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The political mysteries of the WMDs

The fundamental mystery of the WMDs deepens. By any reasonable standard, nothing has so far been found. Moreover, it now seems almost certain that nothing will ever be found indicating a developing nuclear capability for IraqĖthe subject of the administrationís most vivid scare stories. Itís just too hard to hide a nuclear program so thoroughly that it wouldíve avoided detection thus far.

Which brings us to one of the political mysteries of the WMDs. Will this failure to find WMDs, especially the scariest ones, wind up turning a substantial segment of the public against the Bush administration?

The conventional wisdom is that, no, it wonít, because most people say the war was justified even if WMDs arenít ever found. But that assumes that the only reason the public might turn on the administration is if they believe the war wasnít justified.

DR doesnít buy this. Itís quite possible that people will continue to believe the war was justified--basically because Saddam was a bad guy and it was good to get rid of him, especially given our history with himĖbut start to doubt what they were told about it and worry that they were, in effect, lied to. If that happens, the image of Bush as a strong leader who can be trusted will erode and the GOPís fortunes with it.

But who's going to tell the public they were being lied to? That's the other political mystery of the WMDs. Paul Krugman is obviously willing to do so, as in today's excellent New York Times column. But what about the people who really need to do it--Democratic politicians, particularly Democratic presidential candidates? Howard Dean has been willing to make some noise. And, definitely Bob Graham. But so far most of the major candidates, particularly the (arguably) top two--Kerry and Gephardt--have been pretty quiet, saying some variation on it's too early to say we won't find them and avoiding the issue of lying and deliberate deception. Gephardt went so far as to point out that President Bill Clinton and others in his administration had said during the 1990s that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction...so, therefore, how wrong could the Bush administration be?

Thanks, Dick. It appears the political calculus here is driven by risk avoidance--they don't want to be sandbagged if WMDs are actually found--combined by a feeling they need to continue to justify their votes for the war. Wrong on both counts. At this point, the administration can never find the WMDs in the quantity and deadliness (especially nuclear) they said they would. So they won't be sandbagged. And, they miss the point of going after the administration for lying to the public--it's not about justification for the war, it's about trust. Break that down and DR guarantees they won't have to worry about their votes on the war. But hold back and they lose a chance to wound Bush. They also reinforce their image of cravenness, which annoys the Democratic base, and not being willing to speak their mind, which annoys everyone else. Losses all around, gentlemen.