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War rally remember the maine

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Washington Merry-Go-Round
By Jack Anderson and Douglas Cohn

WASHINGTON -- It looks as if weapons of mass destruction will not be found, at least not in the ready-to-launch quantities the administration claimed. Those privy to the prewar intelligence reports are surprised that the evidence has not panned out. Either the intelligence was flawed or administration hardliners -- eager to take on Saddam Hussein -- exaggerated the WMD threat to bolster the case for pre-emptive war.
The Senate has opened an inquiry which, if some members of Congress have their way, could lead to a full-blown investigation. Lawmakers want to know how much of the pre-invasion rhetoric the Bush administration really believed, and how much was a sales job.
For now, most voters back the president (according to a national poll taken last week), regardless of whether WMDs are found. Saddam was a brutal dictator and the world is better off without him in power. He was a threat to his neighbors, and a potential threat to the United States. But it's also worth keeping in mind that Bush's plan to bring democracy to Iraq and the Middle East appeals to American idealism.
Yet Bush realized that the prospect of dislodging Saddam was not enough to rally congressional or U.N. support, so he latched onto WMDs as the reason for war. Bush also oversold Saddam's alleged alliance with al-Qaida, though no evidence has surfaced linking Saddam to Osama bin Laden. Still, the administration's rhetoric persuaded a majority of the public who, according to polls, still believe that Saddam had some part in the Sept. 11 attacks and would strike again if not deterred. There may have been reasons to support the war other than WMDs and Osama, but they didn't have the political saliency Bush was looking for to win the broad support needed to launch a pre-emptive invasion.
Is Bush's credibility at stake? As the prestigious former Republican Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee said in the midst of the Watergate scandal: "What did the president know and when did he know it?" Did the administration lie to the American public to get support for this war? The answer is "yes," if you count flat-out falsehoods and overzealous hyping as lies. For example, did anyone in the administration really believe that Saddam had an advanced nuclear program? Yet Bush warned critics that failure to act could result in a mushroom cloud being their wake-up call.
America has a long history of making up reasons to go to war that are politically marketable. Cries of "Remember the Maine" launched the Spanish-American War in 1898. It took the government a hundred years to acknowledge that the Maine had not been torpedoed, but had blown up as the result of an accident. President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 on a pledge to keep America out of World War I, yet he knew that entering the war was essential to check German power and found his opening once he was safely inaugurated for a second term. The Gulf of Tonkin incident that propelled us into Vietnam continues to be controversial.
People rally around their leader in times of crisis, so it will take a lot more than is currently known about the intelligence prior to the war in Iraq to shake Americans' faith in Bush. Intelligence, by definition, is as much art as science, and any interpretation is necessarily subjective.
Prediction: Even without the proverbial smoking gun, Bush is likely to ride out the questions about his candor and credibility.

Copyright 2003, The Salt Lake Tribune.
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War rally remember the maine

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