When Colin Powell hyped half-baked claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, at least he had the rectitude to do so in public. The military officials who made grave claims about Iran last weekend didn't show even that much honor.
Last weekend, they asserted that the "highest levels" of the Iranian government were sending weapons to Iraqi Shiites, who then use the weapons to kill American soldiers. As a condition of covering the Baghdad press briefing, reporters were forbidden from naming the officials or photographing the allegedly Iranian weapons.The weapons may well be Iranian. But what would that mean? And where is the evidence that Iran's government, let alone its "highest levels," is involved?
The dead horse of 2003 should be beaten again. When Powell went to the United Nations then, flaunting his gravitas and flashing pictures of alleged bioweapons factories on wheels, many doubters were persuaded to support an invasion of Iraq. They were further swayed by Powell's allegations of an alliance between Iraq and al-Qaida.
"What I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network," Powell said then. "Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with al-Qaida. These denials are simply not credible."
In fact, President Bush and General Powell were simply not credible. Neither were claims of mobile bioweapons labs or the "nexus" between Iraq and al-Qaida. The war was sold to the American public — and tacitly approved by a gullible Congress — on a series of breathless pretexts.
Now, Bush and his administration again peddle damning claims about an undeniably hostile state. Why should the American people believe? Credibility, like trust, must be earned. Four years ago, the president and his minions squandered their credibility. And America's.
Now, the administration can't even get its story straight. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, avowed Monday that the weapons were Iranian. But, "I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit," the Washington Post quoted him as saying.
In a press conference this week, Bush backed away from the military's "highest levels" claim. "We don't know ... whether the head leaders of Iran ordered" it, Bush said, adding, "Either they knew or they didn't know, and what matters is, is that they're there."
Assuming that the weapons are, in fact, Iranian, what really matters is how the president responds. The administration denies that it is gearing up for an attack on Iran. Well, the administration denied that it was planning to attack Iraq.
Meanwhile this week, White House spokesman Tony Snow vigorously denied that his bosses are exaggerating the case against Iran. He said, "No, no, no, no." Congress must give the same response if the president begins beating the drums for yet another disastrous war.
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