Known Unknowns (And the Lying Liars Who Lied Us Into War)
Seeing as how former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will be at the Constitution Center tonight hocking his memoir, Known and Unknown, I figured it’s as good a time as any to direct your attention to this September 2002 memo from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Rumsfeld, declassified last month, on Iraq’s WMD program (h/t The Monkey Cage). You know, thing that ran the absolutely certain risk of utter calamity and maybe nuclear war if we didn’t invade a sovereign country and start a war that would last seven years, cost thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of lives and trillions of dollars? Let’s give it a quick read, from page 1:
If you can’t read that, it says: “Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD. It is big.”
“We range from 0% to 75% knowledge on various aspects of their program.” Zero to 75 percent. That’s a lot of damn uncertainty.
No hard evidence. Sparse information on the nuclear program. “We don’t know with any precision how much we don’t know.”
How about chemical weapons? “We do not know if all the processes required to produce a [chemical] weapon are in place.… We cannot confirm the identity of any Iraqi sites that produce final chemical agent.”
Just for fun, let’s take a trip down memory lane, and see what Rumsfeld was saying about Iraq’s WMD program from September 2002—as Bush administration officials were both making the case for war, and using it as a political bludgeon to go after Democrats as weak on terror—to the war’s commencement in March 2003. (For the record, this memo notes that Rumsfeld read it, personally, on September 9th, 2002.)
- Rumsefeld, September 18th, 2002 (9 days after he read that memo): “The point is this: Iraq possesses biological weapons, and chemical weapons, and is expanding and improving their capabilities to produce them.”
- Rumsfeld, September 19th, 2002: “[Saddam Hussein has] amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of biological weapons, including Anthrax, botulism, toxins and possibly Smallpox. … He’s amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX, Sarin and mustard gas.” (None of this proved true, of course.)
- Rumsfeld, March 20, 2003: “We know where they [weapons of mass destruction] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” (Per page 6 of the aforementioned memo: “We cannot confirm the identity of any Iraq facilities that produce, test, fill, or store biological weapons.”)
- Rumsfeld, March 24, 2003: “We have seen intelligence over many months that they have chemical and biological weapons, and that they have dispersed them and that they’re weaponized and that, in one case at least, the command and control arrangements have been established.”
And so on. As for the rest of the Bush administration? Well, you remember that sell job, don’t you? Here’s a quick, and quite representative, refresher:
- Condoleezza Rice, September 8th, 2002: “You will get different estimates about precisely how close [Saddam is to developing a nuclear weapon]. We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. … We know he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device that anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
I’m not normally one for relitigating the past, nor do I believe the Bush administration was in on 9/11 or that Saddam Hussein was just a misunderstood guy instead of a monster, or any of that other nonsense. But I do think the record is clear that, whatever their motivations, Bush administration officials knowingly lied—or, if we’re to be very generous, bent and manipulated the truth—to sell the public on a war, and no one has ever really been called to account for that. Not Rumsfeld. Not Rice. Not Dick Cheney. Not George W. Bush. No one. And that’s a damn shame.