The recent dust-up between the New York Times and the White House over whether "faulty intelligence" caused the Bush government to invade Iraq only serves to perpetuate a misleading narrative which seeks to shift the blame for a disastrous American war.
Citing a recent interview that President Bush did with Charlie Gibson in which Bush said, "The biggest regret of the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq," the New York Times editorial on 7 December 2008 said:
"After everything the American public and the world have learned about how Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney manipulated Congress, public opinion and anyone else they could bully or lie to, Mr. Bush is still acting as though he decided to invade Iraq after suddenly being handed life and death information on Saddam Hussein's arsenal."
The next day the White House responded saying, in part, "As the President has stated, he regrets the intelligence was wrong, but it was intelligence that members of Congress, foreign governments as well as the Administration all believed to be accurate."
So the narrative of blame continues -- all the while avoiding a much more sorry truth. Not only did the Bush White House lie and manipulate (for original source documentation see the "secret British memos" collected here,) but Congressional leaders -- including many prominent Democrats -- and leading organs of the mainstream media were all too willing to join the march to war and turn a blind eye to ample evidence of doubt. If Congress and the media were ignorant of the truth about Iraq's weaponry, it was a willful ignorance.
In late 2002 and early 2003 I did my own assessment from open sources.
For a study called "First Strike Guidelines: The Case of Iraq," first published in September 2002, I consulted dozens of reports, both official and unofficial, on Iraqi weapons programs. In particular I want to call attention to a thorough and careful assessment by independent British analyst Glen Rangwala -- "Claims and evaluations of Iraq's proscribed weapons," University of Cambridge, U.K., 05 February 2003. Six years later it is worth another look.
Not only were independent researchers such as myself and Rangwala finding it extremely doubtful that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program, but the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, reported to the Security Council on March 7, 2003, just days before the invasion, that, "After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq."
All these official and unofficial assessments were readily available to the press and to members of Congress, not to mention the national security staff in the White House. Neither "intelligence failure" nor "manipulation" begin to describe what happened to the judgment of the leaders of our government and of the mainstream American media at the time. The record will show that few of these powerful actors really cared about the facts at the time. They were ready for war making and the facts would simply have to fit their inclinations. Today their excuses and recriminations simply don't hold with the evidence.