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Crucial questions on Iraq remain unanswered

We're only getting justifications, not explanations

For weeks, I‘ve been calling for an explanation from the president as to exactly why the war in Iraq was necessary. Today, we got it,  And yet, some of the crucial questions remain unanswered. 

I supported the war effort.  I was persuaded that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction as described by Secretary of State Powell at the U.N.  But in light of the revelation that the intelligence was wrong, I question whether the war was worth the cost in terms of American lives and injuries, in terms of the billions in taxpayer dollars, and in the way it‘s harmed our relationships abroad—relationships that are crucial in the ongoing war on terror. 

The president only made passing reference to the new information in today‘s speech.  He said  “knowing what I knew then and knowing what I know today, America did the right thing in Iraq.” 

His justifications for war can be summarized as follows:  That the Iraqi people have been rescued from a cruel dictator,  that Saddam had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction,  that in the past he had used them,  and that he had attacked his neighbors and had ignored U.N. demands, and that other dangerous regimes are getting the message.

These are serious arguments.  Far from serious than some of his critics have suggested.  But the president still hasn‘t addressed arguably the most important question:  What happened?  How wrong was the intelligence and did the White House shape it to bolster its argument for war? 

On Thursday, CIA Director Tenet admitted that some of his agencies predictions were wrong but still defended their work, saying that they simply provided the necessary information and never suggested Iraq was an immediate threat. 

And so we‘re left with what sounds like justifications, rather than soul-searching explanations.  Even Secretary Powell now seems torn about whether he would have supported the war effort had he known what he knows now.  To President Bush, the choice was simple,  “either take the word of a madman or take action to defend the American people.” 

Well, if the choice were that simple, the answer would be that simple— but it‘s not.  It seems to me the more appropriate question to ask is, “Were the legitimate benefits as laid out by the president worth the serious costs?”

airs weeknights, 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC.