As Peter Allen once sang, Everything old is new again — including the claim that George W. Bush lied about Iraq to get us into a war. Last month, Donald Trump revived the allegations as an attack on Jeb Bush, whose candidacy was already fading out of contention. Judith Miller, who went to jail to prevent disclosing her sources, addresses this claim in a new Prager University video released earlier today, arguing that most of what people think they know about the march to war in Iraq is simply wrong … much like the intelligence analyses that took us to war 13 years ago this month:
There was no shortage of mistakes about Iraq, and some of the media’s prewar WMD stories were wrong, including some of mine. But so is the enduring, pernicious accusation that the Bush administration fabricated WMD intelligence to take the country to war. Before the 2003 invasion, President Bush and other senior officials cited the intelligence community’s incorrect conclusions about Saddam’s WMD capabilities and, on occasion, went beyond them. But relying on the mistakes of others — completely understandable mistakes given Saddam’s horrendous record — and making errors of judgment are not the same as lying. …
Over the previous 15 years, none of the congressional committees routinely briefed on Iraq’s WMD assessments expressed concern about bias or error. The decision to go to war in Iraq received broad support in Congress from both Republicans and Democrats — and again for good reason. Even if the intelligence community overestimated Saddam Hussein’s WMD capability, it didn’t create it out of thin air. Saddam had used chemical weapons on his own people, killing thousands. He had invaded his neighbors, repeatedly.
No, President Bush did not take America into a war because he was strong-armed by a neoconservative cabal. As President Bush himself famously asserted, he was the “decider.” And no, he didn’t go to war for oil. If we wanted Saddam’s oil, we could have bought it.
President’s Bush decision to go to war was based on the information that he and his team relied on — information that was collected by the world’s top agents and analyzed by the world’s top analysts, including the intelligence agencies of France, Germany and Russia, countries whose leaders did not support going to war. But they all agreed on one thing — Saddam had and was continuing to develop WMD.
Our intelligence professionals, and those of major European countries, overestimated Saddam’s capabilities. Mistakes like that filter through the system — from the White House to Congress to journalists to the public. And those mistakes impact policy. But here’s the key thing to remember — they were mistakes…not lies.
Miller rebuts one particular argument about the pre-war intelligence. It didn’t get “cooked,” she says, but instead the devastation of 9/11 made underestimating threats look a lot more dangerous than overestimating them:
The members of the intelligence community with whom I dealt were overwhelmingly reliable, hardworking and honest. But they were also human, and, in the aftermath of 9/11, they were very wary of ever again underestimating a terrorist threat.
There’s an enduring myth that policy makers pressured intelligence analysts into altering their estimates to suit the Bush administration’s push to war. Yet several thorough, bipartisan inquiries found no evidence of such pressure. What they reveal, instead, is that bad intelligence led to bad policy decisions.
There is no small amount of irony in this argument coming up now. The Department of Defense and the intelligence community have active investigations looking into whether CENTCOM and other analysts have been cooking intelligence to make our anti-ISIS strategy look more successful than it truly is — and bury the threat of ISIS until it was too late. Warnings about cooked intel analyses went all the way to James Clapper, who apparently didn’t do much to correct the issue at the time.
However, several investigations have made clear that this was not the case with Iraq. Bush didn’t lie; he relied on bad intelligence amplified by the heightened concern after 9/11. The Saddam-WMD intel preceded Bush’s term in office, and Democrats before and after 9/11 offered the same warnings about Saddam’s intentions and his preparations. And while WMD was not found in bulk quantities, some undeclared chemical weapons actually were found by US forces after the invasion, as well as records that made clear that Saddam would reconstitute his WMD capabilities after the US and UK finally left. On top of that, Saddam refused to comply with the terms of the 1991 cease-fire and 17 UN resolutions demanding his cooperation.
All of this has been known for a decade. Only conspiracy theorists and manipulative demagogues continue to claim that “Bush lied us into war in Iraq.” Consider it a self-identifying behavior and choose accordingly.