When the facts are on your side, the prosecutor slams the witness. When the facts run against him, he slams his fist on the courtroom table.
President George W. Bush slammed his fist on the table Friday. OK, it wasn't his fist exactly. The Associated Press reported that the president pounded "his forefinger on a table top for emphasis." This not altogether risk-free pounding is the gesture of our not altogether risk-free president.
Although Bush was not in court, the facts were running against him. So, like the prosecutor, he resorted to pounding the table.
The issue was those nagging weapons of mass destruction. The president swore before the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein had weapons, and he promised the American people that he would rid Iraq of them and of him. He has done neither, of course, but that is getting ahead of the story.
The question that turned the facts against the president Friday concerned the post-war absence of his much-touted weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "We've discovered weapons manufacturing facilities that were condemned by the United Nations - biological laboratories, described by our secretary of state to the whole world, that were not supposed to be there," he responded. These alleged "weapons manufacturing facilities" were not the war-drum mantra of the president or his secretary of state.
In his pre-war, State of the Union address, Bush claimed that Hussein had "biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax." He added, "He has given no evidence he has destroyed it ... Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard [gas] and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands." He also said that Hussein "had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents."
Bush's address went another step toward lathering up the republic for war. As with his brief against al-Qaida terrorists, the president struck his tough Texas Rangers' pose: "The dictator, who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons, has already used them on whole villages, leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind or disfigured." Bush said this without reminding the public that the United States helped this dictator assemble these weapons of destruction in Iraq's war with Iran.
At the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell used a few slides to back up the president's claims of Saddam Hussein's weapons. Iraq, he said, retained thousands of biological and chemical weapons and some 10,000 delivery systems to target other countries.
Upon discovery of limited-range missiles reported to be in Iraq, the administration factored them into its imagined threat to U.S. security. These poorly constructed missiles, at best, had a range of 93 miles, a good distance from the continental United States.
As the U.S. invasion drew near, the Bush administration's rationale for it flapped about on even more troubling legs. From weapons of mass destruction, the cause expanded to the cleaning of Hussein's clock in the name of liberating the Iraqi people who Bush and his vice president had cared so deeply about all these many years.
This glaring lack of a clear motive for war, despite TV media drumbeats and Congress' ceding of its war-making prerogatives, left the American public unconvinced. They are unconvinced still, but victory, no matter how inconclusive, inspires a puffing out of the chest.
The British Guardian newspaper suggested that the Bush administration may have to settle for those unaccounted for weapons buried in a field in Maryland. Some 100 vials of anthrax and other dangerous bacteria were found stashed "not in Iraq, but fewer than 50 miles from Washington, near Fort Detrick in the Maryland countryside. The anthrax was a non-virulent strain, and the discoveries are apparently remnants of an abandoned germ warfare program. They merited only a local news item in The Washington Post." The Guardian thought this curious because several false sightings and leaked misinformation about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have made front-page news.
The Fort Detrick biological agents, not unlike the administration's disclosure about Hussein's weapons, were covered by no official documentation. "Iraq's failure to come up with paperwork proving the destruction of its biological arsenal was portrayed by the United States as evidence of deception in the run-up to the war," the Guardian pointed out.
The question remains, Where exactly are Hussein's weapons? If the president had the evidence, he would have slammed his naysayers. With the facts running against him, he pounded the table with his "forefinger."
God, what a country.
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.