Hindsight is always 20/20. This is, of course, why John Kerry has so many differing opinions about the Iraq War. For certainty, he must wait until the end of the Iraq war to determine how he thinks about it now.
But HERE is how a real adult, living in a real world, and having the responsibility of protecting the American people thinks (Condi Rice speaking to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week"):
RICE: George, at the time, I knew that there was a dispute. I actually didn't really know the nature of the dispute. We learned that -- I learned that later, as the NIE was being produced, and that the Department of Energy had reservations about what these tubes were for.
There were other people, of course, people, for instance, who did rocket launchers, who said that they thought they were unlikely to be for rocket launchers.
So what you had was a debate within the intelligence community.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But according to this article, that debate had been going on for more than a year, all through 2001. The State Department had weighed in on the side of the Energy Department, British intelligence had weighed in, Australian intelligence had said that the idea that the tubes were for nukes was patchy and inconclusive.
RICE: Unfortunately, George, the intelligence community assessment as a whole was that these were likely and certainly suitable for and likely for his nuclear weapons program, for a number of other reasons.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... the CIA's, and they were saying...
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... the nuclear weapons, not only for nuclear weapons.
RICE: Well, the director of Central Intelligence believed that the centrifuge part for these tubes, which were for centrifuge parts, were a part of a procurement effort for a reconstituted nuclear weapons program. Now, I'll point out that the Department of Energy, of course, joined in the assessment that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that was separate from their judgment about these aluminum tubes.
RICE: But George, the tubes were alongside a lot of other evidence about experts being kept together, about balancing equipment being brought in, about how these procurement efforts were being funded.
When you're a policy-maker, you're sitting there looking at assessments that say that Saddam Hussein is reconstituting his nuclear weapons program. That's the key judgment. Secondly, that he can have a nuclear weapon likely by the end of the decade if something is not done about his program.
Those are assessments that cannot be ignored...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that conclusion was based in part on faulty evidence...
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... on the aluminum tubes.
RICE: George, what we knew at the time, what we knew at the time, was that there was, yes, a dispute in the intelligence agency about this. And, by the way, knew later, as the NIE came out, that there was a dispute within the intelligence agencies about this, but that there was dispute only by one agency, that's the State Department, about his...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not the Energy Department?
RICE: No, the Energy Department said he was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program. And when you are a policy-maker...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But wait a second. They also said they believed that the tubes were for rockets, not for nuclear weapons.
RICE: George, when you are faced with an assessment that Saddam Hussein is reconstituting his nuclear weapons program, that he has, by the end of the decade, the probability of having a nuclear weapon, when you know that the intelligence agencies tend to underestimate these things -- after all, missing the Indian nuclear test in 1991 -- when the IAEA actually got there after the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was much closer to a nuclear weapon than anybody had thought, the tendency is always not to want to underestimate these programs.
And that is, by the way, a methodology that I would stand by to today.
RICE: A policy-maker cannot afford to be wrong on the short side, underestimating the ability of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein, who had expertise, who had weapons of mass destruction and had used them in the past, and who kept a very strong intent to keep those programs in place...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, then, today...
RICE: ... you can't afford to underestimate that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Today, then, you know, the weapons inspectors have found no evidence of centrifuges. Do you now accept that these aluminum tubes were almost certainly for artillery rockets, not nuclear weapons?
RICE: George, the fact is that what you know today can affect what you do tomorrow, but not what you did yesterday.
Now, let's just say for the sake of argument that the decision that Rice defends above was NOT made. That the administration decided to go with the side of the intelligence assessment that suggested Saddam Hussein DID NOT INTEND to make nuclear weapons.
Hmmm. Let's see how that would play out a few years down the road:
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what you are saying is that some people the intelligence community DID tell you that those aluminum tubes could be used for weapons, but that you decided their evidence wasn't strong enough. Is that correct, Ms Rice?
RICE: Well, yes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you chose to ignore the fact that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons because it was the easy way out?
RICE: Well, basically, yes. We didn't want to rush to judgement about what Hussein might or might not do based on conflicted intelligence. That wouldn't have been fair to Mr. Hussein.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Ms. Rice, a policy-maker cannot afford to be wrong on the short side, underestimating the ability of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein, who had expertise, who had weapons of mass destruction and had used them in the past, and who kept a very strong intent to keep those programs in place...
RICE: Yes, George, you have a point there. But how could we have been sure of that a few years ago?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, now--after he used a nuclear weapon on Tel Aviv, and there are hundreds of thousands of people dead, including thousands of Americans--would you be willing to admit that those tubes could have been used to reconstitute Iraq's nuclear weapons program?
RICE: Yes, it does appear that way. But I don't see how anyone could have expected us to act based on conflicting intelligence reports. We try to base our foreign policy on our fundamental feelings that human nature is basically good; and that to be fair to Saddam Hussein, we --along with the U.N. and the entire world community, I might add--were willing to give him another chance to prove to us that he wasn't really a bad man. It's terribly sad that he decided to mislead us about his intentions, but really? What could we have done?
STEPHANOPOULOS: What about protecting the American people from madmen like Hussein?
RICE: Clearly, we will have to re-evaluate the situation and decide along with the rest of the world community how dangerous it really is. But I would like to add, that just because Saddam dropped a nuclear bomb on Israel, doesn't necessarily mean he would use it elsewhere, does it? I mean, well, didn't Israel deserve it for what they have done to the Palestinians all these years? It's sad about all those people dying, but nothing could have been done to prevent it since we weren't 100% sure of our intelligence at the time. As for our next step, we intend to set up a summit and invite Saddam to dicuss with us a reasonable plan for him to disarm in the next few years. We have the support of France and Germany on this, so we're pretty confident it's the right thing to do at this point.