It’s Official: Grounds for Iraq War Were Imaginary

The CIA has at last admitted the obvious: there never were WMDs in Iraq:

In his final word, the CIA’s top weapons inspector in Iraq said Monday that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction has “gone as far as feasible” and has found nothing, closing an investigation into the purported programs of Saddam Hussein that were used to justify the 2003 invasion

Contrast to this in June 2003:

Bush confident of finding banned Iraqi weapons: President hits back at critics on WMD question. President Bush dismissed what he called “revisionist history” about the war in Iraq on Tuesday, and his spokesman said the president is still confident a Pentagon-led search will find Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction.

How many soldiers and civilians died in pursuit of this mirage?

Update: Here's a fuller account of the Iraq Survey Group's final report and a link to the GPO's official edition of the Comprehensive Revised Report with Addendums on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction (Duelfer Report).

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22 Responses to It’s Official: Grounds for Iraq War Were Imaginary

  1. blah says:

    Ok:

    For me, the most interesting sentence in the first article is the last one:

    “However, ISG was unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials.”

    It seems like a slam-dunk. The Administration promised there were WMDs, they had iron-clad proof, and it turns out it was all a hoax. But still. Guess what any Republican worth their salt will tell you if you try to confront them about WMDs?

    “Well, they were there. They were secretly moved, and they’re hidden away somewhere now.”
    There is no evidence that supports this, but of course there is no evidence that doesn’t support it, so that’s going to be the mantra for some time.

    It would be asking too much to expect to hear “We made a really big mistake” from this group.

  2. blah says:

    I just noticed, the discourse dot net headline is:
    “there never were weapons in iraq”
    but that’s not the Administration’s position at all,
    from the linked article anyway.

    they don’t conclude that there were or were not weapons,
    they only say there aren’t any there now.

  3. Michael says:

    Are not there now + No reason to think they were removed in the run-up to the war = Never there

    You can never totally prove a negative beyond all conceivable doubt, but you can prove one beyond a reasonable doubt.

  4. Bricklayer says:

    blah’s last post is dead on. Did MSNBC change the article after you linked to it? Because what you wrote grossly distorts what the article says. UM Law profossor bias in action. Sigh.

    The article itself talks about materiel (including human) having been sold off: “ISG was unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials.”

    YOU have concluded that there were no weapons, primarily from such reliable sources as blogs and online articles you don’t bother to read carefully. The article, and the experts reported on therein have not. You reported your opinion as if it were fact.

    I seriously hope you don’t pull this nonsense in the classroom.

  5. blah says:

    hey, bricklayer, ease up a little. let’s keep it polite, please.

  6. Michael says:

    I am quite puzzled by this reaction from the right.

    There is no evidence at all that there are WMDs to be found in Iraq now, and also substantial evidence that the programs the administration claimed it thought existed never did exist (remember the long-range drones ? the mobile biological weapons labs? that atomic bomb project? didn’t exist, didn’t exist, didn’t exist).

    There is no evidence that weapons of mass destruction were smuggled out. (Mass quantities of conventional high explosive did get loose, but that’s being used against our troops.) Because it is impossible to prove a negative, the report includes the careful caveat that it is “unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials.” That’s a far cry from saying the weapons used to be there and now they are gone.

    “Materials” is a whole different class from “weapons” — it means parts or raw materials that often take a lot of effort to turn into something that is a weapon. It’s just like the old weasel when the administration after the invasion stopped talking about “WMDs” and switched to “WMD-related program activities” or the like.

    We did not go to war to prevent the stockpiling of “limited WMD-related materials”. So unless someone can show me what I’m missing, I think my summary of the actual report is quite reasonable for a short summary.

    I’m prepared to say I’m wrong if someone can show me a problem with what I just wrote here. But apparently the Bush administration (and some supporters) can never admit to error.

  7. blah says:

    yes, yes. that’s what i said in my first post.
    IMHO we are going to hear over and over how they “can’t rule out that the weapons weren’t moved…”
    because otherwise, the administration has to say they were wrong.

    i know, they said “related materials” but XXXX may as well be “working hydrogen bombs”…
    ie “we can’t rule out that XXXX wasn’t smuggled out of the country before we got there.”
    it’s the only way to let bush off the hook gently, by keeping the intrigue and the unknown going.
    it’s like OJ “looking for the real killers.” there’s never going to be a conclusion.

