Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 22, 2006
WAR: Where Are The WMD?
One of the pieces of the WMD case against Saddam Hussein's regime was that the regime had never accounted for stocks of chemical weapons known to exist even dating back before the Gulf War. This letter (more here and here and here), noting the discovery of over 500 chemical shells since 2003 (not new discoveries, mind you, but the accumulation of various discoveries over a period of years) just underlines David Kay's conclusion that even without huge stockpiles Saddam's Iraq was, if anything, more dangerous than we thought given the dispersed nature of such weapons. (More shells will surely be found for years into the future - the Belgians still have a booming business turning up World War I era explosives that remain dangerous). And that's before we even get to the biological programs; recall that you can store deadly biotoxins in vials, not warehouses.
George W. Bush has lost the public debate over the pre-war state of Saddam's arsenal of non-conventional weapons. He lost that debate partly because, yes, the nature of the threat was not as Bush and others depicted it - some of the intelligence (even intelligence on which there was a broad international consensus) was faulty, and some of the specific cases in which the Administration made judgment calls to assume the worst turned out not to be as bad as all that. And he lost the debate partly because Bush has always taken the view that the most important thing since 2003 has been to move forward rather than wallow in the original decision, which after all can no longer be changed. I would argue that that has been a huge mistake - Bush's opponents have understood far better than he that controlling the past gives you power over the future.
But facts are stubborn things. One can yet hope that historians, given the time to pull together the whole story and not just each day's drip-drip of news, will recognize that (1) pre-existing, if scattered, stocks of chemical weapons, (2) ongoing or ready-to-revive biological weapons programs and (3) long-range schemes to reactivate Saddam's nuclear weapons programs were a part of the multifaceted threat to the U.S. and its allies presented by the Saddam regime.