- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

In an unconscious self-parody, the New York Times ran on Saturday a story under the headline: “Truth is the first casualty. Is credibility the second?”

The story, by Steven Weisman, was not about Howell Raines or Jayson Blair or columnist Maureen Dowd’s creative use of the ellipsis. It was about the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Mr. Weisman quoted a Democratic senator, a former Clinton aide, and a professor at Yale who charged that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair “exaggerated” and “overstated” evidence about Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs in order to make a case for war.

Since fewer than 300 of more than 900 suspected WMD sites in Iraq have yet been investigated, a conclusion that Saddam possessed no such weapons is, at best, wildly premature. And even if it could be proved conclusively that Saddam disposed of all his WMD before hostilities began, it is a further macabre leap to assert that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair were inventing a cause for war.

To get an idea of how macabre, let’s reverse the argument. Before hostilities began, the editors of the New York Times, several Democratic senators, and many college professors claimed war with Iraq would result in thousands of American casualties, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties, and send hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into neighboring countries. None of this happened. Should we therefore conclude that those who made these claims were lying in order to keep Saddam Hussein in power?

The assertion that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction is as preposterous as it is malicious. Robert Kagan, Rich Lowry and others have demonstrated that Mr. Bush said nothing about Saddam’s weapons programs that hadn’t been said earlier by President Clinton and his national security team. In his report to the U.N. Security Council Jan. 27, Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix said there was “no evidence” Saddam had destroyed his stocks of anthrax, and “strong evidence” he had produced more. The most alarming report on the Iraqi nuclear program came from the German intelligence service.

“If all these people were lying, there is only one person who ever told the truth: Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Kagan noted.

More mass graves have been discovered in Iraq. On June 4, the remains of some 200 Kurdish children, apparently buried alive with their dolls, were found near Kirkuk. But liberals, in their desperation to say something bad about Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair, elevate the word of the child killer over theirs.

The effort to smear Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair already has caused grief to the Guardian, a left-wing British newspaper. The Guardian last week had to retract two prominent stories pushing the “Bush and Blair made it all up” thesis.

The first concerned an alleged meeting Feb. 5 between Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, at which the two, according to the Guardian, lamented the poor quality of the WMD evidence.

The Guardian acknowledged the meeting never took place. (Mr. Straw wasn’t even in the U.S. at the time.)

The second was a story, from German sources, that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz had admitted the Iraq war was chiefly about oil. As the Guardian acknowledged in its correction Saturday: “Mr. Wolfowitz, in fact, had said nothing of the kind.”

The distortions continue. The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency blasted Friday news stories that a classified intelligence report had said the U.S. had no reliable evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

What the DIA report said was that intelligence officials could not pin down the exact location of weapons caches. “We did not have any doubts about the existence of the program,” said Adm. Lowell Jacoby.

When you have to lie in order to accuse your opponents of lying, your own credibility becomes the issue.

Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration and is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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