  8. Rcauthen says:

    You’re right about everything but your headline, which should read “Grounds for Iraq War Were Bald-Faced Lies.” Evidence for this is the very existence of the Office of Special Plans.
    Maybe more of this will come out as the Bolton hearings proceed.

  9. Bricklayer says:

    What I find the most amazing is your hypocrisy. You are the first to champion privacy and fourth amendment rights for american citizens. Yet to avoid another Iraq, it means developing the intelligence capabilities to eliminate the privacy of citizens of other nations by spying on them. Apparently arabs just don’t deserve the same rights of privacy and freedom that Americans do, at least not in your book. This is the natural consequence of your continued justification of the behavior of tyrants like Hussein who do not comply with transparent inspections and no-fly zones. If they won’t give us information, we’re going to have go get it, and the way we do that won’t be pretty. Is that really the world you want?

    You want every arab phone call intercepted, monitored, and recorded? Great, you’ll get it. You want huge CIA databases filled with photos of arabs, spy satellite photos, fingerprints? Great you’ll get it. You want operative bribing arab government officials to obtain files and intelligence? Great you’ll get it. Want billions of taxpayer money spent on this? Great you’ll get it.

    The impossibility of proving a negative cuts both ways. Just as you are now unable to guarantee with 100% certainty that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush was unable to provide a 100% guarantee to the American public. He could not guarantee that the Hussein regime’s uncooperative behavior with regards to inspections, non-compliance with no fly zones, and occasional harboring of terrorists were acts of mere political puffery not to worry about.

    There are those on the left who take the view that all nation-states are equal in legitimacy so long as rand-mcnally draws a border on their maps and assigns a color. They thus downplay the role that Hussein’s regime played in creating circumstantial evidence (perhaps intentionally) that wmd’s and/or wmd programs were in place. Those extreme internationalists aruge that Iraq was entitled to the same soveriegnty, privacy, and independence after the invasion of kuwait as before. Many on the left admired Sadaam for thumbing his nose to America. They refused, and continute to refuse to this day, that the Hussein regime’s behavior was circumstantial evidence that justified the inference that indeed a wmd program was in place.

    Notice that that the article you cited could not have been written were it not for the inspections that took place POST-invasion. Without unfettered inspections, no conclusions that anybody feel safe can be drawn. The article itself, and the conclusions you draw from it should be proof to you of how vitally important it was for Iraq to comply with inspections. The left continues to refuse recognition of how dangerous Sadaam’s behavior with regards to inspections really was, and why his lack of compliance bears the most blame for the fostering beliefs and fears that Iraq had wmds.

    The only one to blame for the invasion of Iraq was Hussein himself.

  10. Mojo says:

    Bricklayer frothed, “Yet to avoid another Iraq, it means developing the intelligence capabilities to eliminate the privacy of citizens of other nations by spying on them.”
    Yes. I’m sure anybody would rather have their country invaded, their infrastructure destroyed, and their people killed and maimed rather than have a foreign country spy on them.
    Sarcasm aside, Bricklayer’s argument doesn’t make any sense anyway. You don’t invade someone because you can’t rule out the possibility that they might have a weapon. By that logic we should invade Lichtenstein tomorrow because we can’t rule out the possibility that they have a nuke but we’ve just not seen any evidence of it.
    Finally, I spent 26 years of my life in the US intelligence community and I take it as a grave insult that my service to my country is seen as a violation of people’s rights that is worse than killing them. To me the violation was by those who lied and distorted the evidence in order to promote their agenda, as Bricklayer continues to do. At least he is a powerless nothing so tens of thousands more don’t need to die for his ignorant pride.

  11. michael says:

    I can guarantee there are weapons of mass destruction in North Korea. And that their leadership is nuts. That doesn’t mean we should invade.

    I support a strong intelligence capability. Historically, more wars were started due to uncertainty and fear than knowledge, so overall good intelligence tends to contribute to peace.

