Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Libby Indictment May Open Door to Broader Iraq War Deceptions

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Libby Indictment May Open Door to Broader Iraq War Deceptions

Article excerpt

The details revealed thus far from the investigation that led to the five-count indictment against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby seem to indicate that the efforts to expose the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson went far beyond the chief assistant to the assistant chief. Though no other White House officials were formally indicted, the investigation appears to implicate Vice President Richard Cheney and Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's top political adviser, in the conspiracy. More importantly, the probe underscores the extent of administration efforts to silence those who questioned its argument that Iraq constituted a serious threat to the national security of the United States. Even if no other White House officials ever have to face justice as a result of this investigation, it opens one of the best opportunities the American public may have to press the issue of how the Bush administration led us into war.

Spurred by the Libby indictment, the Downing Street memo, and related British documents leaked earlier this year, some mainstream pundits and Democratic Party lawmakers are finally raising the possibility that the Bush administration was determined to go to war regardless of any strategic or legal justification and that White House officials deliberately exaggerated the threats posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq in order to gain congressional and popular support to invade that oil-rich country. Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid stated for the first time on October 28, the day of the indictment, that the charges raise questions about "misconduct at the White House" in the period leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq that must be addressed by President Bush, including "how the Bush White House manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq and to discredit anyone who dared to challenge the president." (1)

Indeed, even prior to the return of United Nations inspectors in December 2002 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq four months later, it is hard to understand how anyone could have taken seriously the administration's claims that Iraq was somehow a grave national security threat to the United States. And, despite assertions by administration apologists that "everybody" thought Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and an advanced nuclear program immediately prior to the March 2003 invasion, the record shows that such claims were strongly contested, even within the U.S. government.

Pre-invasion Skepticism

In the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there were many published reports challenging Bush administration claims regarding Iraq's WMD capabilities. Reputable journals like Arms Control Today, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Middle East Policy, and others published articles systematically debunking accusations that Iraq had somehow been able to preserve or reconstitute its chemical weapons arsenal, had developed deployable biological weapons, or had restarted its nuclear program. Among the disarmament experts challenging the administration was Scott Ritter, an American who had headed the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) division that looked for hidden WMD facilities in Iraq. Through articles, interviews in the broadcast media, and Capitol Hill appearances, Ritter joined scores of disarmament scholars and analysts in making a compelling and--in hindsight--accurate case that Iraq had been qualitatively disarmed quite a few years earlier. Think tanks such as the Fourth Freedom Foundation and the Institute for Policy Studies also published a series of reports challenging the administration's claims.

And there were plenty of skeptics from within the U.S. government. For example, the State Department's intelligence bureau noted how the National Intelligence Estimate--so widely cited by war supporters of both parties--did not add up to "a compelling case" that Iraq had "an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. …

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