Arguments Of Mass Delusion

Mitch Berg does a good job of blasting a Greg Easterbrook piece that argues that Clinton "disarmed" Iraq in 1998.

So far, so good. And in fact, as far as it goes, I’ll say the unthinkable: Kudos, Clinton. You did good…as far as it went.

But then you have to read the rest of the Kay report.

1998 seemed to be a tipping point on another front: from that point on, the Iraqi program went from being a large, static, industrial program to a knowledge program – what people in the manufacturing industry would call a "Just In Time" operation, where rather than building large, vulnerable stockpiles of weapons in big, static factories, the Iraqis opted instead to switch to the ability to build WMDs in small, dispersed facilities, from stockpiles of nominally-innocent precursors. This was the Kay report’s conclusion that has drawn the right’s attention, and I think it’s a valid one. Remember – while building an atomic (or radiological) bomb or a tank of Sarin or a batch of aerosolized Botulinum the first time is Nobel Prize material, the second time it is merely craftsmanship.

It would seem, if you follow the whole Kay report, that Hussein opted to give himself a plausible, large, capability to produce WMDs in a hurry, rather than giving himself bunkers full of weapons, with all their attendant political and military risks.

Of course, considering that part of the Kay report cuts Easterbrook’s point off at the knees.

Saddam was much more devious that anyone seems to have thought. Why would one have a large pile of weapons sitting around for the UN to find, when you can have a system where biological and chemical weapons are produced clandestinely without the need for a large support infrastructure. Why have a large laboratory when a few trailers or the basement of a mosque will do just fine? As Berg notes, it’s like an of WMDs – instead of having a large warehouse, you produce what you need when it’s needed.

This kind of production methodology can only be used for terrorism. There’s no deterrent value in this kind of production – you can’t produce battlefield quantities of material in advance of an attack – as the coalition found when Saddam did not use WMDs during his ouster. However, this is just the kind of production method you’d use for terrorism. A terrorist needs only a few ounces of weaponized anthrax to kill hundreds. A small amount of botulinum toxin is enough to kill thousands.

Imagine the anthrax attacks of 2001, except the letters are being mailed from several point in a dozen major cities. The US postal service would have to be shut down and the panic would drive the markets into a nosedive. Imagine a few ounces of weaponized anthrax dumped into the ventilation system of the Mall of America. It would perhaps not kill thousands, but it would create fear and panic – exactly what a terrorist wants.

To say that there was no threat from those scenarios is to be suicidally naive. It would boil down to an argument that Saddam Hussein can be trusted not to attack the United States with weapons that could be easily smuggled to terrorists without being traced back to him. Remember that several major US officials were targeted with a biological weapon and we still have no clue who was responsible. For all we know, that anthrax could have come from Iraq – we simply don’t have the evidence to determine anything more than the strain and the weaponization procedure. One cannot blithely ignore such a pressing danger.

And now the Kay Report finds that Iraq had the ability to manufacture such weapons and active reference strains for botulinum bacteria have been found. To argue that the Kay Report indicates that Iraq had no ability to threaten the United States with weapons of mass destruction is to willfully ignore the very real threat that Saddam presented.

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