I haven’t had a chance to read Frum and Perle’s “An End to Evil” but I have caught them talking about it a few times. One point that I’ve heard Perle make really sticks with me. The emphasis on WMDs was largely the result of lawyers at the State Dept. thinking that was the only “legal” reason we could go to war. Perle didn’t reference it directly, but remember the whole kerfuffle about Paul Wolfowitz’s interview with Sam Tanenhaus in which he divulged that the emphasis on WMD above all else was largely due to “bureaucratic” pressures from inside the US government. This, predictably, was distorted into proof that neocon ideologues were lying about the real reasons for the war. But that wasn’t what he was saying at all.
Anyway, my point is this: to the extent the post-Iraq failure to find WMDs is a disaster for the United States in terms of its credibility, its relationships with allies etc. one could argue that the fault lies in the fact that George W. Bush listened too much to Colin Powell and the State Department instead of the hawks, since it was the Wolfowitz crowd which wanted to emphasize freedom, democracy, stability and the war on terror. Now that no WMDs have been found that rhetoric seems self-serving when in fact those were co-equal priorities all along. If George Bush had talked before the war about bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq as eloquently as he did afterwards, he would be in a lot better shape politically and in the history books. Moreover, I bet he would have been a lot more honest. Bush is a moralist and I’m certain he had the liberation of Iraq and the war on terrorism in his mind as much as anything else.
That was certainly the case for most of the pro-war conservatives outside the administration. Scan through the pages of post 9/11 National Review, National Review Online, The Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard etc. Look at what Chris Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan and the “war bloggers” had to say about the war with Iraq. The WMD issue was certainly important, but it became critical only after the administration made it clear that they were going hinge their entire case on WMDs.
I don’t think the administration lied or deliberately exaggerated the WMD intelligence. I do think it deliberately exaggerated the WMD issue at the behest of the cookie pushers at State. And that’s why we’re in such a pickle now.