Remember that line from the pre-Iraq-war days? That was what the administration and its allies pushed on us after they paid lip service to the idea of diplomatically resolving the U.S.'s dispute with Baghdad. The UN WMD inspectors weren't in the country more than a few hours before "the inspections aren't working" became the Republican talking point of the hour.
Thankfully, Matt Yglesias retrieves this important factor in the politics leading to the invasion in March 2003:
That notwithstanding, in order to appease Colin Powell and/or Tony Blair, the administration eventually found itself at the UN, sponsoring resolutions and offering ultimata. Thus, the ready-made preemption/prevention morass got dragged into yet another idea -- coercive diplomacy, where threats of war are intended to produce not war, but compliance with demands.
Unfortunately for Bush, Saddam unexpectedly wound up substantially complying with his demands and inspectors entered the country. It was here that we got the very most egregious dissembling about weapons of mass destruction. Inspectors were on the ground, not finding weapons, debunking certain specific administration claims, and asking the US for the rest of the evidence to substantiate all the big talk.
The hawks chose to portray this situation as proof that inspections "weren't working" because the (obviously incompetent) inspectors were failing to find the WMD facilities that "everyone knew" were there.
The other critical element in this strange debate (I say "strange" in the sense that I don't know why the administration wants to "go here"--they're only digging their grave a little deeper by keeping the pre-war "intelligence" issues alive) is that the war is going badly. If the Mission was in fact Accomplished in May, 2003, we wouldn't be having this discussion. But as Matt says:
There's a lesson or two in here about honesty, but first and foremost it should be a lesson about strategy. The war has not, shall we say, gone swimmingly, which is always a risk when you go to war. Nor did the intelligence -- even the parts of it the administration wasn't spinning, twisting, or otherwise sexing up -- hold up to scrutiny, which is also always a risk in the intel game. The result has been something of a fiasco across the entire spectrum of American power.
"The inspections aren't working." Of the misdirections, deceptions, half-truths, exaggerations, and propoganda we were subjected to in the aftermath of 9-11, the administration's running roughshod over the inspections process--and by extension, the UN and its disarmament team led by Hans Blix, an institution and individual that came to be ridiculed and trashed for their supposingly being duped by Hussein, and for not serving America's interests of the moment, was perhaps the worst of the lot. One can almost defend, by any means necessary, the need to force Iraq to open its operations to weapons inspections, as required by the various UN resolutions worked out in the ending of the first Gulf War. But to sabotage the inspections process itself so America's military machine could launch its Shock and Awe campaign was to assume the same tactics as other infamous nationalist and militant bullies have done, both in the last century, and throughout history.
And now that war has unraveled, the "intelligence" and political failures preceding the war have come into greater scrutiny. Well, better late than never.
If there's any consolation in this for Americans suspicious of its own country's future military ambitions (and some of the most patriotic of America's founders--Jefferson, Madison--worried of the effect of "standing militaries") it is this: the Iraq debacle has made future wars less likely, and the propoganda that fuels them, less believable.
And although the administration is firing on its Democratic critics, it has enough problems fending off opponents that were once its friends--former Colin Powell aide, Lawrence Wilkerson comes to mind--and members of its own party in Congress that want answers.
Update: The Rude Pundit has the "rest of the story" about those Democratic quotes before the war that the President quoted yesterday, here. But in any event, I agree with Josh Marshall that we Democrats shouldn't be embarassed or try to cover up any Democratic collusion in this matter. Let the chips fall where they may, as Josh says.
Let them dig through the transcripts. And if there's collateral damage among today's accusers, so be it. Let the facts get hashed out and the chips fall. There's only one side of this argument running scared from the truth. We know what happened. We were there. We all remember.