Twelve years ago, as an editor of the Weekly Standard, David Brooks was a staunch advocate for invading Iraq. He belittled and sneered at those who expressed doubt. On March 23, 2003, Brooks wrote: “The situation has clarified, and history will allow clear judgments about which leaders and which institutions were up to the challenge posed by Saddam and which were not.”
Now, Brooks has a different view. “History is an infinitely complex web of causations,” Brooks wrote on the Iraq war in his Tuesday New York Times column.
Brooks returned to the subject of Iraq to dismiss a question posed to various Republican presidential candidates: “Was the Iraq War a mistake?” Brooks argues that everyone, including President Bush, was simply misled by faulty intelligence.
He dismisses the idea that Bush bears any responsibility, writing, “There’s a fable going around now that the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was all cooked by political pressure, that there was a big political conspiracy to lie us into war.”
As evidence, Brooks cites the Robb-Silberman report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But Brooks neglects to mention that the Robb-Silberman report examined only the intelligence and did not investigate whether the intelligence was manipulated by Bush, Cheney and other members of the administration. “Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers,” Judge Lawrence Silberman said upon released of the report.
The Senate Intelligence Committee also did a follow-up report, which you can read about in The New York Times. The report itself, signed by Republicans and Democrats, concluded that “the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”
That conclusion is supported by other evidence. Paul Pillar, the CIA official who oversaw Middle East intelligence, wrote that “intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made.” Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, the administration set up an operation to “reinterpret information” provided to them by intelligence. That group, led by Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith, promoted “false links between Iraq and al Qaeda.”
Brooks argues that “the question, would you go back and undo your errors is unanswerable.” It’s not. But in order to do so, you have to admit that you’ve actually made errors.