After weeks of nonstop delving by Congress and the media, the question of whether there ever were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq refuses to go away. But it's the wrong question at the wrong time.
The only relevant question is: Did Iraq ever pose an imminent threat to the United States?
Actually, there's a second related question: Are there consequences to be paid for warring upon and occupying a nation under false pretenses?
All else -- including the notion that the war has paved the way for peace in the Middle East -- is at best subterfuge, if not hogwash.
The answer regarding Iraq as an imminent threat was known before the war. There's nothing to dig up or uncover. Iraq was never an imminent threat to the United States.
Iraq paid a heavy price for invading Kuwait, and the militarily defanged nation would have paid an even heavier price if it had attempted another invasion. For the United States to be able to carry out a new war against Iraq, the administration recruited fear as it needed to inflate the danger of Iraq and link it to al-Qaida. Despite this, the fact that the most powerful nation in world history was at imminent risk from such a weak nation was hard to swallow. Yet, Congress and the U.S. media were bamboozled into acquiescence -- or silence -- by an administration that had preordained that Saddam had to go and that promoted the notion that permanent pre-emptive war -- even with nuclear weapons -- is the key to eternal peace and prosperity. (Tell that to the liberated people of Afghanistan and Iraq.)
Recent disclosures that the Defense Intelligence Agency had concluded that there was no reliable information regarding Iraq's WMDs buttress the belief that the administration accepted only the intelligence that suited its purposes. Several current and former U.S. and British intelligence officers and government officials have affirmed this.
Even if Iraq possessed every weapon that the administration claimed, the U.S. intelligence services were clear that Iraq did not possess the delivery systems to make it an imminent threat against Europe, much less the United States.
That being the case, why does the president continue to insist that Iraq was an imminent threat to the United States and the free world?
Misleading Congress about an immoral personal matter got the former president impeached. What, then, is the penalty for misleading Congress and the U.S. public -- for invading a nation and killing thousands of combatants and noncombatants?
To be sure, this is the administration that has done everything in its power to exempt the United States from the International War Crimes tribunal, evidently with good reason. With power relations being what they are, no one should expect that court or the United Nations to hold anyone from the United States or Britain accountable for waging an illegal war. Legalities aside, as evidenced by a recent BBC poll, the president's credibility has suffered greatly in the world court of opinion. Perhaps this is a good thing, as he will have trouble recruiting allies for future wars.
Neither should we expect Congress to hold anyone accountable, as they would have to answer themselves for dereliction of duty -- for surrendering their constitutional responsibilities when they granted the president a blank check to invade Iraq. Yet, they have a fallback: They can claim that they did so based on doctored intelligence reports.
Aside from the daily killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, potentially the only price to be paid will be political. Perhaps a government official will be offered up as a sacrificial lamb. Closed congressional hearings, of course, do little to instill confidence in a government obsessed with secrecy (under the guise of national or homeland security) that is operating under the precept of: "Trust us, we know best."
Ultimately, in a year and a half, the people will decide whether this kind of government -- daily chipping away at the Constitution and promoting a state of permanent war -- is acceptable and desirable.