David Kay has returned from Iraq, having failed to locate the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) he was sent there to find. President George W. Bush’s would-be successors and other critics have seized upon his conclusion that–notwithstanding U.S. and foreign-intelligence assessments to the contrary–they ceased to exist in large quantity after 1991 to justify charges of presidential malfeasance.
President Bush could be forgiven for feeling annoyed with Dr. Kay. A heated reelection campaign is not exactly the moment any candidate would chose have new turmoil engendered over one of his most controversial decisions.
The president should, instead, feel grateful to the erstwhile head of the Iraq Survey Group, both for his past, courageous public service and for his present candor. And there is no better, or more appropriate, way to express his appreciation than to ask him to replace George Tenet as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).
David Kay has, after all, demonstrated once again the qualities of intellect, integrity, and independence that are always desirable in leaders of the U.S. intelligence community, but rarely more necessary than right now. Although he has expressed a view about the status of Saddam’s missing weapons programs that is debatable–and may ultimately be proven wrong–the former weapons inspector has certainly said many things that have long needed saying.
For example, Dr. Kay has made clear that, if there is fault to be found over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the blame should lie with those intelligence officials who produced the faulty data, not those policymakers who made decisions on the basis of it. As he told National Public Radio last Sunday, “It’s an issue of the capabilities of one’s intelligence service to collect valid, truthful information.”
In congressional testimony yesterday, Dr. Kay went even further: “I actually think the intelligence community owes the president [an apology] rather than the president owing [one to] the American people.” He went on to warn President Bush’s partisan critics that, “We have to remember that this view of Iraq was held during the Clinton administration and didn’t change in the Bush administration. It is not a political ‘got you’ issue. It is a serious issue of how you could come to the conclusion that is not matched by the [facts].”
One of Dr. Kay’s most important observations cut the legs out from under those who insist the president and his subordinates–in particular, Vice President Dick Cheney–manipulated the intelligence they received from the CIA and other agencies. “In the course of [his work in Iraq], I had innumerable analysts who came to me in apology that the world that we were finding was not the world that they had thought existed and that they had estimated. Reality on the ground differed in advance. And never–not in a single case–was the explanation, ‘I was pressured to do this.’ The explanation was very often, ‘The limited data we had led one to reasonably conclude this. I now see that there’s another explanation for it.’”
He went on to note that, “…Almost in a perverse way, I wish it had been undue influence because we know how to correct that. We get rid of the people who, in fact, were exercising that. The fact that it wasn’t tells me that we’ve got a much more fundamental problem of understanding what went wrong and we’ve got to figure out what was there. And that’s what I call fundamental fault analysis.”
Dr. Kay also offered an opinion on the question that properly should be the focus of the debate in this election cycle: Given what the Bush team was being told about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, did it act not only properly, but prudently?
He told the Senate Armed Services Committee: “Based on the intelligence that existed, I think it was reasonable to reach the conclusion that Iraq posed an imminent threat. Now that you know reality on the ground as opposed to what you estimated before, you may reach a different conclusion–although I must say I actually think what we learned during the inspection made Iraq a more dangerous place, potentially, than, in fact, we thought it was even before the war.”
That danger lay in the reality that, no matter how large the stocks of weapons of mass destruction retained by Saddam Hussein at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he surely retained at least small quantities, a likelihood David Kay acknowledges. As Secretary of State Colin Powell reminded the U.N. Security Council in his appearance before it on the eve of war, even a tiny vial of biological weapons could be employed to kill tens of thousands of people.
Underscoring this danger, Dr. Kay added: “After the war and with the inspection effort that we have carried out now for nine months, I think we all agree that there were not large amounts of weapons available for imminent action; that’s not the same thing as saying it was not a serious, imminent threat that you’re not willing to run for the nation. That is a political judgment, not a technical judgment.”
More to the point, Dr. Kay’s team has established that the Iraqi despot had the production capacity and know-how to produce a great deal more chemical and biological weaponry when international economic sanctions were lifted. It should be recalled that Russia, France, and Germany, among others, were actively working to bring about such an outcome. In fact, they would almost certainly have succeeded, but for President Bush’s decisive leadership and action.
Even if Democratic presidential candidates refuse to acknowledge it, David Kay’s testimony actually confirms the president’s most important claim to reelection: He spared us the very difficult problem of having to do something about the “Butcher of Baghdad” after the U.N. had let Saddam out of the so-called “box” in which he was supposedly being “contained.” Had that happened, there can be no doubt the Iraqi despot would not only have been the “grave and growing danger” President Bush said he was, but a truly “imminent” one.
George W. Bush could do himself and the country an enormous favor by recognizing that David Kay is the sort of man who should be fixing what ails America’s intelligence services, notably by ending the practice of trying to get intelligence “on the cheap” without the costly and time-consuming investment in clandestine human assets (also known as spies). More importantly, Dr. Kay could be relied on as director of central intelligence to do what he has been doing ever since he got back from Iraq–speaking truth to power, something we are likely to need more than ever if the war on terror is to be won by freedom-loving people.
–Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and an NRO contributing editor.