Accuracy in Media

A much-anticipated debate between Bill O’Reilly and Michael Moore ended in Moore’s favor on Tuesday night when he got O’Reilly to say that going to war in Iraq over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was “a mistake.” O’Reilly seemed pleased with the exchange but it demonstrates how supporters of the war have ceded too much ground to critics who want Bush voted out of the office because “he lied.”

O’Reilly’s performance had the unfortunate effect of validating John Kerry’s question to a Senate committee about the war in Vietnam, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” If the main reason for going to war in Iraq was based on a mistake, how indeed do you justify the sacrifice of hundreds dead and thousands wounded? O’Reilly said it was worthwhile to liberate a country from a dictator. But there are plenty of dictatorships around the world and hundreds of millions of oppressed people.  The U.S. cannot and should not try to liberate all of them. But the U.S. should act when there is a national security threat to the American people. O’Reilly should have taken note of the evidence which continues to demonstrate that it would have been foolish, especially after 9/11, to have ignored Saddam’s threat to America and the world. 

In the exchange, Moore pressed O’Reilly on what he would tell the parents of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq: “And there was no threat, was there?” O’Reilly replied, “It was a mistake.” When Moore countered, “I don’t think that is good enough,” O’Reilly agreed, saying, “I don’t think its good enough either for those parents.”

O’Reilly’s response is not good enough. It is demoralizing to these families?and our troops?to call the war “a mistake” under any circumstances. The “mistake” is in thinking that because stockpiles of weapons have yet to be discovered, the Iraqi regime wasn’t a national security threat to the U.S. O’Reilly neglected to mention that reports from the Senate Intelligence Committee and a British investigative panel have confirmed that there was reason to believe that Saddam was seeking uranium from Africa for a nuclear weapons program. Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s claims to the contrary have been completely discredited.

It’s not as if Saddam’s pursuit of the nuclear bomb was anything new. Iraq had long pursued nuclear weapons. The construction of the Osirak reactor, bombed by Israel, was part of that program. In 1991, as noted by the Washington Post, freshly seized Iraqi documents disclosed the existence of a “crash program” by Iraq to build a nuclear bomb. However, the CIA knew nothing about it.

Writing in the Guardian, William Shawcross points out that Charles Duelfer, the new head of Washington’s Iraq Survey Group (ISG), says the evidence gathered since the war shows that Iraq was “preserving and expanding its knowledge to design and develop nuclear weapons.”

While Saddam may not have had “stockpiles” of weapons at the time of the war in March 2003, Shawcross argues that, “to assert that there was therefore no WMD threat is to trivialize the issue.” He explains, “Intelligence has to look at form. Saddam’s history over the past 14 years was one of attempting to obtain and conceal WMD.” He added, “Given all we knew of Saddam by 2003, the conclusion had to be that he still possessed a residual WMD capability and was determined to restore his original capacities?but it was not possible to determine how far he had got.”

Regarding the WMD, British Prime Minister Tony Blair says, “I have to accept that we haven’t found them, that we may not find them … We don’t know what has happened to them. They could have been removed. They could have been hidden. They could have been destroyed.” Blair’s statement is factually correct. It would be unwise to compound one alleged intelligence failure with another by coming to the premature conclusion that the WMD will never be found or never existed.

During a recent interview on Cal Thomas’s Fox News Channel program, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pointed out that, “A great many people have been rushing around trying to prove the negative. The conventional wisdom has concluded that the negative has been proved, that is to say, that there were not stocks of weapons of mass destruction. I think it’s hard to conclude that. We keep finding that there are things we didn’t know. We may very well find, as we go forward, that there are things that we don’t know today.” Another ISG report is due in September.

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