    There are many possible threats around the world. My view is we don’t use force to counter them unless the threat is quite certain, and there are no alternatives. Iraq obviously failed both tests then: the case for WMDs was weak — and for anything other than anthrax, the one thing that at the time kept me from feeling confident Saddam was no threat, laughable — and sanctions were working more or less (we since found out more; at the time we feared less).

    The US worked hard to sabotage UN inspections, and didn’t want to wait for them. The decision to invade seems to have been taken well before the UN process had run its course.

    Saddam’s regime was ugly. Many are. That was not the stated reason for the invasion. It was not a reason authorized by any act of Congress. And it wasn’t a sufficient reason.

    How we measure whether Iraqi’s people are better of is a question that requires the balancing of incommesurables. Saddam killed people. The invasion killed people. Collateral damage, lousy medical care, lack of supplies killed people. They are worse off; others may be better off.

    I did not think this regime change was worth an American soldier’s life to begin with; I still don’t. What’s worse, I think we’re less safe today because of the invasion because of the huge increase world-wide terrorism, the destruction of our reputation abroad, and the incredible damage to the superb military machine President Clinton left us.

  12. Bricklayer says:

    I think we need look no further than the likes of Mojo to understand why our intelligence services may have at times acted irrationally over the years, assuming he somehow defies the rule of thumb that those who claim to have worked in intelligence or special-ops almost never actually have.

    Most of michael’s readers do not require me to repeat the point, but as it escaped Mojo, Lichtenstein would not warrant invasion because its leaders have not behaved in a manner that would lead one to suspect that wmd’s are being hidden.

    Rather than continue a narrow discussion of 1) did michael accurately analyze and report on the contents of the MSNBC article and 2) is his rhetorical use of terms like “mirage” fair and accurate, michael pulls out his shotgun and starts blasting in the hope that something sticks.

    Regarding 1), I assume at this point you’ve conceded that you feel the article supports your opinion, but leaves room for the possibility that Iraq was still up to no good. Regarding 2), I (and hopefully other of your readers) am hoping you have a coherent answer for why it was inappropriate for the Bush administration to give so much weight to Sadaam’s prior bad acts (including use of chemical weapons), dillatory stance towards inspections, and violation of no-fly zones. Why was it inappropriate to consider those facts as circumstantial evidence tending to show the validity of intelligence that professionals like Mojo were delivering? Do you also advocate a rule of evidence barring circumstantial evidence tending to show guilt from criminal trials in the American system of justice? Do you simply disagree with the premise that Sadaam’s behavior and policies were indicitave of someone with something very dangerous to hide? Do you agree that evasive behavior during a traffic stop might in some circumstances provide cause to search and possibly detain? Do you feel Iraq had a right to behave as it did, despite its invasion of Kuwait and defiance of inspections and no-fly zones? Do you, like intelligence gurus such as Mojo, see no difference between an Iraq and a Lichtenstein? Is Hussein at all to blame?

    I am not particularly interested in whether or not you agree(d) with Bush’s determination that wmd’s were there. I am asking you to explain why his reasoning for concluding as such was flawed in your view. Assume the for the sake of argument that the invasion was 1) not “all about oil”, 2) not preordained by Bush I, 3) and avoidable had Hussein complied 100% with the inspection process and not shot at our airplanes patrolling the no-fly zones. Assume for the sake of argument it was all about getting wmd’s out of the hands of Hussein and his like.

  13. michael says:

    *sigh* If there were no WMDs, then Iraq was not a threat to the US, however ugly its regime. In the absence of authorization from the UN Security Council – and there was none or at least not enough despite the US’s attempt to claim justification under older SC resolutions – the absence of a real and substantial threat means there was no justified reason to invade either under International Law or under any belief system more advanced than ‘might makes right’. The intentions of the regime only matter once we’ve established their capabilities.

    Your invitation to pursue various counter-factuals, hypotheticals, and alternate-world hypotheses that distract from this simple point is not accepted.

