AUSTIN, Texas -- Just for the record, since the record is in considerable peril. These are Orwellian days, my friends, as the Bush administration attempts to either shove the history of the second Gulf War down the memory hole or to rewrite it entirely. Keeping a firm grip on actual historical fact, all of it easily within our imperfect memories, is not that easy amid the swirling storms of misinformation, misremembering and misstatement. But since the war itself stands as a monument to what happens when we let ourselves get stampeded by a chorus of disinformation, let's draw the line right now.

            According to the 500-man American team that spent hundreds of millions of dollars looking for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, there aren't any and have not been any since 1991.

            Both President Bush and Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, now claim Saddam Hussein provoked this war by refusing to allow United Nations weapons inspectors into his country. That is not true. Bush said Sunday: "I had no choice when I looked at the intelligence. ... The evidence we have discovered this far says we had no choice."

            No, it doesn't. Last week, CIA director George Tenet said intelligence analysts never told the White House "that Iraq posed an imminent threat."

            Let's start with the absurd quibble over the word "imminent." The word was, in fact, used by three administration spokesmen to describe the Iraqi threat, while Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld variously described it as "immediate," "urgent," "serious and growing," "terrible," "real and dangerous," "significant," "grave," "serious and mounting," "the unique and urgent threat," "no question of the threat," "most dangerous threat of our time," "a threat of unique urgency," "much graver than anybody could possibly have imagined," and so forth and so on. So, could we can that issue?

            A second emerging thesis of defense by the administration in light of no weapons is, as David Kay said, "We were all wrong."

            No, in fact, we weren't all wrong.

            Bush said Sunday, "The international community thought he had weapons." Actually, the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency both repeatedly told the administration there was no evidence Iraq had WMD. Before the war, Rumsfeld not only claimed Iraq had WMD but that "we know where they are." U.N. inspectors began openly complaining that U.S. tips on WMD were "garbage upon garbage." Hans Blix, head of the U.N. inspections team, had 250 inspectors from 60 nations on the ground in Iraq, and the United States thwarted efforts to double the size of his team. You may recall that during this period, the administration repeatedly dismissed the United Nations as incompetent and irrelevant. But containment had worked.

            Nor does the "everybody thought they had WMD" argument wash on the domestic front. Perhaps the administration thought peaceniks could be ignored, but you will recall that this was a war opposed by an extraordinary number of generals. Among them, Anthony Zinni, who has extensive experience in the Middle East, who said, "We are about to do something that will ignite a fuse in this region that we will rue the day we ever started." After listening to Paul Wolfowitz at a conference, Zinni said, "In other words, we are going to go to war over another intelligence failure." Give that man the Cassandra Award for being right in depressing circumstances.

            Marine Gen. John J. Sheehan was equally blunt. Any serving general who got out of line, like Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, was openly dissed by the administration.

            Suddenly, the administration is left with the only good reason there ever was for getting rid of Saddam Hussein in the first place -- he's a miserable s.o.b. You will recall that this is precisely the argument the administration rejected. Wolfowitz said that human rights violations by Saddam against his own people were not sufficient to justify our participation in his ouster.

            Now, according to the president, Saddam Hussein is a "madman." Oh, come on. An s.o.b., yes, but crazy like a fox -- always has been. It wasn't even crazy of him to have invaded Kuwait, given that April Glaspie, the American ambassador at the time, told him, "We have no opinion on your border disputes with Kuwait."

            For everyone who ever cared about human rights and longed for years to get rid of Saddam Hussein, this late-breaking humanitarianism on Bush's part is actually nauseating. All the Amnesty International types who risked their lives to report just how terrible Saddam's rule was always had one question about getting rid of him: What comes next?

            I don't think there is any great mystery here about how this "mistake" -- such an inadequate word -- was made. For those seriously addicted to tragic irony, consider that the most likely Democratic nominee is now John Kerry, who first became known 33 years ago for asking, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

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