For a long time, I’ve had my own theory about Iraq’s WMD program, what happened to it, and why the Bush administration used it among its numerous reasons for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. It’s not based on any conspiracy theories, any partisan biases, any revisionist history, any “cherry-picking” of intelligence with the benefit of hindsight (knowing today what data was “good” at the time and what was “bad”), nothing but a little thought and a little historical perspective and a few applications of common sense.
First up, Saddam possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction at one point. This is not a disputable argument. “WMD” is defined as “NBC” (something that must irritate the National Broadcasting Corporation and their owners, General Electric) — Nuclear, Biological, or Chemical. Saddam possessed chemical weapons, and used them both against Iran in their prolonged war and against his own rebellious people. So that’s not debatable.
Second, Saddam had programs developing nuclear and biological weapons at the time of the first Gulf War (1991). Again, this is not debatable. As part of the terms of his surrender, he agreed to account for and publicly destroy all WMD materials.
Third, Saddam was incredibly resistant when it came to comply with this aspect of the ceasefire. His little games are legendary, and caused President Clinton on more than one occasion to strike at Iraq with bombs and missiles to prod Saddam into compliance. It didn’t work fully, but it did cut down on his strategy of “cheat and retreat.”
Fourth, as of 1998, it was the determination of the United States Government that Saddam’s government was so egregiously threatening the peace and violating its terms of surrender that the Congress passed (360-38 in the House, unanimous consent in the Senate, signed by President Clinton) the Iraqi Liberation Act, which called for Saddam’s overthrow. One of the stated justifications for the policy was Saddam’s refusal to fully comply with the terms of surrender.
Again, those terms called for him to document and publicly destroy WMD material. His documentation was notoriously shoddy and incomplete, and the public destruction was similarly flawed. Whole slews of chemical weapons were reported destroyed without a shred of proffered evidence. In essence, Saddam said “oh, those 500 poison gas shells? We burned them about a month ago. Trust us. It was a big old fire!”
There were a lot of reported weapons whose destruction was never properly documented, and even more weapons that were not reported in the first place.
That was 1998. We invaded in 2003. What the hell happened in the five intervening years?
On one front, not much. Saddam did very little to reconcile the missing numbers, and instead continued playing his “cheat and retreat” games, fighting off inspections at every opportunity.
If you ever want to have fun with some of the anti-war conspiracy nuts, ask them what happened to all the weapons Saddam had in 1998 that prompted the Congress to almost unanimously approve the Iraqi Freedom Act, and President Clinton to sign. There was no sudden reversal in raqi policy, no full accounting, no mass public destruction. By their questionable logic, those weapons just evaporated. Or their expiration date passed, and they were quietly disposed of when no one was looking. Whatever way you look at it, it boils down to some inconvenient questions that they would rather not answer.
On another front, almost perfectly splitting the five-year gap, 9/11 happened. And that changed everything for the US.
Let’s get rid of the kooks right away. No, there is no proof Saddam was involved in 9/11. Indeed, common sense says he was not. While there is considerable proof that Saddam had had some dealings with Al Qaeda, there was no operational need for Al Qaeda to tell Saddam about it, and in those days their operational security was very, very good. Indeed, there was good reason for them to NOT tell Saddam; it represented a potential leak, and it was information that Saddam, in theory, could have sold out in exchange for a break on the sanctions.
The Bush administration has said much the same. In very precise language, they have said that there is no evidence that Saddam was involved — and no way of proving he was not. This is in accordance with simple logic; it’s virtually impossible to prove a negative.
So, what did 9/11 change that would affect our stance on Iraq? Mainly, the US attitude towards the Mideast and terrorism.
So Saddam wasn’t involved in 9/11. Good for him. But he was still involved up to his elbows in terrorism.
He’d had dealings with Al Qaeda before, and supported them.
He was actively promoting suicide bombings in Israel, even providing rewards to the families of soicide bombers.
He had set up several terrorist training facilities around Iraq.
Even outside the specific area of terrorism, he was being a huge pain in the ass. Maintaining the sanctions and the “no-fly zones” and other restraints was very expensive for the US, as measured in money, time, and resources. And those sanctions were on the verge of collapse, as Saddam had converted the “Oil For Food” program into a bribe-spewing engine. He’d poured billions into the pockets of key political figures around the world, especially those of the UN Security Council (with extra attention lavished on those in Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain, and a few people in the US). His propaganda machine was going full tilt, talking about how many Iraqi babies died every day because of the cruel, crushing sanctions.
At the same time, he was still nowhere near compliance on the WMD aspect of his surrender. In fact, some reports were that he had re-started his programs.
Now we get into speculation — at least for me. It seems that a lot of these “speculations” of mine are being borne out.
Saddam saw himself as threatened by two external forces. The US had crushed his vaunted military with virtually no effort, but was distracted and shown that it did not have the stomach to “finish the job” back in 1991. Iran, on the other hand, was a far less potent foe, but far more determined and relentless. Should Iran gain the upper hand, Saddam was quite confident that he and his cronies would be summarily executed and his nation subjugated — kind of like he had done to Kuwait in 1990.
