Jim Lacey makes the interesting argument that Iraq may not have had weapons of mass destruction, but fooled Saddam into thinking that they did. It’s an interesting theory, and within the realm of plausibility, but I don’t buy his argument.
It seems that if there had been some kind of effort to pull the wool over Saddam’s eyes, it would have been detected by now. It’s one thing to tell a dictator who is only willing to listen to what he wants to hear one thing, it is entirely another to fool numerous Western intelligence agencies. Based on what is known about Iraq’s weapons program, it was probably designed in such a way as to leave few traces. The mobile weapons labs recovered by US forces are an example of just such a system – they could be easily scoured down, leaving little evidence of their real intent.
The problem with biological and chemical weapons is that they are relatively cheap and easy to make. It doesn’t necessarily take hundreds of millions of dollars to produce nerve gas or anthrax. It does take some time and know-how, but Iraq has had sufficient quantities of both since the first Gulf War. Even a few liters of highly weaponized anthrax could be enough to kill thousands and bring the public health infrastructure to its knees.
What if there were no WMDs in Iraq? Even though such a scenario seems unlikely, it is within the limits of possibility. In that case, the Bush Administration is in serious trouble. Bush predicated the action in Iraq as being based on weapons of mass destruction. If they are not found, Bush is going to have to answer to the American people. While the war may have saved more lives than it ended, and it did liberate Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, those causes were ancillary to the goal of removing the WMD threat. If Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, it will be a major black eye to Bush and to the United States.