I think we know what happened. It’s slowly coming into view. During the Clinton administration we orchestrated a disinformation campaign about Saddam Hussein and Iraq in order to justify our continued presence in the Gulf, and to justify the interminable sanctions regime.

Policy makers were divided over what to do about Iraq. After all, Bill Clinton didn’t launch the Persian Gulf War, and most Democrats voted against it. Clinton inherited an intractable problem, and one that caused ever increasing international tensions.

It appears that sometime around 1996 the CIA was tasked with fomenting an internal coup, but the coup attempt was either compromised or called off at the last minute.

By 1998, Clinton was embroiled in scandal, bin-Laden attacked our African embassies, and our foreign policy became confused and unfocused. Acting on Clinton’s weakness, a bi-partisan group of energy hawks forced through the Iraq Liberation Act which stated:

It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.

On Halloween, 1998, Clinton signed the act into law.

In spite of this, Clinton never seriously contemplated regime change after 1996. At least internally, the CIA gave honest intelligence assessments. In December 2000, “the intelligence agencies issued a classified assessment stating that Iraq did not appear to have taken significant steps toward the reconstitution of the [nuclear] program, according to the presidential commission report concerning illicit weapons.” link

Early on in the Bush presidency we heard some moments of truth. For example, on February 24th, 2001, Colin Powell was in Egypt where he talked about Iraq:

“He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”

On May 15th, 2001, Powell testified before Congress:

…even though we have no doubt in our mind that the Iraqi regime is pursuing programs to develop weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological and nuclear — I think the best intelligence estimates suggest that they have not been terribly successful.

Both Clinton and Bush found it useful to hype the threat of Saddam Hussein. We were under pressure to lift the sanctions on Iraq, and that was not something we were inclined to do. It was necessary for both domestic consumption and for international relations, therefore, for us to constantly keep the nastiness of Saddam’s regime in the public eye.

But sometime in 2001, our policy changed. Perhaps it was before 9/11, perhaps 9/11 changed the equation. But it is now clear that sometime in 2001 the CIA changed course from giving an honest assessment of Iraqi intentions and capabilities, to giving a false one. They didn’t do it all at once. In fact, the White House waged a semi-public feud with the CIA, essentially calling them pussies for failing to back up worst-case scenarios.

It is also now clear that the CIA did the White House’s bidding quite reluctantly, and they did not appreciate being blamed for the intelligence failure when no WMD turned up after the invasion. The latest NY Times article is just more evidence of this:

The Central Intelligence Agency was told by an informant in the spring of 2001 that Iraq had abandoned a major element of its nuclear weapons program, but the agency did not share the information with other agencies or with senior policy makers, a former C.I.A. officer has charged.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court here in December, the former C.I.A. officer, whose name remains secret, said that the informant told him that Iraq’s uranium enrichment program had ended years earlier and that centrifuge components from the scuttled program were available for examination and even purchase.

The officer, an employee at the agency for more than 20 years, including several years in a clandestine unit assigned to gather intelligence related to illicit weapons, was fired in 2004.

In his lawsuit, he says his dismissal was punishment for his reports questioning the agency’s assumptions on a series of weapons-related matters. Among other things, he charged that he had been the target of retaliation for his refusal to go along with the agency’s intelligence conclusions.[snip]

The former officer’s lawyer, Roy W. Krieger, said he could not discuss his client’s claims. He likened his client’s situation to that of Valerie Wilson, also known as Valerie Plame, the clandestine C.I.A. officer whose role was leaked to the press after her husband publicly challenged some administration conclusions about Iraq’s nuclear ambitions. (The former officer and Ms. Wilson worked in the same unit of the agency.)

“In both cases, officials brought unwelcome information on W.M.D. in the period prior to the Iraq invasion, and retribution followed,” said Mr. Krieger, referring to weapons of mass destruction.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

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