Wednesday, 04 June 2003
Hide and seek. Let's say that, somewhere in a parallel universe, I became the Evil Overlord of Iraq about thirty years ago. With the entire resources of the state at my disposal, I directed my underlings to produce weapons of mass destruction—spores, nerve gas, nukes, the whole works. After a decade or so my henchmen made good progress, and delivered a supply of nerve gas to my rubbed-together hands.
For a while I was able to use my shiny new weapons (they worked nicely against Iran and those pesky Kurds), but eventually I was forced to conceal them from a team of nosy U.N. inspectors. To hide the weapons, I put them all in a railroad boxcar and sent my trusted minions to bury the boxcar in the most remote and unlikely corner of Iraq I could think of. I then executed my trustworthy-but-expendable minions from the boxcar detail, and for good measure arranged unfortunate accidents for all but a few top scientists in my weapons program.
After another decade or so of playing cat and mouse with the inspectors, the Americans finally got fed up and invaded—and they moved so rapidly and unexpectedly that I didn't have time to dig up the boxcar, which remains hidden in a place that only I know. I didn't even trust my sons with the secret of the boxcar's location, though I told them both of the boxcar's existence: What better way to ensure that they both worked to preserve my life?
All of which brings us to the question of the hour: How long should it take for the invaders to find the boxcar?
There's an ongoing debate about whether Team Dubya misled the public about Saddam's ability to produce and deploy weapons of mass destruction. The first, obvious answer is: Of course they did. This is the same team that lied on 9/12 about Al Qaeda targeting Air Force One, lied about the administration's motives for tax cuts, lied about Bush and Cheney's ties to Enron, lied about Bush's history of alcohol abuse and his reasons for concealing it—in short, this is a team that plays fast and loose with the truth, especially when talking to members of its Enemies List like France or the Democrats. There's no question that this administration would twist the facts on Iraq to fit the story they wanted to tell: They've done it on all the other issues, and there's no reason to suspect Iraq is the lone exception.
Setting Dubya's penchant for fibbing aside, though, the case that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction is nearly indisputable: He used them against the Kurds. There is independently verified physical evidence that Saddam's forces dropped nerve agents on the Kurdish village of Birjinni in 1988. He used them against Iran as early as 1980, according to reports from Tehran, with confirmation from United Nations inspectors. These are not the reports of western intelligence agencies or aggrieved parties with axes to grind, but the findings of left-leaning peace organizations with no reason to dissemble.
The question, then, is not whether Saddam had nerve gas, but whether he stopped having it—and to believe that Saddam lacked in 2002 what he clearly possessed in 1988 is to believe that he destroyed his arsenal in the least effective way possible: In secret, out of sight, and away from the U.N. inspectors. All he had to do was reveal a supply of nerve gas, allow the inspectors to examine it thoroughly, and then let them verify its destruction. That's it. End of inspections. If you were in charge of Iraq for a day any time between 1991 and 2003, you could have done it in a heartbeat. Heck, I'd have brewed up a special batch of sarin just to put on a public show of destroying it—all the while keeping my private stash buried in that boxcar near Outer Tikrit.
The belief that Saddam had no chemical weapons is also troubled by the fact that his troops in the field carried gas masks and chemical protection suits, which was widely reported by several sources. The most plausible theory that fits the facts is that Saddam did have chemical weapons, had every intention of using them against the advancing coalition troops, and failed to do so only because the coalition troops advanced much faster than he expected. Saddam couldn't retreive his weapons from their hiding places and get them into theater quickly enough; in fact, if we assume that giving out the secret location would have put Saddam in immediate danger of regicide, it raises the question of whether he could give the necessary orders at all. The location of the WMDs would have been the most valuable secret in the whole regime; anyone possessing that knowledge would have had a golden opportunity to defect and become a prominent post-war figure.
So, then: Did Dubya and his team distort the facts, stretch the truth, lie about their motives, and broadly mislead the public to gain the maximum support for their Iraq invasion plans? Of course they did; that's been their modus operandi since before Bush's first day in office. Did they lie about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction? In the sense that they claimed proof where they had only informed speculation, yes… but a review of the evidence can only conclude that Saddam had, and intended to use, chemical weapons—and that his supply of nerve gas remains undiscovered, in some remote corner of Iraq.