“Bush lied, people died:” A look at Iraq and the WMD issue

“Bush lied, people died” has become a mantra among opponents of the war, in reference to Iraq’s possession or non-possession of weapons of mass destruction. I think it’s long past time this allegation has been given a thorough scrutiny.

(Warning: this one is another long one, so I’m stuffing most of it into the extended section)

First, let’s clear up the definition of WMDs. WMDs are not nukes. The simplest way to remember what constitutes a WMD is the acronym “NBC” — Nuclear, Biological, Chemical. Essentially, any weapon that does not rely on explosive or kinetic energy tends to fall into the WMD category. Or, as Tom Clancy once put it, “a nuke is a bug is a gas” as far as WMDs are concerned.

Next, let’s look at the pre-war situation from a legalistic standpoint. Many of Bush’s critics have said that we went to war without concrete proof that Iraq possessed WMDs. Whether or not that’s true, it’s irrelevant — Iraq was not entitled to any presumption of innocence. That such weapons existed is beyond dispute. In a sense, Iraq was a convicted felon on parole, and one of those conditions of parole was submitting to regular drug testing. Saddam had admitted to possessing WMDs before the first Gulf War, and had even used them — both on Iran and his own people. Under the terms of the ending of that first war, he had to get rid of all his WMD stocks and R&D programs under the world’s scrutiny.

Any parole officer who let one of his parolees repeatedly refuse to submit to required drug testing with a reassurance that he was “clean,” and grew belligerent when questioned, ought to be fired and the parolee hauled back in. (That probably wouldn’t happen in the real world, but it ought to.) Saddam repeatedly forced confrontations with inspectors, often tossing them out entirely, and repeatedly fired on aircraft enforcing the “no-fly” zones. Any single one of those incidents violated the terms ending the first war, and would have justified a resumption of hostilities. That they didn’t is testament to both the patience and distaste for war of his adversaries, and the success of his bribery programs — most notably the graft surrounding the “oil-for-food” scandal.

The situation was further muddied by another series of deceptions by Saddam. Saddam was apparently trying to balance two distinctly opposing perceptions at the same time — that he was disarmed and harmless to the US and the UN, while simultaneously that he did possess enough weaponry to discourage an attack by his immediate neighbors (Iran, especially). Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t keep these two images distinct, and the US picked up on the signals he was trying to send to Iran. Worse, we believed them.

So, that’s enough prologue. Let’s get to the “meat” of the issue.

There are two basic issues involved in the “Bush lied, people died” mantra, and two possible sides to each issue. Bush did or did not believe Saddam possessed WMDs, and Saddam did or did not possess WMDs. There are four basic combinations of these positions, and several variants.

The first one is the easiest to dismiss, as it is both the least likely and the least espoused. Hardly anyone is putting forth the position that Bush was convinced Saddam had WMDs but lied about it, and that he really did. So that one goes on the trash heap.

The second possibility is that Bush believed Saddam had not disarmed, but he had. That one is already proven false. We have found literally dozens of artillery shells containing sarin gas, in clear contravention of the disarmament agreements. And since the “shelf life” of Sarin is less than the 12 years that passed from the end of the first Gulf War and the Second, it must have been manufactured and/or imported while Iraq was under sanctions. And those who would dismiss these shells as “not a stockpile” are doing the equivalent of the probation officer dismissing the parolee’s possession of a couple joints because “it isn’t cocaine or something, just some pot.”

The third one is that Bush sincerely believed that Saddam had not disarmed fully, and he had not. That’s the one I find the most probable. It’s backed up by evidence, too — we have found some WMDS (the aforementioned artillery shells containing Sarin gas). It also contains the possibility that Saddam had moved his WMDs out of the country during the 18-month buildup to the war — a tactic he had used before, when he flew most of his Air Force into Iran just prior to the first Gulf War. And there is a difference between being wrong and lying — lying requires intent. Those people who believed the world was flat weren’t lying, they were simply wrong.

The fourth one is that Saddam had truly disarmed, and Bush knew it. That is the most common interpretation of “Bush lied, people died,” and it just doesn’t stand up. First, we’ve FOUND a few WMDs. Second, the fact that we’ve only found a few is, in a rather twisted sense, stronger evidence than stockpiles.

Let’s presume for a moment that Bush had, indeed, been convinced that Saddam possessed no WMDs, but pushed the invasion anyway. This fails on closer scrutiny. If Bush was indeed ruthless and unscrupulous enough to lie about this, wouldn’t he also have prepared some fake evidence to “uncover” to support his lie? To me, if we had found a stockpile or two of chemical weapons, some biological samples, and maybe even a nuke-in-progress to justify the invasion. The fact that no such things have been found to me fairly shouts that Bush sincerely believed the proof would be found.

And to those who say that Bush wasn’t smart enough to prepare the faked evidence, you can’t have it both ways. He can’t be cunning enough to concoct this scheme, yet too dumb to realize the consequences.

So it’s my belief that the Bush administration was sincerely convinced, on good evidence, that Saddam was developing forbidden weapons, and acted in good conscience. Saddam could have prevented the whole war by simply complying with what he had previously agreed to do — allow inspectors unfettered access. But he thought he could bluff the US and our allies, balance our demands versus the threats to his prestige and standing, and emerge a victor. He came damned close, especially with the billions in bribes being passed around through the Oil For Food fraud, but eventually he failed, Iraq was invaded, he was deposed, and now he sits in a jail cell while his former subjects are voting freely in determining their own future.

And it’s nobody’s fault but his own.


Quote Of The Day


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