May 30, 2005
Nothing young Americans can do in life is more honorable than offering themselves for the defense of their nation. It requires great selflessness and sacrifice, and quite possibly the forfeiture of life itself. On Memorial Day 2005, we gather to remember all those who gave us that ultimate gift. Because they are so fresh in our minds, those who have died in Iraq make a special claim on our thoughts and our prayers.
In exchange for our uniformed young people's willingness to offer the gift of their lives, civilian Americans owe them something important: It is our duty to ensure that they never are called to make that sacrifice unless it is truly necessary for the security of the country. In the case of Iraq, the American public has failed them; we did not prevent the Bush administration from spending their blood in an unnecessary war based on contrived concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. President Bush and those around him lied, and the rest of us let them. Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes. Perhaps it happened because Americans, understandably, don't expect untruths from those in power. But that works better as an explanation than as an excuse.
The "smoking gun," as some call it, surfaced on May 1 in the London Times. It is a highly classified document containing the minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting at 10 Downing Street in which Sir Richard Dearlove, head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, reported to Prime Minister Tony Blair on talks he'd just held in Washington. His mission was to determine the Bush administration's intentions toward Iraq.
At a time when the White House was saying it had "no plans" for an invasion, the British document says Dearlove reported that there had been "a perceptible shift in attitude" in Washington. "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The (National Security Council) had no patience with the U.N. route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."
It turns out that former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill were right. Both have been pilloried for writing that by summer 2002 Bush had already decided to invade.
Walter Pincus, writing in the Washington Post on May 22, provides further evidence that the administration did, indeed, fix the intelligence on Iraq to fit a policy it had already embraced: invasion and regime change. Just four days before Bush's State of the Union address in January 2003, Pincus writes, the National Security Council staff "put out a call for new intelligence to bolster claims" about Saddam Hussein's WMD programs. The call went out because the NSC staff believed the case was weak. Moreover, Pincus says, "as the war approached, many U.S. intelligence analysts were internally questioning almost every major piece of prewar intelligence about Hussein's alleged weapons programs." But no one at high ranks in the administration would listen to them.
On the day before Bush's speech, the CIA's Berlin station chief warned that the source for some of what Bush would say was untrustworthy. Bush said it anyway. He based part of his most important annual speech to the American people on a single, dubious, unnamed source. The source was later found to have fabricated his information.
Also comes word, from the May 19 New York Times, that senior U.S. military leaders are not encouraged about prospects in Iraq. Yes, they think the United States can prevail, but as one said, it may take "many years."
As this bloody month of car bombs and American deaths -- the most since January -- comes to a close, as we gather in groups small and large to honor our war dead, let us all sing of their bravery and sacrifice. But let us also ask their forgiveness for sending them to a war that should never have happened. In the 1960s it was Vietnam. Today it is Iraq. Let us resolve to never, ever make this mistake again. Our young people are simply too precious.
Editorial: Memorial Day/Praise bravery, seek forgiveness