The long shadow of the faulty, hyped intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq has posed a huge barrier to President Barack Obama’s efforts to win public and congressional support for a limited missile strike against Syria.
Remember the “mushroom cloud?” Both President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, used that terrifying phrase, invoking images of a nuclear holocaust, to push America along the road to war.
The CIA issued a now-infamous National Intelligence Estimate in October 2002 that said Iraq “is reconstituting” its nuclear weapons program and that Saddam Hussein had supplies of sarin, VX and other lethal chemical weapons, as well as biological weapons, “including anthrax” and perhaps even “smallpox.”
None of it was true.
Now Obama wants to strike Syria in response to what all signs point to as the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attack on August 21 against opposition areas around Damascus. But according to opinion polls, the American public, weary of war in the Middle East, opposes military action by a large majority. Congress is, in turn, divided.
Underlying the skepticism about launching a U.S. military attack to punish and perhaps deter Syria from future use of chemical weapons are deep doubts over the intelligence that the Obama administration is citing. If the White House and the CIA were so wrong 10 years ago, the public is in effect saying, why should we believe them now?