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What was America’s real motive for attacking Iraq? Was it oil? Empire? To make the Middle East safe for Sharon? That these questions are being asked, not only

by America’s critics, is the fault of the administration alone. For its crucial argument as to why it had no choice but to launch the first preventive war in American history is collapsing like a sand castle in a rising surf.

Iraq, in retrospect, was no threat whatsoever to the United States. We fought an unnecessary war, and now we must rebuild a nation at a rising cost in blood and treasure.

Before the war, many who opposed it argued that no matter the evil character of Saddam, Iraq had not attacked us, did not threaten us, did not want war with us, could not defeat us. Why then were we about to invade Iraq?

Came the administration answer: Saddam has ties to al-Qaeda. He has an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. He is a year or so away from being able to build a nuclear bomb, and he will use these weapons on us or our allies, or give them to terrorists who will use them in the United States. And these weapons will kill not just the 3,000 who perished on Sept. 11, but tens and even hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans. Do you want to risk that? Do you want to do nothing and risk a “mushroom cloud” in an American city? Or do you want to remove this mortal threat now? So went the clinching argument for war.

Opponents answered that the UN inspectors had found nothing, that Saddam had even invited in the CIA to have a look, that surely he could not launch a sneak attack on America or her allies with UN inspectors rummaging around his country. The War Party scoffed. Hans Blix, they said, was an incompetent and an appeaser who would deliberately not find weapons rather than be responsible for causing a war.

So President Bush launched America’s first pre-emptive war, and it was a triumph of American arms. But nearly three months have now elapsed, and we have not yet found a single weapon of mass destruction, though we were told, again and again, that Saddam had “30,000 munitions.”On June 1, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank revisited the Bush administration’s categorical claims in the run-up to war:

On Aug. 26, 2002, Vice President Cheney told the VFW, “Stated simply, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.”

On Dec. 2, Ari Fleischer told the White House press corps, “You’ve heard the president say repeatedly that he has chemical and biological weapons.” On Jan. 7, 2003, Fleischer added, “We know for a fact that there are weapons there.”

Also in January, Rumsfeld declared, “There’s no doubt in my mind that they currently have chemical and biological weapons.”

In his Feb. 8 radio address, Bush declared, “We have sources that tell us that Saddam recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons—the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.”

Cheney added in March, “We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

On March 17, on the eve of war, President Bush told the nation “Intelligence … leaves no doubt that the Iraqi regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” So persuaded, America united behind the president and went to war.

Something is terribly wrong here. It is impossible to believe the president would deliberately lie to the nation when he knew the full truth would be discovered at war’s end in a few weeks. Either he was misled, or he was deceived, and, so, too, was Secretary of State Colin Powell. Who did it? Who was responsible for the intelligence failure, or the dishonest use of selected intelligence, or the conscious and deliberate deceit of a president and secretary of state?

Where are the weapons? We have searched 300 sites and arms dumps and found not one shell. If Saddam had the weapons, why did he not use them? If he destroyed them before the war, as Rumsfeld now argues, he fulfilled the terms of Resolution 1441 and could have saved himself by showing UN inspectors where and how he did it.

Why would Saddam let himself, his family, and his regime perish protecting weapons he either no longer had or did not intend to use?

Is it possible Iraq never had that vast arsenal of anthrax, VX, sarin, and mustard gas we were led to believe? Did the intelligence agencies fail us, or did someone “cook the books” to meet the recipe for an imperial war? It is time Congress investigated the Office of Special Plans, set up in the Pentagon to sift and interpret all intelligence and placed under neoconservative super-hawk, Paul Wolfowitz.

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