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So much for excuses

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when the United States invaded in March 2003. The CIA's Iraq Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer, concluded in a 918-page report released this week that Saddam Hussein's government destroyed all its banned weapons in the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1991. It has been apparent for some time that the weapons did not exist, let alone pose the "grave and growing danger" President Bush cited to take this nation to war, but the Duelfer report should silence any of what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would call "bitter-enders." The much-maligned United Nations weapons inspectors were right all along.

There were no weapons that could have been deployed in 45 minutes, no African connection for yellowcake uranium, no working relationship with al-Qaida for nuclear or biological terrorism in Western cities. Weapons of mass destruction were not the reason for war in Iraq. They were the excuse. One of many.

The Bush administration has never discussed the real reason for the war in Iraq, but it is clear enough given the history of the neo-con chicken hawks populating the Bush White House, all of which is public knowledge. Iraq is America's foothold in the Middle East, a base from which it can intimidate state sponsors of terror like Iran and Syria, pressure unreliable allies like Saudi Arabia, make sure the flow of oil continued uninterrupted and have our forces smack dab in the middle of everything, ready for whatever comes next. That the jihad has come to confront American power in Iraq was all part of the plan, they called it the "flypaper strategy." Those were the textbook theories at any rate, until the insurrections and political instability, the bombings, the beheadings made a hash of plans that could never truly be enacted in the real world.

It is clear that this war was never about Saddam Hussein or weapons of mass destruction. What is puzzling is that the presidential debate continues to focus on the pretext, rather than on the war itself, and on the political process in Iraq, rather than its implications for the region. President Bush continues to defend his decision to invade Iraq, clinging to his bogus rationale and his straw man, Saddam Hussein. Clearly, he believes the electorate can't handle the truth.

John Kerry, hampered for too long by his ill-considered vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution, has in recent months begun to find his footing. Mr. Bush must explain and justify his war aims and strategy. The press has shown little inclination to press him to do so. It's up to John Kerry