Lieutenant General James Conway’s words on Iraq could come back to haunt the Bush administration:

Conway said he was convinced when U.S. and British troops swept into Iraq from Kuwait that they would come under chemical or biological attack before they reached Baghdad. But such shells have not been found even in ammunition storage sites, he told reporters.

“It was a surprise to me then. It remains a surprise to me now that we have not uncovered weapons … in some of the forward dispersal sites,” said Conway.

“Believe me, it’s not for lack of trying. We’ve been through virtually every ammunition supply site between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad. But they’re simply not there.”

This, along with allegations that the administration manipulated intelligence to support its claims of an imminent threat, has officials retreating again into incoherent arguments to justify the war. Rumsfeld, for instance, is now claiming Iraq may have destroyed the weapons before the war.

Let’s examine this for a moment. During the war, Defense Dept. officials said the Iraqis hadn’t used chemical weapons because they didn’t have time to. How, then, would they be able to destroy tons and tons of chemical and biological weapons during the same period? And how could they do so completely undetected, at a time when virtually the entire U.S. intelligence community was focused on the region?

Rumsfeld’s theory falls apart when we consider the strategic realities during the weeks leading to the war. Saddam Hussein knew that his refusal to disarm would lead to war, but that his agreement to disarm could prevent it. Why, then, would he publicly defy the United Nations, but privately get rid of the weapons that would be effective in the resulting war?

Despite officials’ flailing attempts to change the subject, a simple, awful truth is gradually emerging in Iraq: The American people were grossly misled on the single rationale that made the country different from other states that defied the United Nations (Israel), abused human rights (Cuba) or brutalized their people (Eritrea).

I certainly hope that renewed efforts to find the WMD are successful. But if they aren’t, and if our ADD-afflicted press stays with this story, then it will prove devastating to the administration.

Worse than Watergate, Bush will have defiled the office in ways worse than anything Bill Clinton did.

Bush’s Republican cronies would save him from impeachment, but left-leaning hawks like myself could still take solace in the ensuing course of events: Bush deposes Saddam Hussein, but is dragged down in the war’s aftermath as the public realizes the full extent of his incompetence. He then loses the election, replaced by a Democrat who would hopefully rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan — and U.S. credibility — the right way.

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