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.