The Long View 2003-05-29: Weapons of Mass Destruction

Unfortunately for John's posthumous reputation, the answer to his question is: they didn't exist.

Weapons of Mass Destruction
Where are those weapons of mass destruction, you may ask? Well, I certainly don't have them. The question is what happened to the Iraqi WMD inventory, and whether the failure to find it obviates the chief rationale for the recent war.
There is some hard evidence that the Baathist government had a chemical weapons program. The spanking-new laboratory vans show that the pre-war intelligence was not erroneous or fabricated. The US military also claims to have quite a lot of documentary evidence of an ongoing WMD program. On the other hand, this is different from finding an arsenal. That was what the Coalition military expected to meet. The Iraqis themselves appear to have gone out of their way to foster this expectation before and during the battle for Iraq. Quite late into the invasion, remember, the possibility of a WMD attack still had some deterrent effect on strategy and tactics
The odds are that there still are some stocks, even in Iraq, but that the Baathist government began dismantling the arsenal and shipping it abroad last summer, as soon as it became clear that an invasion was likely. Why do this? The Iraqis were well aware that nothing they had could actually defeat an invasion, and that using WMDs as spite weapons would so discredit the regime as to make a neo-Baathist revival impossible. Why not report the dismantling of the arsenal to the UN? Because the personnel and the equipment to reconstitute the program still existed. The hope was that the UN would be satisfied with the gradual clarification of the record from 1998, the last time the Iraqis stopped cooperating with the UN inspectors.
None of this is relevant to the rationale for the invasion. The reason for the invasion was precisely that the threat from Iraq was not imminent. In this context, an imminent threat would be like the one from North Korea, which can plausibly threaten to blow up Tokyo, or even Honolulu, if the existence of the regime is threatened. It is possible to put off dealing with North Korea, at least until it starts selling nukes abroad, because it is so isolated. One could not tolerate such a capability in Iraq, because Baathist Iraq was part of a system of states, terrorist groups, and ideologies that is lethally hostile to the United States. After 911, it was clear that containment, or even deterrence, was irrelevant to the task of dealing with this system.
We knew that Baathist Iraq had WMDs in the past. We did not know whether it still had them, because Iraq refused serious inspections. As Noemie Emery points out in the Weekly Standard of June 2, at that point there was no choice but to assume the worst. This is not a post hoc rationale for the war, by the way. It's exactly what George W. Bush said in last year's State of the Union Address.
Does this mean that the Iraq War was a justified precautionary measure, but that it proved to be unnecessary? Not at all. The mere existence of the regime posed a danger. Its policy was to acquire and use WMDs. Just as important, only the presence of an American army in the region affords any hope of reforming the state sponsors of terrorism. The cooperation of Syria and Iran is still hypocritical, but the invasion and occupation have clarified their minds about which virtues they should pretend to have.
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Unfortunately, there has been no such clarification among the tranzie activists of the world, even those with a noble record. Consider the sad case of Amnesty International. In writing their human rights report for 2003, they contrived to persuade themselves that the overthrow of the Baathist regime in Iraq was a setback for human rights around the world. The argument, in part, was that billions of dollars were spent on the war, which might better have been spent opposing other dictatorships and tyrannies. Since, as we have noted, the war also served to strike fear into many of those regimes with which one would expect Amnesty International to be displeased, it's hard to take this objection altogether seriously.
There is some reason to suspect that international social-welfare system is turning into the sort of misery machine that domestic welfare systems did after the 1960s. There are increasing reports from Africa and the Balkans about aid agencies fostering dependence without development. This is another matter from the cluelessness of Amnesty's applause, in the same report, for establishment of the International Criminal Court. This is the body that will kill the idea of humanitarian intervention. Watch.
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Finally, regarding the immediate effects of the Iraq War, it is relatively clear that the recent terrorist attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia cannot be considered a sign of strength for the terrorist network. After the fall of Iraq, they had to do something, or be dismissed as irrelevant. The sites they chose to strike seem to have been selected simply because they were still within their range, not because they were the sites likely to be most effective. The bombings in Saudi Arabia in particular are going to be counterproductive. The Saudi regime used to be afraid of offending Al Qaeda. Now they fear Al Qaeda actively seeks their overthrow. There is such a thing as progress, even in Saudi Arabia.
Does this mean we can forget about mass-casualty attacks in the US or Europe? Hardly. In any case, if they do occur, we are now in a position to deal with their state sponsors almost immediately.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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