Joe Conason's Journal

Bush's first attempt to answer the damning findings of David Kay did not go well -- although the White House press corps pretended not to notice.

Published January 27, 2004 11:31PM (EST)

Mr. Bush's fantasy planet
The president was fantasizing again this afternoon about the circumstances that led to war -- and if his remarks at his press conference with the Polish president are to be taken seriously, he also seems badly confused about his Iraqi timeline. This was Bush's first attempt to answer the damning findings of David Kay, departing director of the Iraq Survey Group. It didn't go well, although almost everyone in the White House press corps pretended not to notice.

So removed from reality is the president that it seems worthwhile to unpack two exchanges with reporters who asked about Kay's admission that he expects no weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq.

"Question: Mr. President, a year ago you said the dictator of Iraq has got weapons of mass destruction. Are you still confident that weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq, given what Dr. Kay has said?

"President Bush: Let me first compliment Dr. Kay for his work. I appreciate his willingness to go to Iraq and I appreciate his willingness to gather facts. And the Iraq Survey Group will continue to gather facts.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat to America and others. That's what we know. We know from years of intelligence -- not only our own intelligence services, but other intelligence-gathering organizations -- that he had weapons -- after all, he used them. He had deep hatred in his heart for people who love freedom. We know he was a dangerous man in a dangerous part of the world. We know that he defied the United Nations year after year after year. And given the events of September the 11th, we know we could not trust the good intentions of Saddam Hussein, because he didn't have any.

"There is no doubt in my mind the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. America is more secure, the world is safer, and the people of Iraq are free."

There is no doubt in Bush's mind -- but please note that he didn't answer the question. Instead, he asserted that we "know ... he had weapons" because Saddam "used them" -- presumably meaning the poison gas deployed more than a decade ago. After driving the nation to war because of the WMD threat, Bush won't say whether those weapons will ever be found. So another reporter pushed again minutes later:

"Question: Mr. President, but how do you describe and account for the difference between what you claimed prior to the war about what he possessed and what he was capable of, and what the intelligence said he possessed and was capable of in terms of a nuclear weapon within the decade, and the fact that David Kay says the intelligence was inaccurate and wrong, and nothing has been found? Don't you owe the American people an explanation?

"President Bush: Well, I think the Iraq Survey Group must do its work. Again, I appreciate David Kay's contribution. I said in the run-up to the war against Iraq that -- first of all, I hoped the international community would take care of him. I was hoping the United Nations would enforce its resolutions, one of many. And then we went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution -- 1441 -- unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in.

"I said in the run-up that Saddam was a grave and gathering danger, that's what I said. And I believed it then, and I know it was true now. And as Mr. Kay said, that Iraq was a dangerous place. And given the circumstances of September the 11th, given the fact that we're vulnerable to attack, this nation had to act for our security."

Leaving aside those incoherent references to "programs" and what the world obviously "felt," what is most notable in Bush's answer is that he again said Saddam "did not let us in." This is the second time he has made this weird statement, as if Hans Blix and UNMOVIC had never existed, nor conducted the most intrusive weapons inspections ever done in Iraq. (The first time was last July, when Bush said, in the presence of an astonished Kofi Annan: "And we gave [Saddam] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in.")

How dare the press mock Howard Dean when they listen respectfully to this arrant lunacy?

Someday even Bush may learn to cope with the reality of the weapons of mass disappearance. He and his friends will no doubt remind us, however, that liberating the Iraqis from Saddam's evil oppression justifies itself, even though Iraq posed no military threat to us or anyone else. That's an argument of dubious legality -- and Ken Roth disposes of it in Human Rights Watch's annual report:

"In examining whether the invasion of Iraq could properly be understood as a humanitarian intervention, our purpose is not to say whether the U.S.-led coalition should have gone to war for other reasons. That, as noted, involves judgments beyond our mandate. Rather, now that the war's proponents are relying so significantly on a humanitarian rationale for the war, the need to assess this claim has grown in importance. We conclude that, despite the horrors of Saddam Hussein's rule, the invasion of Iraq cannot be justified as a humanitarian intervention." Roth's essay is worth reading to learn why.
[3:30 p.m. PST, January 27, 2004]

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