It is time to tell the truth. The war in Iraq was based on a pack of lies.

Before you accuse me of being un-American, let me say right up front: I agree that the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam Hussein. I agree that President Bush could have made a case for war by telling us that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who was mistreating his own people and had to go.

But that’s not the case President Bush made. Instead, he told us there were four main reasons we had to launch an immediate attack against Iraq: (1) Iraq had a large arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. (2) Iraq was close to developing nuclear weapons. (3) Saddam Hussein was connected to Osama bin Laden and, therefore, partly responsible for Sept. 11. (4) Iraq posed a serious, imminent threat to the United States.

For the last week, the media have been obsessed with the White House’s admission that one element of the president’s case, Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger, was factually inaccurate. But by focusing on those 16 words in the State of the Union Address, they miss the big picture.

It’s not just the uranium claim that doesn’t hold up. Ten weeks after he declared “mission accomplished,” not one of the president’s four-point war plan is supported by the evidence. His entire case was bogus:

  1. Weapons of mass destruction. “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised,” President Bush told the nation, two days before sending troops into Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld echoed: “It is clear that the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction.”

    Where are they? So far, U.S. troops have found zero evidence of WMDs: not one Scud, not one poison canister, not one lab, not one liter of biological or chemical materials. Sure, as Bush lamely insists, we may find something, 12 years from now. But we can already conclude Bush was dead wrong. Iraq simply did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Certainly not in the quantity and availability he warned about. And maybe not at all.

  2. Nuclear weapons. “The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program,” President Bush said in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2001. Repeating that claim in his State of the Union Address, he cited as evidence the purchase of suspicious aluminum tubes and the now-repudiated report of British intelligence that Iraq was shopping for uranium in Africa.

    Neither one holds up. The CIA, the Defense Department and the Brits all agree the aluminum tubes were not nuclear-production material. And even Tony Blair has backed off his Niger shopping-spree accusation with the weak explanation that since Saddam Hussein bought uranium from Niger in the ’80s, it’s “therefore not beyond the bounds of possibility that he went back to Niger again.” Hardly sufficient as a case for war.

  3. Osama bin Laden. Asserting the connection between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11 was Bush’s silver bullet. On Sept. 25, 2002, he warned of the danger that “al-Qaida becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness.” The same day, Condoleezza Rice declared: “There clearly are contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq.” The next day, Rumsfeld said he had “bulletproof” evidence of a Saddam-bin Laden link.

    No such evidence exists. Captured al-Qaida informants have testified that bin Laden himself rejected overtures to Hussein. Former State Department intelligence official Greg Thielmann told reporters this week: “There was no significant pattern of cooperation between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist operation.”

  4. Imminent threat. Seeking to strike fear into the hearts of Americans, President Bush insisted that Iraq not only had weapons, it could soon drop them on downtown Des Moines. “We are concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for missions targeting the United States.”

    That was his most absurd charge of all. Iraq’s UAVs had a maximum range of 300 miles. They couldn’t reach Tel Aviv, let alone Des Moines. Or even Manhattan.

Bottom line: Shortly after 9-11, the Bush administration decided to go to war against Iraq. They asked intelligence agencies for facts to support their decision. When no intelligence was available, they stretched, exaggerated, fudged and deliberately overstated the case.

Oh, what the hell. Why not tell the truth? They lied.

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