Trust in Leaders is Lost if WMD Are Not Found
The Atlanta Journal Constitution
By Jay Bookman
Thursday 22 May 2003
Does it matter if we don't discover stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, which seems increasingly likely?
Yes. Of course it matters.
If we never discover the "materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent" cited by President Bush in his State of the Union speech, if the "30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents" reported by U.S. intelligence never existed, it would matter a great deal.
Such an outcome could mean only one of two things: Either our intelligence apparatus is more incompetent than we had dreamed possible, or we were lied to on a massive scale by our own government to lure us into war.
Either way, the implications would be stunning. It's like being told after World War II that the Japanese had never attacked Pearl Harbor. For that reason, I hope we find the material. I hope our leaders are proved right.
But if they're not . . .
Before the war, U.S. leaders expressed no doubt whatsoever about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld, in January, claimed that Saddam Hussein "has an active program to acquire and develop nuclear weapons." Colin Powell pledged to the United Nations that "our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical-weapons agent."
And Bush, in a pre-war press conference, claimed that "in some cases, these materials have been moved to different locations every 12 to 24 hours or placed in vehicles that are in residential neighborhoods."
If U.S. intelligence was truly that detailed, it is inconceivable that tons of WMD could have been destroyed or shipped to Syria right before the war without detection.
If we fail to find WMD, it's because they didn't exist.
And that better bother us. If informed self-government means anything to us, if we intend to rely on the work product of our intelligence agencies to guide future decisions, if competence and honesty at the top levels of leadership are still important, then it matters.
How could it possibly not?
Inevitably in this climate, some will dismiss that statement as an unpatriotic and partisan attack upon the Bush administration. Well, so be it. It matters anyway, and Americans of every political persuasion ought to be demanding an explanation for it.
Instead there is silence.
Is there something we are afraid to learn?
In some minds, perhaps it doesn't matter because we all realize now that WMD had always been just an excuse anyway. We know now that the invasion of Iraq was really just the first step in a much more ambitious U.S. plan to end Islamic terrorism by dragging the entire Middle East into the 21st century, by force if necessary.
In that case, who cares if the sham perpetrated by our government turns out to be more of a sham than our leaders even knew?
The goal of transforming the Middle East at least makes sense on one level. It is grandiose and probably unrealistic, but it does possess an internal logic completely absent from the silly pre-war justification that Iraq might give WMD to al-Qaida.
But before this nation committed itself to a vast undertaking, we should have had the chance to debate it openly. Instead, the American people and its elected leaders in Congress were trusted with the truth only after the truth no longer mattered.
That has serious implications. If things start going badly in our Middle East adventure, voters who today don't care whether we find WMD may begin to care very much. They will recall what they choose not to recall at the moment, that we had been lured into Iraq either through incredible incompetence or downright lies.
In either case, that knowledge will make it easier to renege on the commitments made in our name.
Our Founding Fathers, recognizing that a democratic republic would be fickle in its commitments, required that Congress, not the president, declare war. They wanted to ensure that when the nation went to war, its citizens did so fully aware of the sacrifices they were about to make.
In this case, we weren't.
Which brings us back to where we started. It matters.
It matters so very much.