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VIEWS Michelangelo Signorile

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That Hell-Bound Train

What a difference a year—and the truth—makes, huh? A measly 365 days ago, if you believed there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, you were a nut-job, a dangerous leftist ideologue and/or on Osama bin Laden's or Saddam Hussein's payroll. Perhaps you were one of Andrew Sullivan's 'fifth column' of pundits trying to undermine the president. Or maybe you were one of those traitors who should have been bombed yourself, as Ann Coulter opined back in August of 2002 regarding the supposedly liberal editors and reporters at The New York Times. Much of the rabid right, including the Wall Street Journal editorial page, looked on, snickering and defending Annie on that one.

But now, here we have none other than George W. Bush's own weapons monitor in Iraq, David Kay, stepping down and confirming what experts from former U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix (accused of conspiring with the dreaded French) to Scott Ritter (the former U.N. weapons inspector whom conservatives portrayed as a kook via an all-too-willing media) had said: Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction prior to the war and that the Bushies were 'almost all wrong.'

It was only last year when Kay was goring Blix and insinuating there were plenty of WMDs to find. But clearly Kay decided he had to save whatever was left of his reputation—he even admitted some of his staff were 'almost in tears,' saying they felt so badly over not finding weapons—so he hit the talk show circuit and congressional committees. As a rightly smug Blix cracked about Kay's turnaround: 'I was beginning to wonder what was going on. Weren't they wondering too? If you find yourself on a train that's going in the wrong direction, it's best to get off ... .'

The White House, however, is continuing full speed ahead on the runaway train, with Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney as the conductors, and Colin Powell having sold the one-way tickets for the trip straight into a hellish quagmire. (Think of Bush as a sort of eccentric passenger going along for the ride.)

Kay gave the Bushies some cover, claiming it was all an intelligence problem and that he doesn't think Bush and company manipulated the CIA into delivering what the war hawks wanted. The right-wing pundits have gone into defense mode, attacking anyone who points to the administration's cooking the intelligence and slamming anyone accusing Bush of lying. They're all counting on media laziness—which has certainly helped in the past—but all you have to do is go back to the many reports leading up to the war to see that what we're witnessing now is just more of the grand farce.

'Interviews with administration officials revealed divisions between, on one side, the Pentagon and the National Security Council, which has become a clearinghouse for the evidence being prepared for Mr. Powell, and, on the other, the C.I.A. and, to some degree, the State Department and agencies like the F.B.I.,' the Times reported on Feb. 2 of last year. That was right before Powell gave his now-bogus speech about 'mobile production systems mounted on road trailer units' that 'can produce enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people'—the trailers of mass destruction that Kay now confirms were used for making weather balloons.

'In the interviews,' the Times reported, 'two officials, Paul D. Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary, and Stephen J. Hadley, deputy national security adviser, were cited as being most eager to interpret evidence deemed murky by intelligence officials to show a clearer picture of Iraq's involvement in illicit weapons programs and terrorism. Their bosses, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, have also pressed a hard line, officials said ... . 'It's more than just skepticism,' said one official, describing the feelings of some analysts in the intelligence agencies. 'I think there is also a sense of disappointment with the community's leadership that they are not standing up for them at a time when the intelligence is obviously being politicized.''

That's just one of dozens of reports throughout a variety of media at the time, all of which pointed to the fact that the Bush administration was marching to war using whatever it could scrape out of the CIA. The hawks were planning the invasion of Iraq within weeks of Bush's inauguration, according to former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, and were looking for the intelligence to back them up. Let's not forget, too, that within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld was trying to blame Saddam and launch an attack on Iraq. The fact that all of this is even up for debate now is really quite laughable.

In addition to the 'faulty intelligence' ruse, conservatives are also defending Bush by pulling out their old standby argument: 'But Bill Clinton ... ' (Actually, blaming the CIA is blaming Clinton as well, since CIA director George Tenet is a Clinton holdover, and a lot of Republicans in Congress want to get rid of him.) The supposedly faulty intelligence on WMDs in Iraq was the same intelligence used under the Clinton administration, they're claiming, and foreign governments believed it too. But if you follow the time line in Kay's remarks, Saddam likely did have stockpiles of WMDs during the early part of the Clinton presidency. Sanctions, U.N. inspections, internal corruption and Saddam's overall lunacy, however, contributed to Iraq's dismantling, and/or not proceeding with, nuclear programs by decade's end. Another thing happened as well: In the mid-'90s, according to Kay, a bombing campaign by the U.S. destroyed most or all of Saddam's chemical weapons.

In other words, Bill Clinton, scourge of the right and one of those soft-on-terrorism Democrats, actually can take credit for ending Saddam's illicit weapons programs. Even if Clinton, France, Germany and others believed right up until the war last year that Saddam still had WMDs, those beliefs were based on intelligence that, rightly, wasn't solid enough for any of them to support an invasion before more inspections. As Kay told Ted Koppel on Nightline, if you're going to have a policy of 'pre-emption' then the intelligence has to be 'pristine.' With CIA insiders complaining about intelligence being 'politicized,' and with Dick Cheney's hands molding it, the intelligence was anything but.

Now Bush, who originally dismissed demands for an independent investigation, has announced a commission to look at broader intelligence problems, described by a White House official as focusing on 'the global security challenges of the 21st century.' That's perfectly tailored to divert attention and keep the focus off the White House and its misleading claims about Iraq. And it's so grand that it conveniently can't be completed by November, allowing Bush to continue to deflect criticism through the eclection. The White House knows that if we go back now and retrace all the steps, the lies and the shams will materialize faster than any weapons of mass destruction have.

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