The Real Question

July 25, 2003

The president is reported to have met the other day with the Secretary General of the United Nations and announced to the press that the reason we went to war in Iraq was because Saddam Hussein would not let the UN inspectors into Iraq. He said, "So, after a reasonable time, we decided to go in ourselves." That must have come as something of a surprise to Kofi Annan, who was sitting right there, since the UN inspectors were actually in Iraq just before the war began and the reason they left was because we were going to bomb them.

Before the invasion Secretary Rumsfeld told us the names of the towns where WMD would be found. He named them. But today these towns and even these reasons for the war have become less important. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz said last week he does not care about WMD any more. In the last couple of days, with the killing of Saddam’s sons, the reason for the war has shifted to protection of the Iraqi people. Or maybe it was something else. In May, Wolfowitz had said it had to do with the fact that "Iraq is swimming in oil."

Documents released by the Commerce Department last week showed that already in March of 2001, four months before 9/11, Vice President Cheney’s energy task force was poring over maps of Iraq, pipe lines and potential oil concessions. The maps were detailed and included information about what companies had potential to take oil out. The Vice President is now in court trying to keep records of the conversations about those maps secret. But it does not take too much imagination to think that these maps may have more to do with why we went to war than did weapons of mass destruction.

There is these days an uproar in Washington about bad intelligence, as if that were the cause of the invasion. But given all these changing explanations, a cover up of intelligence problems does not seem to be what we ought to investigate. The more important deception was the claim by this administration, repeated regularly over a 15 month period, that they had not made up their minds.

Their actions in the year before show an unbroken intention to conduct an occupation, with or without weapons of mass destruction, and with or without evidence of connections of Hussein to Al Qaeda. The record is explicit and detailed. From the Axis of Evil speech in January, 2002, through the President’s overriding the Joint Chiefs in May, to his announcement of the preemptive strike policy in June, to actually sending reconnaissance troops into Iraq and ordering up new supplies of smart bombs in July, the military preparations were unequivocal. All had happened before the president went to the UN or the Congress to warn about WMD. And all had happened while Mr. Bush still said he had not decided. All point to the fact that he had indeed decided. He had made up his mind without evidence from Niger or Al Qaeda.

If we are to have a Congressional investigation, it should not be of the CIA, or the intelligence community. The real question is whether the president and his top advisors can prove that they did not intend this expensive and dangerous occupation from the day they came into office. That is where the extensive evidence points and that is where there is some real explaining to do.