Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 18, 2003
WAR: Where Are The WMD?

There's been an awful lot of talk lately, including demands for a response from the left side of the aisle, about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, leading to two types of charges. Some critics argue that there never were any WMD, and further that the Bush Administration and the Blair Government either had bad intelligence, exaggerated the intelligence they had, or outright lied to justify the war. Others argue that the inability to find WMD means that the WMD got away somehow, and that this is an indictment of the allies in general and the Bush Administration in particular on the theory that they failed to put enough troops on the ground to secure all the sites ASAP. Right now, there are still more questions than answers, but I think it's worth going through the questions to focus on which ones need an answer:

1. Was WMD the only or even the main reason for war?

No, at least not for me. I'm not going through it all again here; you can look here and here and here and here and here for a sampling of my thoughts before the war, as well as here for a summary of the types of justifications after the war.

The Middle East for decades has been a disaster. Taking out the worst of the region's dictators was always an essential next step after September 11. We know from numerous sources that Saddam wanted WMD programs and had had them in the past, even if we haven't figured out yet whether he got them or if not, why not. We know he was a menace to his neighbors, promoted hatred and violence against us and against our allies (including the Israelis). I personally feel safer with his regime gone and others in the region worried about where the U.S. goes next.

The fact that, in the process, we demonstrated our willingness to use force against the region's worst dictator and most egregious example of a regime that made a show of anti-Americanism and non-cooperation with even the rudiments of international norms of behavior is also key. We knocked off the biggest bully on the block; that has to help keep the neighborhood in order. And - don't overlook this - we wound up finding more evidence of Saddam's ties to terror groups (from Abu Abbas to the Al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Islam operating in the north of Iraq) than a lot of people had predicted. Consider these details, from Deroy Murdock:

A terrorist camp at Salman Pak housed a passenger jet fuselage that defectors insist was used to train Islamic extremists to hijack airliners. Some 120 suspected, al Qaeda-associated, Ansar al-Islam terrorists were killed at a base in Khurmal, where traces of toxic ricin were discovered.

In an article in the June 30 National Review, Mansoor Ijaz, a terrorism expert and chairman of New York-based Crescent Investment Management, chillingly connects the dots between Iraq and international terrorism. He recalls that Abu Abbas, architect of the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking recently was found living in Iraq, as was Khala Khadr al-Salahat, the alleged designer of the radio-bomb that demolished Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988, killing all 259 on board and 11 on the ground.

Ijaz cites an Iraqi intelligence document in which the secret Mukhabarat invited a senior al Qaeda operative to Baghdad from the Sudan. The correspondence said: "We may find in this envoy a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden." The al Qaeda representative indeed visited Baghdad in March 1998, five months before the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania exploded, killing 224 people, 12 of them American, and wounding some 5,000 others, many of them Africans and Muslims.

One of the ironies is that, before the war, most people (supporters and opponents of the war alike) seemed to agree that finding WMDs was more likely than not, but that we might not find links to terrorists. As it turns out, we've been surprised by the number of links to terrorist groups that have been found, which was always the more important of the charges against Saddam.

Bottom line: Saddam cheered the September 11 attacks; he glorified them in his newspapers and painted wall frescoes in their honor. May he rot in hell. I only hope the Administration isn't done toppling regimes like his.

2. Was WMD part of the grounds for war?

For me? Absolutely, as you can see from the links above. And as Sergeant Stryker detailed in the posts I linked to here, and as you can see from Tony Blair's war message here, WMD was definitely the leading theme -- of several -- in explaining why Saddam was a threat.

3. Were the Bush Administration's, and Tony Blair's, arguments for war dependent on WMD?

Yes and no. First of all, our leaders were quite clear that their arguments were always premised on the idea that any uncertainty had to be resolved in favor of suspecting Saddam -- we knew what he had in the past, he wouldn't show us what he had now or how he disposed of what he had in the past. So, the arguments were only secondarily dependent on claims that our intelligence showed what he had.

The idea that WMD was the critical issue as opposed to being part of an interconnected calculus of threats and hatreds was really something that sprang out of the legal process at the UN. But this NRO comment by Amir Taheri is a useful reminder that even the legal case against Saddam had more to it than WMD.