    If you are not interested in the fact of whether the WMDs were there, and whether our government knew or should have known they were not there, then you are not interested in whether the invasion was justified by what was known or should have been known at the time. And please note: I say “were there” advisedly; inability to prove their absence is not grounds for invasion. Invasion takes a certainty, or perhaps near-certainty, of their existence. Plus of course other things also (e.g. dangerousness of regime; France has WMDs, we plan no new invasions).

  14. Bricklayer says:

    At this point, your reasoning is analagous to the proposition that only if it turned out that the victim actually had a gun would a defendant have been justified in using force to defend himself. A reasonable belief that the victim had a gun and intended to use it to cause the defendant imminent bodily harm would not suffice under your reasoning. Despite the abundance of liberal professors at UM Law, you would still fail the substantive criminal law exam if you tried to use that logic on it. That logic also fails several moral approaches to both criminal law and international conflicts. Why you adhere to it is quite a mystery, if you indeed have some other reason other than juvenile Bush-bashing.

    You continue to dodge the question as to why you believe that the behavior of the Hussein regime itself was not evidence that alone could have rationally supported an inference of “certainty, or perhaps near-certainty, of their existence [(WMDs)].” This is even more evidence of bias and hypocracy in your blog, because most of your criticisms of Bush and the right generally have been founded upon circumstantial evidence and “connect the dots” reasoning a-la the X-Files. Why you chose to hold Hussein to a lower standard is still a mystery. The fact that you may have turned out to be right is mere coincidence, not a product of any kind of consistent, rational analysis of world leaders or those in power generally.

    More than a few of your readers have the mental capacity to “hit rewind” and ignore evidence that did not exist at the time. All that I’ve asked for is a coherent explanation or theory as to what the proper interpretation and weight the Hussein regime’s actions should have been given in determining the liklihood of the existence of wmds, BEFORE we got in there by invading and found out what we now know. The assumptions I asked you to make were simply there to keep you focused on this narrow, simple question instead of dodging the question by hopping all over the map.

    I urge you to take a stab at this one. You’d be the first lefty I know of to do anything but ignore the issue.

  15. Andrew says:

    “Why you adhere to it is quite a mystery, if you indeed have some other reason other than juvenile Bush-bashing.”

    You really are accusing the author of this blog of “juvenile Bush-bashing”? Wow…

    “This is even more evidence of bias and hypocracy in your blog, because most of your criticisms of Bush and the right generally have been founded upon circumstantial evidence and “connect the dots” reasoning a-la the X-Files. Why you chose to hold Hussein to a lower standard is still a mystery.”

    The standards of evidence on which to base criticism, and on which to launch a war, are and should be different.

    “a coherent explanation or theory as to what the proper interpretation and weight the Hussein regime’s actions should have been given in determining the liklihood of the existence of wmds, BEFORE we got in there by invading and found out what we now know”

    That is not all that you should ask for: also, a coherent explanation or theory as to what the proper interpretation and weight the administration’s actions should have been given in determining the trustworthiness of their rationales for the war.

    A commentator outside government, without full access to intelligence on the Hussein regime, relies on what is publicly known. He cannot develop the explanation or theory you ask for with the same degree of confidence that the government presumably can. He must base his assessments on what information is publicly available. And that information, in turn, must be interpreted in light of the explanation or theory I mentioned above.

    In other words, yes, Hussein’s actions disinclined us to trust him, but also we are inclined to be skeptical of our own government. You are venturing out on a long limb, basing such insults (“hypocrisy”, “juvenile Bush-bashing”, and so on) on the grounds that we weren’t sufficiently distrustful of Hussein before the war.

  16. rcauthen says:

    “All that I’ve asked for is a coherent explanation or theory as to what the proper interpretation and weight the Hussein regime’s actions should have been given in determining the liklihood of the existence of wmds, BEFORE we got in there by invading and found out what we now know.”

    There are, of course, other methods of determining the likelihood of the existence of WMDs, such as international inspections, human intelligence, electronic intelligence.
    Are you justifying the death of 1600 American soldiers, the crippling of tens of thousands more, and Iraqi casualties reaching into the hundreds of thousands on the basis of politically-driven denials of the effectiveness of these other methods — or, in the case of the Bush Administration, active sabotage of them?
    Rumsfeld: “We know where they are.”
    Then why didn’t you tell the weapons inspectors that were in-country at the time?

