Losing patience, here and in Britain Impatient as the Bush and Blair governments became with the plodding pace of U.N. inspections last winter, their friends and flacks now insist that if only we will wait, weapons of mass destruction shall surely be discovered in Iraq. But patience is waning even among supporters of the war. Evidence of WMDs is still scarce, while evidence that intelligence was distorted and fabricated is increasingly plentiful.
In Washington, even senior Senate Republicans may be worried that the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction will damage American prestige abroad. (They also don't like being lied to, and could be fretting silently about the potential long-term political damage at home.)
The coming investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee could force a real accounting from Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell. Where that would lead is hard to predict, since both Powell and Rumsfeld still proclaim confidence in their earlier predictions. But if it is true, as reported in the Guardian, that Powell told British foreign minister Jack Straw last February of his worries about the quality of intelligence concerning Iraqi WMDs, then the continuing rift between the Pentagon and the State Department might be publicly exposed -- to the great embarrassment of the White House. (It must be added that, despite "transcripts" allegedly circulating in NATO circles, Straw denies any such conversation between him and Powell ever occurred.)
Meanwhile in Britain, Tony Blair is coming under intense pressure to prove that his government's claims about Iraqi weapons programs were not fraudulent -- or at best exaggerated. An editorial in today's Evening Standard voiced the dismay felt by British supporters of the war who suddenly suspect they were misled:
"We were persuaded to support the involvement of British forces not because of Saddam's repressive regime but because we trusted the Prime Minister's conclusions about the nature of the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.
"More than any other prime minister in recent times, Tony Blair relies upon his relationship of trust with the British people ... If he cannot successfully rebut the allegation that he duped his countrymen into going to war, his leadership will be dangerously compromised." Outrage on these shores isn't nearly as great as in Britain yet, perhaps owing to the greater capacity for self-deception of our pundits and politicians. But there are danger signs for Bush, and not only from the reliably skeptical Paul Krugman. Words like "lies" and "lying" are becoming common usage to describe the spin emanating from this White House. (It may even be a good time to be the author of a book with this title.)
Read the most recent column by Mark Bowden, celebrated author of "Black Hawk Down" and a sincere supporter of the war, which must have given Karl Rove heartburn (and my thanks to the Daily Howler for pointing it out). As Bowden unhappily concluded:
"When a president lies or exaggerates in making an argument for war, when he spins the facts to sell his case, he betrays his public trust, and he diminishes the credibility of his office and our country. We are at war. What we lost in this may yet end up being far more important than what we gained."
[11:03 p.m. PDT, June 3, 2003]