National Review notes a recent Congressional press conference on the 500 or-so chemical warfare shells we’ve found in Iraq. Indeed, these are the sort of banned weapons that put the Hussein regime in direct violation of the UN-mandated cease-fire agreement in 1992 as well as Resolution 1441 in 2002. However, it’s hard to argue a few hundred heavily degraded shells are in themselves enough to justify the Administration’s arguments on the WMD issue.
It still seems likely that Saddam had some kind of active WMD program prior to the invasion – and it seems equally likely that Saddam very quickly dismantled it once it became clear that having WMDs would be more of a liability than a help.
What we do know from the Duelfer Report is that Saddam Hussein was deliberately maintaining a rapid-start capability for WMD production, that he was developing banned missile technology, and that the sanctions regime was not containing his aspirations and would have soon fallen. It’s not the case made well by the Bush Administration, but it is beyond a doubt. George Tenet’s “slam dunk” on Iraqi WMDs remains anything but a slam-dunk.
Still, for all those who keep saying that no WMDs were found in Iraq, that simply isn’t true. It wasn’t all that long ago that Saddam unquestionably did have WMDs, and we still don’t know exactly what happened to all of it. It was up to the Hussein regime to provide a clear and transparent accounting of their weapons, and they chose the path of misdirection and non-cooperation. In the end, their unwillingness to fully cooperate with the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire led to their downfall – and given the nightmarish destruction Saddam Hussein wrought upon his own people, can anyone truly say that the world is better off with that blood-stained tyrant in power?
UPDATE: PowerLine runs a message from Michael Ledeen arguing that we did a poor job of searching for WMDs in Iraq. I’m not so sure I’d go that far, but the argument that we know everything about what happened in Iraq during the nearly year-long run-up to war just doesn’t fly. Saddam’s strategic thinking prior to the war seems to have been based on the assumption that the US wouldn’t attack – so it would make sense to hide any WMD programs and materials elsewhere and get them back once Russia, France, and China made it safe for Saddam again and the sanctions regime collapsed.
Ledeen is right – much of the comfortable assumptions about the lack of WMDs may be utterly misplaced. For instance, the suspected mobile biological labs were “debunked” as being nothing more than mobile units for hydrogen production for weather balloons – which doesn’t seem to make sense. The reactions necessary to make hydrogen require caustic chemicals in large amounts – why would Iraq have any interest in having mobile hydrogen producing units? When the “debunking” requires larger stretches of logic than the theory being debunked, that’s usually a good sign that there’s something missing.
It’s entirely possible that in the autocratic mess that was Saddam’s Iraq, the regime’s WMD capabilities basically degraded to nothing or was surreptitiously destroyed. However, the argument that Saddam had no WMDs, was no threat to anyone, and was contained is not true. It’s clear Saddam did not fully disarm as mandated, he was actively sponsoring terrorism, and the sanctions regime was collapsing. As bad as things are in Iraq now, the option was never between peace and war, it was between permitting a hostile and dangerous regime to fester and taking the risks inherent in ending the threat. In the long game, something that the critics rarely consider, allowing Hussein to remain in power would have been a major strategic mistake.