  17. rcauthen says:

    “All that I’ve asked for is a coherent explanation or theory as to what the proper interpretation and weight the Hussein regime’s actions should have been given in determining the liklihood of the existence of wmds, BEFORE we got in there by invading and found out what we now know.”

    There are, of course, other methods of determining the likelihood of the existence of WMDs, such as international inspections, human intelligence, electronic intelligence.
    Are you justifying the death of 1600 American soldiers, the crippling of tens of thousands more, and Iraqi casualties reaching into the hundreds of thousands on the basis of politically-driven denials of the effectiveness of these other methods — or, in the case of the Bush Administration, active sabotage of them?
    Rumsfeld: “We know where they are.”
    Then why didn’t you tell the weapons inspectors that were in-country at the time?

  18. rcauthen says:

    There are, of course, other ways of determining a nation’s military capabilities than invading it.
    International inspectors, for instance; human intelligence; signal intelligence.
    All of these alternatives were actively undermined by the Bush Administration. If they had not been, 1600 families in the US, and uncounted families in Iraq, would be considerably happier now.

  19. ruidh says:

    All that I’ve asked for is a coherent explanation or theory as to what the proper interpretation and weight the Hussein regime’s actions should have been given in determining the liklihood of the existence of wmds, BEFORE we got in there by invading and found out what we now know.

    I wish there were some kind of way for the international community, perhaps under the aegis of the United Nations, to send in a team of qualified inspectors to look for actual evidence of WMDs on the ground.

  20. rcauthen says:

    There are, of course, other ways of determining a nation’s military capabilities than invading it.
    International inspectors, for instance; human intelligence; signal intelligence.
    All of these alternatives were actively undermined by the Bush Administration. If they had not been, 1600 families in the US, and uncounted families in Iraq, would be considerably happier now.

  21. pike says:

    Bricklayer, my friend,

    The flaw in Bush’s “reasoning” on WMDs and their potential threat lies in the incredibility of the evidence that he would have you believe that he believed. All of this after-the-fact examination of evidence on the WMD threat out of Iraq–and the conclusion is was illusory at best? Quite unsurprising to those who’ve been following the issue for some years.

    Your arguments must account for other facts as we know them–that Bush declared as early as May, 2000, that he intended to remove Saddam from power; that the Bush administration actively impeded the ongoing UN inspections for WMD evidence; that the evidence the administration cited was incredible to begin with–often failing even the snicker test (hydrogen balloons, aluminum tubes, satellite photos of site purported to be in Iraq but shown to be in other countries, falsified documents “relied on” or at least cited as evidence even after they were exposed as falsified); that the administration stubbornly stuck to citing evidence that was discredited early on; that administration officials declared that the US knew with certainty where WMDs were, without offering to expose the sites to prove the assertion (as we knew then and know now that the administration was incapable of doing).

    Even without accounting for those facts, to return to your ‘reasonable belief the attacker was going for a gun’ scenario, the belief in WMDs as a threat was not reasonable, even citing the evidence you were told the administration was relying on. You seem to be extending the “couldn’t prove that the WMDs weren’t there” argument into “can’t prove that he didn’t have an honest belief in a credible threat” argument. If he did, he’s a fool. If he didn’t, he’s a liar who conducted the illegal war for another purpose. Take your choice.

    And are you telling us that you still think, with the benefit of hindsight, that this misadventure premised on lies about an illusion was worth the loss of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians’ lives?

    Isn’t that the very kind of thuggish thinking Ann Coulter would endorse?

  22. pike says:

    The facts, Bricklayer, involve a pre-determined policy and falsely crafting ‘facts’ around it, while Bush was still lying about whether he’d made up his mind about military action:

    “A damning minute leaked to a Sunday newspaper reveals that in July 2002, a few weeks after meeting George Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr Blair summoned his closest aides for what amounted to a council of war. The minute reveals the head of British intelligence reported that President Bush had firmly made up his mind to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, adding that ‘the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy’.”

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