The New York Times inadvertently dropped a bombshell today by revealing that documents have revealed that Saddam Hussein was as close to one year away from developing nuclear weapons:
Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein’s scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.
But I thought Dick Cheney “lied” when he said that Saddam was reconstituting nuclear weapons? Now the Times is admitting that experts believed he was as little as one year away? That seems like one hell of an admission, and as Jim Geraghty observes it happens to completely undercut the antiwar argument that Saddam posed no threat.
Furthermore, the documents posted in that same document dump showed extensive communications between Iraqi intelligence agencies and al-Qaeda, significant monetary and logistical support to terrorist groups, and other WMD-related programs. Ed Morrissey has done better than the CIA in analyzing these documents and determining the nature of the evidence they provide. For instance, this memo shows that four days after 9/11, the Iraqis were worried that the Americans would use Iraq/al-Qaeda ties to attack Iraq. These documents show an entirely different view of the war than the popular conception — and now The New York Times is finally reporting on them — although they’re trying to use it as another anti-Bush talking point.
It’s possible that some nuclear secrets were contained in those documents — although since the A.Q. Khan proliferation ring has already divulged detailed nuclear information to several rogue regimes, the impact of those “secrets” is probably less than the Times would like everyone to believe. Still, they can’t simultaneously argue that Saddam had no nuclear program and it was a “lie” to suggest that he did and maintain their stance that experts believed the Hussein regime to be around one year away from having a working nuclear weapon. Even if one takes it as Saddam only having a workable design, that’s still a major risk to the world. The Duelfer Report made it clear that the sanctions regime “containing” Iraq would have broken down shortly had Hussein’s regime not been toppled. Having a largely unconstrained Iraq with a working nuclear weapon design and the ability to use the A.Q. Khan network’s know-how in order to build a weapon would not have been acceptable. What’s worse is that a nuclear-armed Iraq and a nuclear-armed Iran would be a major danger to the region — Iran and Iraq already fought one pointless and devastating war in the last century — what would prevent them from lobbing nukes at each other? Allowing that to happen would be an unacceptable risk.
The New York Times just ripped away a major argument that they’d been advancing for years now and admitted that the Administration’s arguments on an Iraqi nuclear program were well-founded in expert opinion. It’s a rather shocking admission, and one that indicates just how far off the status quo arguments are from the realities of the policies made prior to the invasion of Iraq.
UPDATE: Wretchard at The Belmont Club gives the more valuable perspective here:
But personally I think the whole debate surrounding Iraq’s WMDs is glorified misdirection. America did and does face a threat from terrorist-supporting nations of which Saddam’s Iraq was one. Before it was taken down. The AQ Khan network, Iran and North Korea were all part of the threat. That America did not find an actual, ticking nuclear weapon in Iraq doesn’t particularly mean anything in an era where design work, production and testing can be divided among anti-American allies. Even refrigerators are made that way today. The gleeful assertion that Saddam didn’t “have” WMDs has slowly deligitimized any effort to rid the world of the malignant threat that is growing before its eyes. This campaign has made it politically impossible to act against any nation even if it is in as advanced — oops — as retarded a state of development as was Saddam’s Iraq. That the threat did not exist was a lie and the greatest danger of all lies, including this one, is that it comes to be accepted as the truth.
The A.Q. Khan network was actively proliferating nuclear supplies and technologies all over the globe — Pakistani nuclear technologies ended up in Iran, Libya, North Korea, and who knows where else. The idea that an individual country must have its own individual nuclear program just doesn’t seem to be all that necessary in a globalized economy such as ours. The fact that Iraq was that close to having a nuclear weapon — whenever it may have been — indicates the magnitude of the threat we face. Even if Iraq had destroyed its nuclear weapons programs, the human and intellectual capital was not destroyed. Obviously Saddam still possessed dangerous nuclear secrets, or they’d be no reason for outcry that some of them may have been inadvertently posted. And if he possessed that kind of dangerous knowledge, one can’t argue that he was no threat to anyone.