Tuesday, June 21, 2005

What We Know

Henry writes:

In many countries (including my home country, Ireland), police have a reputation for stitching people up; they seem prepared in some instances to commit perjury in order to get people convicted for crimes. Now in some cases, this is a completely cynical exercise – the police have no idea of whether the accused is guilty or not, but need to get a conviction for political or other reasons. But in others, it’s because the police think that they know who committed a crime, but don’t have the necessary evidence to get the person convicted in court. Therefore, they perjure themselves and lie about the evidence in order to get the conviction.

This, it seems to me, is what happened in the lead-up to Iraq. The Bush administration, like others, probably did genuinely believe that Iraq had an active nuclear program. But it didn’t have the necessary evidence to prove this, either to its allies or to its own people. It therefore cooked the evidence that it did have in order to make its claims more convincing. It didn’t deceive the public about its basic belief that there were WMDs in Iraq. But it did deceive the public about the evidence that was there to support this belief, in order to convince them that there was a real problem. In other words, it did “consciously mislead” the American people (and its allies). When the police are caught perjuring themselves to get convictions, they should (and frequently do) suffer serious consequences, even if they believe that they’re perjuring themselves in order to get the guilty convicted. That’s not what the police should be doing; they haven’t been appointed as judges, and for good reason. If the police persistently lie in order to get convictions, the system of criminal law is liable to break down. Similarly, when the administration lies about a major matter in order to get public support, it shouldn’t be excused on the basis that it thought that it was lying in a good cause. It’s still betraying its basic democratic responsibilities.

There's a lot of truth here, although I think there are additional points that need to be made. We need to distinguish between the "WMD" and "the threat." Without a real investigation we'll never know to what degree they hyped WMD claims they thought were false instead of simply hyping claims they did not know were true. Some of us with our faulty memories remember Donald Rumsfeld saying things like:

We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

And George Bush saying:

He's a man who has told the world he wouldn't have weapons of mass destruction, yet he does.

And Ari Fleischer:

We know for a fact there are weapons there.

And Poodle:

We know that he has stockpiles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons[.]

All of these things can fall in Henry's basic frame - they believed he had certain weapons and while they were dishonest about their evidence and certainty of this, they still believed it.

But what they did do, without a doubt, was hype the degree to which such weapons, even if they existed, posed any kind of threat to the United States or even to Iraq's neighbors. We have a bit of a language problem, calling anything nasty a "weapon of mass destruction" when frequently we're talking about things which are very unlikely to produce a mass casualty event. A true "weapon of mass destruction" is capable of killing massive amounts of people. So, we're talking nuclear or a nasty plague or poisoning of an urban water supply or something which can actually succeed in killing massive amounts of people. Something like the much hyped Ricin doesn't even come close to deserving the label of WMD.

So, maybe they believed all the stuff about WMD (I'm still rather dubious about that too), but they certainly didn't believe the degree to which they hyped those WMD as posing any kind of genuine threat to us, and they certainly had no legitimate evidence of a nuclear program that had proceeded any further than my own nuclear program.[[UPDATE: Let me add here that the one thing I really don't believe is that they thought Saddam really had an active nuke program. Bad guy with lust in his heart, sure, but that describes every shitty dictator in the world.]]

They said he had WMD and, under the shitty definition of that word we've embraced, it's possible they believed it even if they didn't have the evidence they claimed to have (which was obvious at the time and one of many reasons I opposed this thing). But the kinds of weapons they believed they had were, for the most part, only useful as a deterrent to invasion, which appears to be the reason Saddam let the rumors about his evil laboratories persist. They just wouldn't be useful either for direct military uses or even for terrorist blackmail.

Believed in WMDs they hyped? Perhaps. Believed in the threat they hyped? Nope.