Cheney may have misled the public about how solid the intelligence was that led him to draw the conclusions he did - and I don't mean to defend such conduct - but I'm willing to bet that he believed those conclusions as strongly as Bush did, if not more strongly.
I cannot know this and neither can Ross, and therefore I'm not ruling it out. The threat of WMDs after 9/11 was obviously grave and one can understand why many in the administration with access to the internal intelligence decided that they couldn't risk a misjudgment similar to that of 1990. But my point was a subtler one, I hope. It is that Cheney may have thought that removing Saddam was critical to national security, but that he also knew from the data that we didn't have solid proof and that many parts of the government were skeptical of what proof we had. In a matter as grave as going to war, even if you want to make the case for action, it seems to me to be very important to be totally candid with the American people. If Bush had said: look, we don't know what WMDs he has for sure, but we need to make sure he's no threat down the road, then he'd be in a much better place today. Either the public would not have bought it, and we would have held back; or the public would have bought it, and the war would not have been so fatally damaged by the revelations of no WMDs after the invasion. Honesty is always a better policy. In going to war, it is the only morally defensible policy.
I think Cheney knowingly took a risk in papering over the caveats, was profoundly embarrassed after the fact and terrified that the evidence would prove his own lack of prudence and indeed cherry-picking of the data. That's the only convincing explanation for the reckless Wilson-Plame over-reach - when he should have been focusing on the incipient insurgency in Iraq instead of Beltway hardball in Washington. I should also add that the war-plan itself, while it did include some minimal protective armor for troops, in no way prioritized securing suspected sites of WMDs. Many were indeed left to looters. That's a pretty good sign, I think, that the president and his generals were not too worried about WMD use. If they had told us before the war what the WMD premises were for the invasion, i.e. not to worry, the invasion might never have happened.
Something smells here. I wish it didn't. But the trust has gone. And Cheney, more than anyone, destroyed it.
(Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.)