense. Will we spend a minute to defend the truth? The truth is
this administration led America into a war with such great urgency.
Yet, it is still refusing to account to the American people for its
false and misleading statements." And former Vermont Governor Howard
Dean has argued that the jury's still out on the war because a
possible outcome might be an Islamic fundamentalist state in Iraq.
After the fall of Baghdad, Dean said of Saddam Hussein, "We got rid
of him. I suppose that's a good thing." He took plenty of flak for
that suppose. But he has stuck to his stance that war was a
"diversion," noting "we're not safer today than we were before Saddam
Hussein left." He has not, though, made a big issue of the postwar
trauma. A hunch: after kick-starting his campaign as a foe of the
war, he may well be attempting to move on by pushing other aspects of
his candidacy, such as his pitch for expanded healthcare coverage.
The complaints about Bush's handling of postwar Iraq have hardly
reached a crescendo within the Democratic Party or beyond. But there
are stirrings. The Shi'ites aren't the only ones restive. Democratic
presidential candidates are eager to find national security-related
ground upon which they can challenge Bush the Conqueror and
Protector. And independent-minded Republicans have started fretting
about what's to come in Iraq.
The primary reason the United States invaded and occupied
Iraq--WMD--may already be old news. But the costly mess in Iraq isn't
going away anytime soon. Perhaps there will be more of a debate on
the postwar than the war itself.
Copyright 2003 The Nation