THE MISSING WMD….IS STILL MISSING….What to think about all this? I got an email this morning alerting me to a story headlined “Journo claims proof of WMD lies,” which says this:

Australian investigative journalist John Pilger says he has evidence the war against Iraq was based on a lie that could cost George W. Bush and Tony Blair their jobs and bring Prime Minister John Howard down with them.

A television report by Pilger aired on British screens overnight said US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice confirmed in early 2001 that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been disarmed and was no threat.

Did Colin Powell really say that Saddam didn’t have WMDs? In a word, yes. Following a trip to Egypt in early 2001 that included a fair amount of acrimony over U.S. sanctions against Iraq, Powell was asked this question at a press conference:

QUESTION: The Egyptian press editorial commentary that we have seen here has been bitterly aggressive in denouncing the U.S. role and not welcoming you. I am wondering whether you believe you accomplished anything during your meetings to assuage concerns about the air strikes against Iraq and the continuing sanctions?

SECRETARY POWELL:…. We had a good discussion, the Foreign Minister and I and the President and I, had a good discussion about the nature of the sanctions — the fact that the sanctions exist — not for the purpose of hurting the Iraqi people, but for the purpose of keeping in check Saddam Hussein’s ambitions toward developing weapons of mass destruction….And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors….

Was Powell lying? And more to the point, when was he lying? In Egypt in 2001, or during the buildup to the war?

I can’t quite figure this out yet, but in any case it’s hardly plausible that an honest person could draw the exact opposite conclusion two years apart even though the evidence itself hadn’t changed. And everything we know suggests that the evidence in January 2003 was exactly the same evidence we had in January 2001.

So Powell’s credibility takes yet another shot. If he’s questioned about this, and eventually he will be, I imagine he’ll suggest either (a) the evidence really did change between 2001 and 2003, or (b) the old standby, we re-evaluated the evidence in light of 9/11.

I think he’ll have a hard time providing convincing backup for (a), and (b) is definitely getting a little long in the tooth. It’s one thing to start looking for clues you might have missed after an event like 9/11, but it’s quite another to make a 180 degree turn on a factual matter like Saddam’s WMD programs.

So think of it as one more nail in the coffin. From Andy Card’s “from a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August,” to Paul Wolfowitz’s admission that WMD was the focus of prewar rhetoric for reasons of “U.S. government bureaucracy,” to the fact that no WMD has been found and even Condoleezza Rice has confirmed that we shouldn’t count on David Kay producing any new evidence ? well, between all that, it kinda looks like there might not have been any WMD all along, doesn’t it?

Which ? all Bush bashing aside ? is a genuinely surprising conclusion. But eventually you have to accept the evidence on its own terms, and right now the evidence says there wasn’t any WMD before the war and there wasn’t any WMD in 2001. The only question left seems to be whether the Bush administration knew this all along and lied outright, or whether they were merely unsure and wildly exaggerated the evidence in order to start a war.

It’s hardly an appealing choice.