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Bungling the job
The Bush administration gives up its search for WMD in Iraq. Plus, a modest proposal to solve the Liberty-Tip tunnel brouhaha.

BY THE TIME you read this, evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction may have been found. But that’s unlikely. On Sunday, Barton Gellman reported in the Washington Post that the 75th Exploitation Task Force, the group charged with finding weapons of mass destruction, is "winding down operations." The team, which has yet to find a smidgen of evidence that deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, is expected to be out of the country by the end of the month.

The reason why the US went to war in Iraq in the first place was articulated by President Bush to much congressional applause during his State of the Union speech in January: "If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him." In the same speech, the president also declared that "the gravest danger facing America and the world" was the prospect of regimes such as Iraq’s either using weapons of mass destruction or passing those weapons along to "terrorist allies."

Yet now that the war is over, US forces not only have failed to find evidence that Hussein was armed with weapons of mass destruction, they’ve given up looking for it. And while that’s bad enough, it gets worse: it now seems clear that preventing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction from getting into the hands of terrorists was never high on the Bush-Rumsfeld to-do list to begin with. What else are we to make of a May 4 dispatch in the Post (also authored by Gellman) reporting that the offices of the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, "where U.N. weapons inspectors had catalogued tons of partially enriched uranium and natural uranium," had been stripped bare by looters before US forces could secure the site? It’s not yet clear whether looters also made off with nuclear materials — we may never know if they did. The same thing happened to the Baghdad Nuclear Research Facility, which contained the remains of the Osirik nuclear reactor that had been bombed by Israeli forces in 1981 and then again by US forces in 1991. But the most horrifying news in the Post’s May 4 piece isn’t that these sites have been at best compromised, and at worst ransacked. No, it’s that the deployment of a Defense Department team trained in securing nuclear sites such as Tuwaitha and Osirik was delayed "after a month of official indecision." Apparently, the Bush administration had failed to work out an arrangement in advance with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which secured the sites in the first place during weapons inspections conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. The Bush administration did not want to work with the UN-allied IAEA officials in inspecting and securing the sites. It’s hard not to compare this with the US military’s almost singular focus at the start of the war on securing Iraq’s oil wells.

So we ask — again — what was the rush to war all about? It now seems clear that UN weapons inspectors both should and could have been given the time to finish the job — a job the Bush administration apparently has no intention of finishing itself.

HERE’S A SOLUTION to the Liberty-Tip tunnel brouhaha: sell the naming rights. If we can live with the FleetCenter and Gillette Stadium, we can surely survive a T-Mobile Tunnel — especially if the revenues generated are applied to our Big Dig debt.

The squabble between Governor Mitt Romney and the legislature over what to name the tunnel is equal parts petty and absurd. For years, Massachusetts governors (the last three, to be specific) and legislative leaders had agreed that the centerpiece of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project would be named after the late powerhouse Massachusetts congressman Tip O’Neill. In late March, just before the Zakim Bridge opened for traffic, Romney reached an agreement with House Speaker Tom Finneran and Senate president Robert Travaglini to give the tunnel a new name: Liberty. Tip O’Neill’s name would be given instead to a section of the tunnel that connects the Massachusetts Turnpike with the Ted Williams tunnel. Or, at least, that’s what Romney says they agreed on. Finneran and Travaglini told their Beacon Hill colleagues, the Boston Globe reported May 6, that they were "confused" about which part of the tunnel would be named what.

It’s hard to believe that Finneran and Travaglini would come away from such a meeting confused about what they had agreed upon. But we’ll leave that one alone. Since then, legislators led by State Senator Robert Havern have pledged to name the major part of the tunnel, which is seen as most prominent, after O’Neill and to give the tunnel connector the name of Liberty. Havern says he has a veto-proof majority of legislators to support a bill doing just that.

Not surprisingly, Romney mocked Beacon Hill legislators when he told the Globe, "I think it’s fine to put our fighting men and women first, and our politicians second. There may be some legislators that are used to doing it the other way around, and I think it’s time for a change." And he also told the Associated Press that it’s "wonderful to acknowledge" political leaders. "But there are men and women who laid down their lives to protect our liberty. I believe those are the people we should recognize."

But let’s be clear about something. It’s not as if Romney is some political outsider willing to do things differently, such as naming public buildings, tunnels, and bridges after American freedoms instead of, as Romney strongly implied with his comments, political hacks. After all, did Romney object in 1997 when Michigan governor John Engler renamed the Olds Plaza Building in Lansing, which houses many state-government offices, after Romney’s father, former Michigan governor and US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development George Romney? We don’t think so. But if he did, we’d like to set the record straight. So how about it, Governor, did you try to decline the honor on your family’s behalf and suggest a new name for Olds Plaza — one more in line with celebrating American liberty?

Even worse, though, is the Romney administration’s decision to impugn the patriotism of state legislators who wish to name the Central Artery tunnel after O’Neill. Shortly after the naming dispute went public, Romney spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman told the Globe: "The war in Iraq has only been over for a week, and already people are forgetting the sacrifices being made by our servicemen and -women. Governor Romney believes it is fitting to name our newest tunnel the Liberty Tunnel, in recognition of those individuals who have fought so courageously throughout our Commonwealth’s history to protect our freedom."

The notion that Romney — a social conservative and member of the GOP wing that wants to strip away American freedoms via the Patriot Act II, which would restrict freedoms of speech, expression, and association — actually wants to honor "liberty" in naming the Central Artery tunnel is ridiculous. This is about pandering to the prevailing pro-military winds and nothing else.

The right thing here is to name the tunnel after O’Neill — as long planned. We name bridges, tunnels, courthouses, and other public edifices not for our generation, but for those to come. We want them to ask, who was this person to deserve such an honor? Much has been made of O’Neill’s role in securing federal funds to make the Central Artery/Tunnel Project possible, but this is not why he deserves to have the Central Artery tunnel named after him. O’Neill embodied every element of what public service is all about. He was an average pol who rose above himself to do not only the right thing, but the inspired thing. He was instrumental in turning the Washington establishment away from the war in Vietnam. Early on, he recognized the subversive significance of what Richard Nixon was up to and laid the groundwork for his impeachment. And he understood much more than we suspect Romney can even imagine about the meaning of the word "liberty."

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Issue Date: May 16 - 22, 2003
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