4. Did the Administration and the Blair Government make statements about WMD that have been proven untrue?

Well, there have been a few details, most notably the inclusion of a document on purchases of uranium in Africa that turned out (before the war) to be bogus. But for the most part, all we can say is that we haven't yet proven a lot of our strong suspicions one way or the other.

The truth will out, and I still suspect we'll find more WMD evidence and that the debate will come down to a qualitative debate over how far Bush and Blair should have pushed a threat that couldn't be 100% substantiated and that could have ended in catastrophe if we'd ignored it and been wrong. I'll take those odds on those stakes.

5. Did WMD get away?

We don't know. And we need to.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:30 AM | War 2002-03 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

I agree that the crank never said that WMD were the main reason for the war. But the administration did.

Via Calpundit:

In the state of the union 1100 of the 1200 words on Iraq dealt with WMD.

The administrations credibility, both here and abroad, is incredibly important. If we need international support for other crises, they will have to trust us. I don't think I need to list why it's important that we trust our own government. I supported the war for many of the reasons that the Crank listed, but that doesn't mean that I'm not furious that we were mislead.

If the intelligence was screwed up, they need to admit it and take action to improve it. If they knowingly lied, they need to be held accountable. But most of the quotes I have heard from the administration seem to be designed to divert attention from this issue.

Posted by: Ivan at June 18, 2003 9:54 AM

I'm inclined towards patience here. With the exception of actual war-fighting, virtually everything in the "war on terror" has taken longer than most originally expected. While critically important, locating or determining the ultimate fate of "weapons of mass destruction" is likely to be little different.

More of the top Iraqis need to be captured and thoroughly interrogated and more leads need to be checked out before we can start making any kind of conclusions. I think much more emphasis should be placed on the imperative of finding these weapons, which were universally believed to exist at one time, and having more people on the ground in Iraq to allow for such a search (right now, it is still a big struggle just keeping the peace).

I do know though the world never had cause, then or now, to believe a word coming from Saddam Hussein's government. And I, of course, agree that the Bush Administration's credibility is important, but fundamentally disagree that there is any signficant evidence today that diminishes it.

Posted by: The Mad Hibernian at June 18, 2003 1:49 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the army has pulled it's WMD search team out of Iraq. I agree that this may take more time.
However, there is nothing to stop congress from reviewing all the evidence now (as they have started to do. And if they find the evidence lacking, or records that indicate that the intelligence was "massaged", action now would be appropriate.

On the credibility issue, my impresson is that the administration is trying to change the debate. Instead of saying, "we were pretty sure that there were WMD and here's why". They seem to be saying "The main reason was hummanitarian". The crank has been consistent, they haven't been.

Posted by: Ivan at June 18, 2003 4:57 PM

I understand the criticism of the Administration and the concern that some people have that an excuse was inflated in order to support a pre-determined policy decision. That makes for an interesting debate and it is important to resolve that point. Personally, I'm of the view that Saddam needed to go no matter what, but the fact is, Bush DID use WMDs as a major (if not the principle) justification.

More importantly, to me, are the prospective concerns. Pre-emptive attacks, to me, have now become necessary in light of advances of technology. However, gaining support (both domestically and internationally) for a pre-emptive attack requires strong, credible evidence. If we don't find solid evidence of a WMD program, then it will make any future pre-emptive action much more difficult to achieve, even if such an attack is warranted. I don't want to deal with the consequences of NOT having attacked when it was necessary because of the "boy who cried wolf" consequences.

Posted by: Kiner's Korner at June 18, 2003 5:40 PM

I certainly haven't seen any evidence that they've stopped looking for WMD; I saw where the original search team has gone home, but that includes people who were involved in some pretty hairy stuff during the war. Some of the left-leaning sites seem to be spinning this as "we're not looking anymore," but I very much doubt that. In fact,
CNN has reported an expansion of the search team to some 1300 members, and the NY Post has reported that the expanded team is now under the control of CIA Director George Tenet.

Posted by: The Crank at June 18, 2003 5:53 PM
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