AUSTIN, Texas -- The sour joke is: "Of course we know the Iraqis
have weapons of mass destruction. We have the receipts." At this point, the
administration would probably be delighted if it could find the WMDs the
Reagan administration gave Saddam Hussein. At least it could point to some
This is a "what if ..." column, since I have no idea whether
Saddam Hussein was or was not sitting on great caches of chemical and
biological weapons. What is clear is that not finding the WMDs is getting to
be a problem -- and if we don't find any, it's going to be a bigger problem.
And if we do find some, we'd better make plenty sure they come with a
chain-of-evidence pedigree, or no one is going to believe us.
You don't have to be an expert on WMDs in the Middle East to
know that when the administration starts spreading the word that "it
wouldn't really make any difference if there were WMDs or not," it's worried
about not finding any.
In the weeks before Gulf War II, the United States told the
world Saddam Hussein was hiding mobile chemical laboratories, drones fitted
with poison sprays, 15 to 20 Scud missile launchers, 5,000 gallons of
anthrax, several tons of VX nerve gas agent and between 100 tons and 500
tons of other toxins, including botulinun, mustard gas, ricin and Sarin.
Also, we said he had over 30,000 illegal munitions. So far, we have found
The United States, which insisted it could not give United
Nations weapons inspectors so much as 10 days more to search, so dangerous
were these WMDs, now says it needs months to find them. In the meantime, we
are clearly being set up to put the whole issue of WMDs down the memory
hole. Here are the lines of argument advanced by the administration so far:
-- Saddam did have WMDs, but in a wily plot, he poured them all
down a drain right before we invaded, just so he could embarrass Bush.
-- The WMDs are still there, but in some remote desert hiding
place we may never be able to find. "Just because we haven't found anything
doesn't mean it wasn't there," one Pentagon source told the Los Angeles
-- Saddam had WMDs, but he handed them off to the Syrians just
before we came in. Or maybe it was to the Iranians.
-- Well, maybe Saddam didn't have huge stores of WMDs, but he
had critical blueprints, weapons parts and, most ominously, "precursor
chemicals," so he could have manufactured WMDs.
-- Well, maybe he didn't have WMDs ready to deliver. The
Pentagon has already backtracked on the Scud-missile claim.
So far, U.S. "mobile exploitation teams" and other special
forces have visited 90 of the top 150 "hot" sites identified by U.S.
intelligence. No wonder Hans Blix, head of the U.N. inspection team, says
what he got from American intelligence was "garbage."
I'm sorry, but this does make a difference. The problem is
called credibility. Tom Friedman of The New York Times, in a rush to be the
first on his block to adopt the "it makes no difference" line, announced the
other day it made no difference because Saddam Hussein was such a miserable
s.o.b. on human rights. As one who long argued that there was a good case to
be made for taking out Saddam Hussein on human rights grounds back when we
were still sending him WMDs, think how pleased I am.
Unfortunately, that was not the case Bush made. Of the various
shifting rationales advanced for this war, human rights was way, way down
there, and WMDs were way, way up there.
If there are no WMDs, I would seriously advise this
administration NOT to try to spin its way out of the problem. Bad idea. Will
not fly. There's plenty of evidence that we believed in the WMDs -- took
along chemical suits, antidotes, etc. So if there are no WMDs, it's time for
a blame-game witchhunt. I really hate those things, but someone needs to go
around roaring, "WHOSE FAULT WAS THIS?!" It's a splendid opportunity to fire
half the CIA, which has needed to be done for years anyway. Let it be a
lesson to all intelligence analysts not to let political pressure sway them
on evidence. As a minor plot point: It would be interesting to see if George
Tenant, a skillful warrior in intra-bureaucracy turf wars, could survive
Maybe the American people can be brainwashed into forgetting why
we supposedly went to war. Near as I can tell, our national memory span is
down to about two weeks, and the media have been spectacularly unskeptical
on this issue. But the rest of the world is not going to forget that WMDs
were our primary reason for an unprovoked, pre-emptive war.
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