Saddam’s military had never fully recovered from the shellacking it got in 1991 from the US. International sanctions had kept him from re-arming, replacing and upgrading his weaponry. In a direct fight, it was very likely that Iran would win.
So he needed a trump card, something that would keep Iran at bay. He chose WMDs.
More specifically, he chose to persuade Iran that he had WMDs, and was willing to use them if threatened.
The latter part of the threat was an easy cell. After all, he’d done it before to Iran. It was the former part that would take some selling.
So Saddam chose to walk the tightrope. He tried to balance two opposing forces — the demands from the US that he prove he didn’t have WMDs, and the threat of Iran that he could only check by hinting that he did have WMDs. In effect, he had to sell two conflicting stories to two different audiences at the same time — and do at least the former in full sight of the world.
What he didn’t take into account was 9/11. That had changed things for the US. No longer would we be satisfied with hard-negotiated compromises and half-deals and “cheat and retreat” and bluster. We had the authorization, the capability, and the will to say “you will live up to your end of the agreement, or we will destroy you.”
Saddam wagered that he could stave off that third part. He lost that wager. And that particular bad bet put him on the end of a noose.
Since then, we’ve found numerous WMD caches and materiel around Iraq. No, we’ve not found huge stockpiles, but we’ve found quite a few small ones — and some have even been used against us. More than one poison-gas-bearing artillery shell has been set off as part of an IED, for example.
Recently, two “non-partisan” groups published a list of 935 or so “lies” the Bush administration had used to justify the invasion of Iraq. This got a lot of attention, until a few things came out:
1) The two “non-partisan” groups are not only not unaffiliated, but one of them serves solely to provide legal protection to the other.
2) The vast majority of their proof lies in evidence that post-dates the “lies” — in other words, they are using hindsight to point out incorrect information, and say that the people who were mistaken at the time should have known that future events would prove them wrong.
3) Their research was mostly underwritten by the same people who funded the Lancet study on Iraqi casualties of the war that overinflated the numbers by at least a factor of 4.
In brief (and yes, it’s somewhat hypocritical to say that after typing over 1500 words):
While Saddam was resisting complying with the UN sanctions, he was also putting out (false) information that he did still have WMDs, and was ready to use them on Iran should they attack.
The US, seeing both Saddam’s recalcitrance and picking up on these rumors, concluded — most likely erroneously — that Saddam was still in possession of WMDs, and decided to not take any chances.
To return to a metaphor I’ve used before, after the first Gulf War Saddam was a convicted felon on probation. Part of the terms of his probation were that he submit to regular drug testing and occasional searches of his home for drugs and weapons. He refused to comply with those conditions, and we kept getting reports that he was going around showing off flashing drugs and showing off a gun. We finally said “screw it” and busted into his house and tossed him back in jail for refusing to comply — blowing off scheduled drug tests and refusing to let parole officers into his house. Then, when we searched his house, we found some baking soda in zip-loc baggies and a paintball gun — fakes he had been using to re-establish his credentials with the street. Technically, he hadn’t violated his parole with those. But he had repeatedly refused to comply with the conditions of his release.
The conduct of the war is certainly open to debate. As is the decision to go to war on the evidence on hand at the time.
But to concoct some grand conspiracy to explain how the Bush administration chose to go to war with fabricated evidence and the intent to deceive the American people is just plain nuts.
For god’s sake, it even defies common sense. Just look at the arguments they use — “Bush said we went into Iraq because they had WMDs, and Bush KNEW that was a lie!” You have to be about three different kinds of stupid to buy that one.
First, you have to be ignorant about history. The Bush administration listed fourteen different causes for the action. They did NOT rely solely on the WMD issue.
Second, you have to think that the Bush administration was simultaneously competent enough to construct this elaborate scheme, but inept enough to not plan for it to unravel so quickly.
Third, you have to believe the absolute worst about the Bush administration, but at the same time depend on them not being as dishonest as necessary to carry out their schemes. If the Bush administration was deliberately lying when it said that Saddam had WMDs, why didn’t they fake some evidence to back that up? They had to know that their lies would be put to the test in very short order. Simple common sense dictates that they should have been ready to “plant” some WMD material in a few key locations to keep their story going.
It’s starting to seep out that my little scenario might be fairly close to true. CBS News — the same network that gave us RatherGate — had an interview with the former FBI agent who interrogated Saddam Hussein after he was captured. And it took the Wall Street Journal to notice what 60 Minutes didn’t seem to realize what they had uncovered.
Ever since the first day of the War In Iraq (or, as I prefer to call it, the Iraqi Campaign of the War On Terror), I’ve supported that decision. And while I have not been entirely pleased with how that war was fought at various times, I still stand by my opinion that it was the right and necessary decision.
And as more and more accounts come out detailing the steps leading up to the invasion,and more and more critics are exposed as liars and charlatans and fabricators and re-writers of history, I find myself saying that if the critics have to resort to such outright chicanery as I noted above to make their point, they really DON’T have truth on their side.