Challenging the case for war


Weapons: A Washington think tank determines that Iraq, weakened by sanctions, could not have posed an imminent threat to global security.

January 12, 2004|By Kathy Lally

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace spent five months studying whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that threatened the world, and last week it concluded that the answer was no.

The study -- by Jessica Mathews, president of the think tank, George Perkovich, its vice president for studies, and Joseph Cirincione, senior associate and director of the nonproliferation project -- concludes that U.S. officials distorted intelligence to accommodate their arguments for a war against Iraq.

In denying that conclusion, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that he still thinks that Saddam Hussein not only had such weapons but was connected to terrorists.

"I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection," he said, "but I do believe the connections existed."

Following are excerpts from a news conference in which the Carnegie researchers presented their findings (the report can be found at

Jessica Mathews:

"I want to begin by sharing with you our reasons for undertaking this study, which has been the work of many months. ... It looks back in close detail at what happened regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq for two reasons.

"First of all, it looks back to allow Americans to reach judgments about how our key players and institutions performed on the most important call that any government, any country, any people can make: whether to go to war.

"These key players include importantly, of course, most importantly, the president and his advisers, but also the Congress, the intelligence agencies, the independent think tanks, like ourselves, and not least, the public itself: did it understand the key questions and did it demand and get straight answers. ...

"From four summary tables -- one on nuclear weapons, one on chemical, one on biological and one on missiles -- one can see, very clearly, four key patterns.

"The first is that up through the year 2001, U.S. intelligence was generally correct on nuclear and missile weapons issues, but appears to have been incorrectly overestimating Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capabilities. And we will talk a bit and will come back and go into this a bit more in detail.

"The second pattern is evidence throughout these all four of the weapons systems of a dramatic shift between intelligence views up through 2001 and intelligence views as they emerged in the National Intelligence Estimate, the NIE, that was released shortly before the congressional vote in October 2002. And that shift occurred without any new evidence, as we now can see.

"The third pattern is that, to a rather surprising degree that surprised us as we went through this, the international inspections effort generally had it right. They were finding what was there and their assessments both at the end of the UNSCOM effort in 1998 and the UNMOVIC work in 2003 was quite close to what the postwar investigations have found.

"And finally, the representations by senior administration officials show a fairly systematic misrepresentation of the facts over and above the intelligence failings with respect to chemical and biological weapons.

"These misrepresentations fall into four categories.

"The first is a conflation of the three types of weapons of mass destruction and treatment of them regularly under the single rubric of weapons of mass destruction.

"This was, of course, not by any means limited to the administration; it was a most universal phenomenon.

"But the treatment of chemical weapons, the high likelihood that Iraq had some chemical weapons, with the virtually zero likelihood that it had nuclear weapons, but treating them in that same category WMD, distorted the discussion and the cost-benefit discussions before the war.

"The second form of misrepresentation was treating as a given that Saddam Hussein would give whatever weapons of mass destruction or WMD capabilities he had to anti-American terrorist networks.

"This linkage, this automatic linkage of Iraq's capabilities to al-Qaida's, formed an absolute core of the administration's case for war, since it was the only way that Iraq posed a direct threat to the U.S. homeland and because it also meant that if this linkage existed, that deterrents could not be used. Because while we can deter states, it's highly questionable, if not impossible, that we could deter terrorists willing to commit suicide.

"The third form of misrepresentation was the routine dropping of all elements of uncertainty in the intelligence reports.

"The uses of words like `maybe,' `we judge,' `we assess,' `we cannot exclude' -- there are literally too many instances to count of where all those careful expressions of uncertainty disappeared.

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