Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Search Ends for WMD in Iraq

Interesting post over at The Moderate Voice tonight: Weapons Of Mass Destruction Began With A Loud Alarm And Ends With Barely A Whisper.

It links to a WaPo story on the search for weapons of mass destruction having ended in Iraq last month. The WaPo piece is not the most objective thing in the world, concluding with this quote:

"Since March 2003, nearly a dozen people working for or with the weapons hunt have lost their lives to the insurgency. The most recent deaths came in November, when Duelfer's convoy was attacked during a routine mission around Baghdad and two of his bodyguards were killed."

Not sure what the point is here, other than "war is dangerous." If the point is to suggest we should have taken Saddam's word about the WMD, I'm not sure this quite makes the case. There is nothing to put this in context of casualties from troops engaged in other activities in Iraq. If they weren't supposed to search for WMD, I'm not sure what occupation activity the WaPo would have preferred.

Back to The Moderate Voice, Joe Gandelman's reaction is fairly restrained, and essentially amounts to increased skepticism in the future toward any such claims as justification for pre-emptive war. Makes sense. And there is surely room for criticism of the administration here. Joe remarks:

But there was no major press conference on this point -- no major White House policy statement, even one outlining the other reasons for going to war. And -- most certainly -- no one fired over this massive intelligence screw up.

The administration is indeed often its own worst enemy in this stuff. This is called allowing your political enemies to define the issue. And they have been and will continue.

But hindsight is also perhaps misleading. I join with Joe in wanting to see heads roll at our large and expensive intelligence services who botched this. But let's recall, there wasn't another intelligence service in the world who believed Saddam did not have WMD. He used them against Iranians and Kurds. To avoid invasion all he had to do was show the inspectors evidence he destroyed them.

The lesson of skepticism is important here, but I really doubt this was in short supply in the first place. Iraq's posession of WMD wasn't exactly a partisan issue until second-guessers decided after-the-fact it was a convenient way to attack the president.

Despite the media crusade afterward, the justification for invading Iraq was never based on any WMD "imminent threat." Bush addressed the nation in January of 2003 and argued the contrary:

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

We invaded Iraq, not because Saddam was sitting on a pile of WMD - though we certainly believed he was. We invaded because we knew his intentions, capabilities, and our (newly felt) vulnerability to how that could affect our country.


Blogger First Ringer said...

Well said!

Listening to much of the criticism over Iraq by some people, you'd think they were flash-frozen somewhere in the mid 1980s and weren't present for the first Gulf War or the entire 1990s when hating/fearing Saddam was practically it's own cottage industry.

What I particularly don't like is when talking points are repeated so often they become truth, regardless if they're true or not. "Imminent threat", "WMD's the only reason", "Bush lied", all have entered the lexicon of political conversation on Iraq and all are not, as your post points out, accurate.

I have to disagree that heads aren't rolling---Porter Goss as the new CIA chief anyone? From the complaints about his new tenure, Goss seems to be cleaning house at the CIA, something Tenet wasn't going to do and Bush couldn't just immediately do after the intel foul-up because he'd have been accused of bungling it further (and lord knows what else). There is a smart way and a public way to make the intel reforms necessary happen and the two paths rarely join.

9:54 PM  

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