Oops. There are no weapons of mass destruction after all. That's the emerging consensus of the second team of weapons sleuths commanded by the U.S. in Iraq, as reported last week in the Los Angeles Times. The 1,400-member Iraq Survey Group found what the first wave of U.S. military experts and the United Nations inspectors before them discovered -- nada.
Nothing, not a vial of the 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin or the 25,000 liters of anthrax or an ounce of the materials for the 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent claimed by George W. Bush in his State of the Union speech as justification for war. Nor any sign of the advanced nuclear weapons program, a claim based on a now-admitted forgery. Nor has anyone produced any evidence of ties between the deposed Saddam Hussein regime and the al-Qaida terrorists responsible for 9/11.
The entire adventure was an immense fraud.
"We were prisoners of our own beliefs," a senior U.S. weapons expert who worked with the Iraq Survey Group told the Times. "We said Saddam Hussein was a master of denial and deception. Then when we couldn't find anything, we said that proved it, instead of questioning our own assumptions."
How distressing that it turns out to be Bush, leader of the world's greatest democracy, who is the true master of denial and deception, rather than Saddam, who proved to be a paper tiger. Bush is such a master at deceiving the American public that even now he is not threatened with the prospect of impeachment or any serious congressional investigation into the possibility that he led this nation into war with lies.
But lie he did, at the very least in the crucial matter of pushing secret evidence that even a president of his limited experience had to know was so flimsy as to not be evidence at all. U.S. intelligence officials now say the administration was lied to by Iraqi émigrés.
That excuse for the U.S. intelligence failure in Iraq would be laughable were the circumstances not so appalling. It means Bush ignored all the cautions of career diplomats and intelligence experts in every branch of the U.S. government over the unsubstantiated word of Iraqi renegades.
Clearly, the administration, from the president on down, did not want expert advice and intelligence that would have undermined its excuse for invading Iraq. This was a shell game from beginning to end in which Americans' legitimate fear of terrorism after 9/11 was almost immediately and cynically exploited by the neoconservative gang that runs U.S. foreign policy.
American soldiers standing guard over the White House's imperial ambitions -- a new Middle East as linchpin to a new world order -- are now being shot like fish in a barrel.
Had Congress dared question Bush's claim of an immediate Iraqi military threat, there would have been no excuse for invasion. But Congress is kept on a tight leash by Republican leaders, subverting its basic role as a check and balance on executive power. Shame on congressional Democrats, especially those running for president, who went along with this disgusting charade.
In the disarray and dissolution of the U.S. role as leader of the free world, we sadly witness America's pathetic and isolated effort to rule Iraq with some of the same émigrés who deceived us with the false information that led us into a war that suited their ambitions.
One of those Iraqi exile leaders who clearly misled the U.S., Ahmad Chalabi, is now a senior figure in the fig-leaf Iraqi shadow government in U.S.-colonized Baghdad. Chalabi is a fugitive from Jordan, where he was convicted of major financial fraud, and he has no real base of support in Iraq. But Bush still backs him, trafficking all too easily with a liar who tells him what he wants to hear.
The British public, raised on a higher standard of official honesty, is properly shocked. Prime Minister Tony Blair is in deep trouble as Parliament and a high judge are embarked on a truth-finding investigation into their government's rationale regarding the reasons for war. On Friday, Blair's media spokesman, Alastair Campbell, accused by the BBC of "sexing up" the intelligence data used to justify going to war with Iraq, suddenly resigned.
The Brits don't like being fooled. That's not the case in the United States, where for too many pundits and politicians, accepting official mendacity has become a mark of political sophistication.
More American soldiers have died since Bush declared the war over than during the war itself. This misadventure is costing nearly $4 billion a month just for the troops, and billions more for reconstruction by U.S. companies like Dick Cheney's old firm Halliburton. But too many Americans betray the proud tradition of an independent citizenry by buying into the "aw shucks" irresponsibility of a president who daily does a grave injustice to the awesome obligations of the office that he has sworn -- in the name of God, no less -- to uphold.