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November 05, 2005

There's WMD, and Then There's WMD

Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot at Electoral Math

Kevin Drum has been trying to score some contrarian points while tracing back through the march to war in Iraq. He points out that as of September 2002, there was widespread agreement that Saddam Hussein had an active WMD program. This, I suspect, was not a subject of dispute. The Clinton administration had a difficult time forcing Saddam to abide by the terms of the post-Gulf War UN resolutions, going so far as to order bombings on two occasions. House and Senate Democrats who voted for the war weren't doing so out of a desire of democracy promotion, but because they thought, or at least said they thought, that Saddam was a threat. Here's Tom Daschle in 2002: "The threat posed by Saddam Hussein may not be imminent. But it is real. It is growing. And it cannot be ignored." This was the angle most pro-war Democrats took: Saddam would continue to try and rebuild his chemical and biological programs, and we'd just keep trying to knock them out, plus he's a bad guy anyway, so let's stop playing games and take him out now.

There was no doubt about Saddam's continued efforts to develop chemical and biological weapons. Where there was doubt was about Saddam's ability to develop nuclear weapons, and to deliver those weapons to the United States. Now, outside of the "16 words" I don't really remember how hard the Bush administration tried to sell the nuclear threat, but as Matt Yglesias points out, the real selling point of the war was that Saddam's weapons would be used against US civilians. On this point there was good reason to doubt the administration's claims, since inspectors found minimal evidence that Saddam had any capacity to deliver weapons beyond a range of 600 miles. Hans Blix's January 2003 testimony suggested the possible presence of a modest amount of chemical and biological agents, but no means to attack the US directly with them, while this October 2003 testimony on the Iraq Survey Group's work shows little evidence of any WMD and no way of delivering any payload beyond 1000 kilometers. While missles with a range longer than 110 kilometers did violate the terms of Saddam's disarmament, they could easily have been destroyed without invading the country.

I'm all for being honest about history; we should admit that the pro-war Democrats bought into much of the WMD hype. But they didn't buy into all of it, and lumping Saddam's ground-war-ready chemical weapons (which lots of people agreed on) with the hype of mushroom clouds over Saint Louis (where there was considerable public disagreement) conflates too many distinct forms of "weapons of mass destruction".

November 5, 2005 in Iraq | Permalink


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Tracked on Nov 5, 2005 8:31:07 PM


What you seem to be doing is attempting to apologize for your people who *VOTED FOR WAR* based upon the same intelligence the Republicans had. That's right....exactly the same access and came to the same conclusion and yet, now the Dems internet minions say that they were mistaken while the other party were war mongers.
Yes, let's be honest about history. They voted for it...just like the Republicans because that is what the available evidence demanded.

Good for them.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 5, 2005 8:41:55 PM

I disagree. The CW was that he was hiding nukes.

I know this because I was 16 and the only political knowledge I had was CW.

Posted by: Sandals | Nov 5, 2005 8:57:30 PM

The phrase "weapons of mass distraction", as was noted by a few at the time, was one of those Orwellian Luntzisms explicitely designed to confuse the issue and grab-bag together nukes, germs and toxins, i.e., some VERY different things as far as long-distance danger is concerned.

Posted by: coturnix | Nov 5, 2005 11:21:34 PM

The CW was that he was hiding nukes.

No, the "line from the administration which was transparently false" was that Saddam Hussein was hiding nukes. The "CW" from "liberal hawks" was, "there is no way that Saddam has nukes but we support the war anyway." The claim that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons-- or was even on his way to developing nuclear weapons-- was a claim only believed by Bush's loyal supporters. It was known to be transparently untrue and no one outside the white house seriously claimed that he had an active nuclear program.

I concede, however, that those who were not well informed about the issue may have taken this seriously. The "CW" even among the liberal hawks was "Saddam probably has a cache of chemical weapons buried somewhere." The claims that the administraion were making was that (a) Saddam will deploy WMDs on americans using his toy airplanes and that (B) the smoking gun will be a mushroom cloud. While for most of us, this seemed to be obviously untrue, the right-wing reply was, "Bush knows something that we don't." There was so little evidence for the white house's claims that the war supporters were reduced to claiming that there was "secret evidence" to back up their claims since their initial case was so thin.

Posted by: Constantine | Nov 6, 2005 2:07:01 AM

Fred, Inspectors were on the ground in 2003. That is the turd in the punch bowl. Saddam put unacceptable conditions on inspections in 1996 to 1998 such as no access to 'Presidential compounds' which in some cases covered multi-square mile sites with dozens of buildings. In 2003 UN Inspectors were not constrained from going anywhere they wanted and they found nothing. I suspect a similar examination in 1997 would have come up with plenty. But the fact is that between 1996 and 2003 Saddam eliminated all traces of his WMD supply and infrastructure.

Democrats voted on October 11th. UN Inspectors first got on the ground on November 18th. From that instant Bush had access to information that Congressional Democrats didn't have five weeks earlier. A credible threat of force got UN Inspectors in. Every day that the Inspectors were working and not finding everything undermined the case for actually carrying through that threat.

Best available information October 11th? Threaten military action.
Best available information March 19th? Saddam's got nothing.

That's the difference. Five months of different amounts of available information. And during that entire period Bush was insisting he was Mr. "I get to decide". Bush pulled the trigger, no one else, and trying to backdate that trigger pull to a vote cast five months earlier in a totally different information pool doesn't cut the mustard.

Posted by: Bruce Webb | Nov 6, 2005 9:29:24 AM

Let me get this straight. In a country the size of California, the few UN inspectors didn't come up with enough so you conclude that Saddam is on the up and up? That about it?

Saddam had the opportunity to go before the UN and the world and tell his side of the story. He had 11 years or so to make his case. He didn't. He snubbed the world at every turn. Now other countries such as Lybia and Syria do not doubt the will of the Americans. I believe they now take our rhetoric more seriously, don't you?

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