Greg Thielmann, former State Department official in charge of intelligence, spoke last night at Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown, PA. He gave his account of how President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell misled our nation into war in Iraq, when they falsely claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Thielmann, born in Des Moins in 1950, is a 25-year veteran of the US Foreign Service and was acting director of the Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) at the State Department. He was responsible for analyzing the Iraqi weapons threat before retiring in the fall of 2002.
“Just as I was leaving government, the leaders of our government were building their case for war against Iraq, based on a misleading or downright dishonest description of sensitive intelligence information”, Thielmann began his speech. “My task now is to explain to you what happened to make Iraq the “mother of all intelligence failures”, and why that failure has led to so much grief for our nation and its people”.
According to Thielmann, INR reported to Powell well in advance of a declaration of war by President Bush that the Iraqi military was very weak, that their nuclear weapons program was dormant and that if Iraq did possess chemical or biological weapons (there was no concrete evidence), they posed little danger to their neighbors and none to the US.
Hundreds of weapons inspectors were send to Iraq by the U.N. to locate any possible sites where weapons of mass destruction were or could have been manufactured. The inspectors found nothing unusual other than an al-Samoud 2 missile exceeding its allowed flight limit of 93-miles by 15 miles on test flights. There were no hidden depots of chemical weapons, no plants for the production of biological weapons and no facilities where nuclear warheads were being produced. The inspectors became so frustrated in their search for WMP in Iraq that according to CBS news they accused the United States of “sending them on a wild-goose chase”.
And yet Powell, in his remarks to the United Nations Security Council in February of 2003, mentioned that “we know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” Bush took it one step further in his subsequent address to the Nation. He explained that “intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq Regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” He proceeded to state that “the people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.” Hence, the war began on March 19, 2003.
Thielmann explained that “the statements by both Powell and Bush, which lead to the war with Iraq, were not based on facts. The political leadership already knew what the bottom line was going to be before it asked for the Intelligence Community’s judgment. It wanted arguments, not insight, and discounted all contrary analysis.” The conclusion Thielmann ultimately came to was that instead of the leadership forming conclusions based on careful reading of the intelligence provided to them, they already had their conclusions to start out with. According to U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, “They were cherry-picking half-truth and rumors and only highlighting pieces of information that bolstered the administration’s case for war.”
When asked by a member of the audience why Bush, despite lack of sufficient evidence for WMD in Iraq nevertheless insisted on going to war, Thielmann could not give a rational. He did, however, offer a few theories which included retaliation by Bush against Saddam Hussein, the now ousted authoritarian leader of Iraq, for having planned to have Bush Sr. assassinated at some point in the past. Another feasible explanation for starting the war could be better control over the oil which Iraq has and the US needs. The raw power argument of “taking care of nations we are friendly with, i.e. Israel who had a major interest in getting rid of Hussein, is another strong possibility. “But”, Thielmann pointed out, “we will never know for sure.”
The only sure thing is that the American People were deceived into believing that the war against Iraq and Hussein in particular was absolutely necessary in order to maintain world piece. There is no doubt that the world is a better place without people like Hussein in a position of power. It is doubtful, however, that the American people would have supported Bush in his decision to go to war if they had known the truth.
Thielmann’s talk was part of a 3-day tour throughout Pennsylvania, sponsored by 20/20 Vision, a global security organization. The goal of the tour is to educate Americans about how the Bush administration got it wrong on Iraq WMD, and to learn the lessons of this tragic experience. For more information on 20/20 Vision, visit www.2020vision.org.