We now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, did not have the capability of producing such weapons and had no plans to use such weapons against the United States. Yet your editorial page continues to justify the president's decision to launch a preemptive war on the grounds that it was the only way to find out whether Iraq had such weapons and that Saddam Hussein would have eventually reconstituted his weapons programs anyway [editorial, Oct. 7].

The U.N. inspectors were already in Iraq and their reports clearly indicated what we know to be true: There were no banned weapons. The Bush administration could have worked with the United Nations to strengthen the sanctions on Iraq, but it chose, instead, to go to war. Unfortunately, when it comes to Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, your editors seem to have the same problem as the president: the inability to admit a mistake.

-- Alan I. Abramowitz

Atlanta

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Despite the conclusive findings of the Iraq Survey Group, your editors continue to defend the war because "what can't be known is what would have happened had [President] Bush chosen not to invade." But we do know. About 15,000 Iraqi civilians and nearly 1,100 Americans would now be alive.

-- Richard J. Jensen

Bethesda

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Your editorial is naive, yet it is an accurate reflection of the insular thinking of the Bush administration for the past four years.

That Saddam Hussein's regime could have become a "de facto or real ally of the Islamic extremist forces with which the United States is at war" is counterfactual and ignores the secular history of Hussein's Baathist regime. The non-hypothetical question of "how, or even whether, decisions about preemptive war can be made in the absence of unambiguous intelligence" is moot; the doctrine of preemptive war is self-defeating.

As Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) so eloquently said last year on the floor of the U.S. Senate, "Indeed, we may have sparked a new international arms race as countries move ahead to develop WMD as a last-ditch attempt to ward off a possible preemptive strike from a newly belligerent U.S."

Considering the neoconservative vision of a democratic Middle East sitting atop the world's richest oil reserves, continuing to believe that the decision to invade Iraq was based on stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction is ludicrous. The Bush strategists hit Saddam Hussein because, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, they thought they could get away with tying Iraq to the war on terrorism.

The rest of the world has always been able to smell a red herring, but not the United States. And with your paper printing editorials such as this one, it is no wonder how we got into this mess in the first place.

-- Harold Williamson

Wheeling, Ill.

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Yours is one of the few accurate and insightful editorials I have read about President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. Your editorial points out that on the eve of Bush's decision, most western intelligence agencies estimated that Iraq held large stockpiles of dangerous weapons. Also, as your paper stated, no president then could have known what we know now. Furthermore, Saddam Hussein -- an aggressive dictator who had launched wars against Iran and Kuwait and murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraq's Kurdish minority, many with poison gas -- controlled those suspected weapons and was resisting weapons inspections.

The president faced an ambiguous situation. Should he continue to wait for developments, even though no one could confidently predict Hussein's intentions? Or should he eliminate a potential threat to the United States and other countries of mass murder by finding the weapons and removing the dictator?

Most important, your editorial underscored the possibility that the next president will be forced to make a decision about preemptive action if intelligence indicates -- but cannot absolutely confirm -- evil intent on the part of the rulers in Iran or North Korea, both of which are pressing toward a nuclear capability.

I should also say that I found more significant news in the editorial than I did in the Oct. 7 front-page story, which devoted its major headline to "news" that we already knew -- that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Oh, incidentally, according to the front-page story, Saddam Hussein still "aspired" to build the bomb once he got the United Nations inspectors off his back. This in the ninth paragraph on Page A34.

-- James W. McCulla

McLean