During the buildup to the war in Iraq, President Bush argued persistently that Saddam Hussein presented a great danger to the world and that he possessed weapons of mass destruction. Now, David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, has confirmed what has become increasingly obvious since the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.
"It turns out we were all wrong," Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
Newspaper editorial pages across the country have been commenting on Kay's testimony and his explanation that faulty intelligence was to blame for the assumption that Iraq had such weapons.
Here are excerpts from several editorials.
The Dallas Morning News
We supported war against Iraq because we believed President Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Eleven months after it invaded, the United States has found no such weapons. We feel deceived - by the CIA, which overestimated the threat, and by the White House, which probably stretched the bad estimates to build a case for war.
No one should regret the destruction of the Iraqi dictatorship. But the CIA should have known that Iraq probably no longer possessed nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. If Mr. Bush still determined that war was necessary for strategic or humanitarian reasons, he should have argued the case on that basis.
... Mr. Bush and the CIA should admit that they were mistaken and take urgent steps to avoid repeating their mistakes. U.S. security and credibility depend on spy agencies and political leaders who know when dictators have mass-destruction weapons - and when they don't.
The Fresno Bee
... An outside panel chaired by someone beholden neither to Bush nor to any of his potential Democratic rivals for the presidency [should investigate]. Any scrupulous probe seems likely to come up with a great many details about a seriously flawed intelligence process. But its most important task would be to let the American people know whether their president misled them about the gravity of the Iraqi threat - Saddam Hussein's malevolent wish list is not enough - or whether Bush was simply mistaken because he was badly served by the intelligence community and, perhaps, some of his senior national security aides. ...
It's already clear that the prewar U.S. intelligence was far off the mark. A drastic overhaul of the apparatus is in order. What's not yet fully clear is to what extent the administration manipulated the process to get the answers it wanted, or to interpret whatever it got in a way that made it feel justified in going to war in the name of the American people. Gaining an understanding of that isn't likely to be pleasant, but it is necessary.
The Denver Post
... even defenders of President Bush should be wary of being too critical of the CIA. There is a tendency in intelligence circles to err on the side of caution and consider worst-case scenarios. Those who would criticize such caution might recall what happened on Dec. 7, 1941, when American planners, aware of Japan's war-like intentions, refused to believe that Japan's crack carrier force could strike Pearl Harbor.
CIA Director George Tenet needs to thoroughly investigate the problem of what went wrong with our Iraq estimates. But we do not want the agency to begin an exercise of self-flagellation that would make it afraid to aggressively probe for future potential threats, either.
Meanwhile, we are encouraged that the leading Democratic candidates for president, however critical they may be of Bush for beginning the war without U.N. Security Council support, seem now committed to a reasonable exit strategy in hopes of making Iraq an outpost of freedom in a turbulent corner of the world.
Peoria Journal Star
... Nothing an American president does is as serious or sobering as ordering the troops he commands to war, and no decision Congress makes should be as difficult as a declaration of war. Intelligence factors into that decision but not as much, one would hope, as judgment does. It is too easy to blame the CIA.
That said, the capacity of the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as of the Defense Department's intelligence-gathering apparatus, to provide accurate and reliable information is critical to the nation's security. At the same time they were reporting weapons capabilities in Iraq that did not exist, David Kay says intelligence analysts were seriously underestimating the weapons capacities of Libya and Iran. If true, this is frightening.
The intelligence issue belongs on center stage now, though it is a stage already cluttered with Iraq and al-Qaida and Iran and North Korea and the economy and election-year politics. We've launched one war on the basis of bad information; we can't afford a repeat.
The Des Moines Register
... Everyone remembers Bush's State of the Union address last year when he insisted Iraq had weapons. ... Americans rallied and other countries joined the fight because they were told Iraq had weapons. They were told Iraq was a threat.
Yet that apparently was not true.
Why did the administration say it was?
Kay blames the intelligence community. ... Other reports suggest the administration pressured the intelligence community to find weapons that weren't there.
The breakdown must be found.
Too much is at stake.
More than 500 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq. ... Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent. It's difficult for Americans to question a war now that the United States is in so deep. It's easier, perhaps, to believe that removing Saddam was reason enough to go to war.
But it's the responsibility of Congress to find the truth. A full investigation by an independent commission should be launched to determine what the intelligence community knew, what it reported to the president and how the president interpreted and relayed that information to the American people.
The Louisville Courier-Journal
... No reasonable person would dispute that the quality of CIA information is of critical importance. ... But the decision to take the country to war was the President's, and there is much regarding the missing weapons for which he should answer. ...
What is needed is a full explanation of how the administration handled data, including whether it sought analysis supporting its views and ignored CIA disclaimers. It must also answer questions such as why it saw no significance in the inability of U.N. inspectors to find unconventional weapons at sites to which they were directed by American intelligence.
The President is right about one thing. There are foreign threats to the United States. Iran and North Korea have nuclear programs, and even Libya's recently abandoned efforts were apparently well ahead of Iraq's. If this President must some day warn of new dangers that demand a military response, who will believe him? And why?
The Boston Globe
... Kay's account of what caused the intelligence failure is compelling. Beyond recognizing, at last, that stockpiles of prohibited weapons may not turn up in Iraq, President Bush should acknowledge two harsh truths: that the intelligence was completely wrong and that administration hawks tried to politicize intelligence.