The term "WMD" appeared in the popular press early in 1998, according to a Lexis search I just did of major newspaper headlines. From the beginning, the term referred to real or imagined Iraqi weapons capabilities. There is some uncertainty where the phrase came from, but it clearly was a policy-wonk meme that was useful to President Clinton's, and later, President Bush's, Iraq agendas. (In the three years before 1998, the term did not occur in headlines at all--except as an abbreviation of the name of a drug company.)
Since it was known that Saddam had used chemical weapons in his Iran war and against Kurdish rebels, I think most wonky types assumed that Saddam had "WMDs" in 1998, at least in the sense of nerve gas. And since the terms could also refer to atomic weapons, indeed may have been a translation of a Russian cold war term referring to a heavy ICBM attack using thermonuclear warheads, the term lent itself to hysteria-mongering.
A perfect word, as far as Rove and Bush were concerned. They loved it.
But--really--atomic weapons would be the only type of WMD that would be militarily useful to Saddam in a conflict with the United States. And, if you think about it, we would never have invaded Iraq if the White House had gotten the faulty intelligence the Bushies are now happy to have it portrayed that they were victims of--that Saddam had actual weapons capable of real, genuine "mass destruction".
So what does this have to do with today's official report exonerating the White House and blaming "mistaken" intelligence in the lead-up to the war? Are we to believe that Bush and company _really_ believed that Saddam had weapons that were actually threatening to the US? Which, you'll remember was why we went to war. This error was because of bad intelligence?
Give me a break.
Well, to backtrack a little, I think there was an intelligence failure.The Bush administration had every reason to expect to expect to find a few rusting canisters of nerve gas in a warehouse somewhere in Iraq, which would enable them to trumpet "WMDs found!"
I think they were genuinely shocked that it didn't turn out that way.
But nobody in the White House could have believed that Saddam had nukes, or could put up a _serious_ WMD-based fight of any kind. If they had thought that, would they have invaded Iraq? Are we going to conduct a ground invasion of North Korea? Bush may be crazy, but he does have a rudimentary political-survival cunning.
That's why we knew Cheney was lying, when we heard him say, a couple of days before the invasion, that Saddam had "reconstituted nuclear weapons" whatever that was supposed to be. You don't have to be embedded with your intelligence sources to know that.