WMDs not ‘most serious’ intelligence failure in Iraq, senator says

Faulty intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction was not the “most serious” intelligence failure made in relation to the war in Iraq, Utah Sen. Bob Bennett said.

During a campus speech Wednesday, the junior senator said intelligence concerning Iraq’s possession of WMDs, used in the run up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, was false, but said anticipating the effect of Hussein’s “corrosive regime” was a graver failure.

“Saddam Hussein’s regime destroyed any capacity for leadership or political initiative on the part of anyone in the country,” Bennett said. “No one dared make a decision on his or her own for fear of being shot.”

He made his comments before a crowd of students at the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Bennett said the United States failed to take into account the devastating effect that 34 years of Hussein’s ruling would have on the ability of Iraqis to “think for themselves.”

Beyond Hussein, he said the longstanding conflict between ethnic groups in the country-mainly Shia and Sunni Muslims-was not addressed prior to the war.

“We had not understood the degree to which the ethnic differences between Sunni and Shia would flare up,” Bennett said.

Bennett also said the United States must stay in Iraq to prevent the Sunni and Shia from engaging in genocide.

Student Seth Neville said he agrees with Bennett that America must stay in Iraq to prevent a devastating conflict.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but pulling out is not (it),” said Neville, a senior in political science.

While Hussein’s alleged possession of WMDs was one precursor for war, Bennett said it was not the only reason.

He said that in White House briefings he attended prior to the war, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told members of Congress that the justification for war in Iraq was based on more than Hussein’s supposed possession of WMDs and tyrannical style of leadership.

“She said that ‘if this was about WMDs, we would invade Russia?this is not solely about his being a tyrant,'” Bennett said. “So the determination to remove Saddam Hussein was not as it is being portrayed in much of the media today.”

Bennett told The Chronicle that Rice outlined five reasons that made Hussein a more significant threat than other rogue nations. Though Bennett could not recall all of Rice’s five points, he said Hussein’s willingness to invade his neighboring states and use WMDs was among her top reasons.

During his speech, Bennett also criticized Democratic presidential hopefuls such as Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who have called President George W. Bush’s justifications for war lies.

“I went to all the briefings,” Bennett said. “They weren’t there (at the briefings) to be lied to; they didn’t bother (to come).”

Sen. Bob Bennett speaks at a forum at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Wednesday. He said that anticipating the effect of Hussein’s “corrosive regime” was a graver failure than the faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.