- We may never know if Saddam Hussein really had weapons of mass destruction during the final months or years before his ouster, but it is worth asking why the Bush administration claimed he did with a degree of certainty far exceeding that of U.S. intelligence reports.
Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and the other Pentagon officials who made these claims so fiercely probably weren’t lying. Clearly, they had formed their conclusions first, then went scrounging for the evidence. Clearly, they stretched the evidence they found right up to, and in some cases beyond, the logical limits. However, it’s a fair bet that they genuinely believed that Saddam had these weapons. They probably also believed that the analysts in the CIA and DIA, who were uncertain or skeptical about the matter, just didn’t, or didn’t want to, look hard enough.
In this sense, Rumsfeld and company saw themselves as something like a district attorney who twists the facts a bit to “frame a guilty man”—or like Dean Acheson, Harry Truman’s secretary of state, who admitted in his memoirs that, while pushing for a massive U.S. arms buildup against what he saw as a grave Soviet threat, he made his points “clearer than truth.”
In fact, the history of the Cold War offers many parallels to this pattern, few more enlightening or pertinent than the controversy over the “missile gap”—another case of a threat that everyone perceived as real and immediate (it even helped elect a president) but that, in this case, turned out to be completely false….. [Slate]