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Iraqi Threat Called Distortion

President Bush, aides reportedly twisted intelligence to support war

January 19, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 3

The Bush Administration led the U.S. into war against Iraq by systematically misrepresenting and overstating the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), analysts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace assert in a new study. The study aggregates and analyzes unclassified prewar intelligence, official statements leading up to war, and what is now known about Iraq’s programs.

President Bush and his top officials repeatedly voiced “serious misrepresentations of facts over and above what was in the intelligence reports” on Iraq prepared by U.S. intelligence agencies, says the think tank’s president, Jessica T. Matthews, an author of “WMD in Iraq: Evidence & Implications.”

She and her coauthors note that Iraq presented a “long-term threat that could not be ignored.” But, they argue, by always speaking of a single WMD threat rather than differentiating among chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, Bush officials distorted “the cost/benefit analysis of the war” and the imminence of the threat posed to the U.S., the Middle East, or global security.

Although Iraq’s missile program was “in active development in 2002,” the authors assert that Saddam Hussein could not have hidden, moved, or disposed of the quantities of WMD and missiles that Bush officials claimed he possessed. Further, they argue, international measures seem “to have been much more successful than recognized before the war.”

Nine months after the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq, no WMD have been unearthed. Recently, Danish and Icelandic troops near Basra unearthed 120 damaged mortar shells that appear to have been buried decades ago. Thirty-six shells tested positive for blister agent, but tests on five shells by the U.S. Iraq Survey Team found no chemical agent. More definitive tests will be conducted in a U.S. lab.

Also, the authors note that no conclusive evidence has surfaced to support U.S. claims that Iraq shared WMD with such terrorist groups as al Qaeda. And they cite indications that Bush officials pressured intelligence agencies to tailor threat assessments to support the war effort.

The authors recommend the establishment of an independent commission to review prewar intelligence and, based on its findings, consider making the post of director of central intelligence a career, rather than a political, appointment. And they call for a revision of Bush’s National Security Strategy to eliminate “preemptive war in absence of imminent threat.”

In a related study by the Army War College, defense specialist Jeffrey Record contends that the Administration’s war on terrorism went astray by fighting an “unnecessary” war in Iraq instead of focusing on al Qaeda. Bush’s antiterrorism crusade “is strategically unfocused, promises more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security,” he argues.



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