WHOSE MISTAKE?….Michael O’Hanlon, in the course of an op-ed suggesting that the CIA didn’t screw up quite as badly as the Senate Intelligence Committee says it did, points out that, after all, before the war it sure looked like Saddam was hiding something:

Let’s face it, it would have taken an overwhelming body of evidence for any reasonable person in 2002 to think that Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of chemical and biological agents

….The United Nations and most European and Middle Eastern intelligence outfits had the same incorrect beliefs as our agencies, for the same understandable reasons. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons in war and against his own people in the 1980’s. For more than a decade after the Persian Gulf war, he obstructed international inspectors’ efforts to find and destroy such weapons, ensuring that United Nations sanctions that cost his country more than $100 billion would remain in place. He had his underlings confront the inspectors on several occasions in ways that led to military strikes against his security organizations. It certainly looked as if he valued chemical and biological agents a great deal, and was prepared to do a lot to hold onto them.

This may ? or may not ? get the CIA off the hook, but the drumbeat repetition of this argument (mostly by war supporters) deliberately obscures a far more important point: by the time we invaded Iraq none of this mattered.

Remember, UN inspectors re-entered Iraq three months before the invasion and found nothing there except a handful of missiles that violated UN limits by a few miles. Saddam destroyed them.

The United States provided the inspectors with detailed intel on where to find Iraq’s WMD stockpiles. No dice: every single followup turned out to be a wild goose chase.

Hans Blix’s team searched everywhere, including Saddam’s palaces. Nothing.

Before the invasion, France and several other countries made proposals for even more intrusive inspections: thousand of inspectors backed up by military units. George Bush turned them all down.

The fact is that by March 2003 we didn’t have to rely on CIA estimates or on the estimates of any other intelligence agency. We had been on the ground in Iraq for months and there was nothing there. There was nothing there and we knew it.

Did the CIA screw up? Probably. Did it matter? No. George Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 not because he was convinced Iraq had WMD, but because he was becoming scared that Iraq didn’t have WMD and that further inspections would prove it beyond any doubt. Facts on the ground have never been allowed to interfere with George Bush’s worldview, and he wasn’t about to take the chance that they might interfere with his war.

Whatever faults the CIA has, let’s not blame them for the war in Iraq. We all know exactly whose mistake it was.