The New York Times’, Iraq Illicit Arms Gone Before War, Departing Inspector States reveals an extraordinary new development in the ongoing saga of the Bush Administration’s tortuous arguments about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction:
David Kay, who led the American effort to find banned weapons in Iraq, said Friday after stepping down from his post that Iraq had no stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons at the start of the war last year. In an interview with Reuters, Dr. Kay said he now thought that Iraq had illicit weapons at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, but that the subsequent combination of United Nations inspections and Iraq’s own decisions “got rid of them.”
Asked directly if he was saying that Iraq did not have any large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the country, Dr. Kay replied, according to a transcript of the taped interview made public by Reuters, “That is correct.”
Dr. Kay’s statements undermined one of the primary justifications set out by President Bush for the war with Iraq. Mr. Bush and other top administration officials repeatedly cited Iraq’s possession of chemical and biological weapons as a threat to the United States, and the lack of evidence so far that Saddam Hussein actually had large caches of weapons has fueled criticism that Mr. Bush exaggerated the peril from Iraq.
Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said the administration stood by its previous assessments that Mr. Hussein had both weapons programs and stores of banned weapons.
“Yes, we believe he had them, and yes we believe they will be found,” Mr. McClellan said. “We believe the truth will come out.”
With Dr. Kay’s departure, the administration on Friday handed over the weapons search to Charles A. Duelfer, a former United Nations weapons inspector who has expressed skepticism that the United States and its allies would find any banned chemicals or biological agents.
Dr. Kay’s comments and the appointment of Mr. Duelfer, made by George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, appeared to be a turning point in the administration’s defense of its assertions that Mr. Hussein had amassed large stores of illicit weapons that he could use or turn over to terrorists for use against the United States or other nations.
What is especially striking about this development is that the Bush Adminstration has now tacitly accepted the judgment that Iraq did not have WMD when the war began. At that very time, the U.S. was using the charge of Iraq’s having WMD as one of its most powerful pretexts for war. If the Bush Administration still held out any hope to find WMD, it would never have appointed a WMD-skeptic like Duelfer to assume David Kay’s command.
Second, this development reveals the schizoid nature of the Bush Administration’s position regarding WMD. Publicly, they claim that that Iraq had WMD and that the U.S. will find evidence of that (hence Scott McClellan’s disingenuous comment, “we believe he had them and the truth will come out.”). But privately (and even not so privately according to Colin Powell’s statement today that Iraq may not have had WMD), the Bushites have decided that the WMD ‘dog’ won’t hunt and they’ve given up on it. Such a divided, two-faced position will satisfy no one, especially not the media and Democrats who seek to hold Bush accountable for the lies he told in last year’s State of the Union speech to justify the wasted war we’ve fought in Iraq.