-George W. Bush, Cincinnati, Ohio, Oct 7, 2002
In wake of ISIS possibly acquiring and using chemical weapons in Iraq (note: WSJ reported back in June of ISIS occupying the Al Muthanna complex, which was once Saddam Hussein’s premier chemical-weapons production facility) The NYTimes’ C.J. Chivers came out with a piece earlier this week that has reignited debate over the issue of Iraq WMD.
Chivers’ article that covers old munitions and the plight of OIF soldiers exposed to chemical weapons leakage, is not exactly new news. “Nothing found” is a lie, which much of mainstream belief has embraced due to the constant barrage of “No wmd found” and “Bush lied” slogans. It’s the reason why Karl Rove and the Bush White House mistakenly decided to move forward and talk about “nation-building” in Iraq rather than continue defending the original justifications, including the WMD reasoning.
A number of low-information voters are commenting, expressing anything from shock to “so Bush was right” and vindicated. This is similar to what happened in ’08 when the U.S. shipped yellowcake out of Iraq and into Canada. It was already declared stuff and known about, pre-‘o3 Invasion, under lock at Tuwaitha with a UN label. The progressive critics are pointing and laughing, wondering if these commenters actually bothered to read the article and not just a headline blurb about “chemical weapons found”. Chivers article demonstrates the power, reach, and influence of mainstream media. The only thing revelatory (at least for myself) is how these soldiers exposed to chemical weapons have not been receiving better care.
Glenn Kessler gives 4 pinocchios to anyone who claims that the New York Times story vindicates George W. Bush-era claims of Iraq WMD.
Foreign Policy Blog: Bush Defenders Say NYTimes Just Vindicated The Iraq Invasion
These are just a few examples of how the media in it’s snobbery has deluded its own self into a false narrative.
Patrick Brennan at the National Review Corner has the most balanced response to Chivers’ article:
The existence of these weapons doesn’t affect the debate over the war’s justification either way: They’re not evidence that Saddam Hussein was, as proponents of the war contended, in the process of resuming chemical-weapons production or starting other WMD programs. But on the other hand, as the existence of thousands of hidden or mislabeled chemical-weapons munitions reported in Chivers’s article could suggest, Saddam was clearly not complying with United Nations requirements about exposing and dismantling his chemical-weapons stores, which was the legal justification for the war.
Some of the munitions found in post-war Iraq were deliberately buried/hidden and not declared to UN weapons inspections. It doesn’t matter if these were pre-’90/’91 era- Saddam wasn’t supposed to still have these at all.
The simple question is: Did Saddam, in a 12 year span that involved 16 + 1 UNSCRs, ever come into full compliance of UNSCR 678, 687, and 1441 (1441 was not what was cited as legal justification for OIF)? The simple answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT! And it’s because of the feeble, toothless UN that Saddam felt emboldened to continue snubbing his nose at the international community for over a decade of deceit and defiance. Even when U.S. forces began massing upon his doorstep in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Saddam did not believe President Bush and the American people had the will nor the gonads to risk casualties and commit to a ground invasion.
Whether or not WMD material- new or old- was shipped out of Iraq before/during Invasion, it was Saddam himself who perpetuated the belief, however accurate or inaccurate, that he was a WMD danger. Translated post-war documents bear this out; as well as Saddam Hussein’s own confessions to his FBI debriefer, George Piro.
Conducting an interview with Kevin Woods, the US Army officer who authored the Pentagon-funded study, The Iraqi Perspectives Project, relates part of what his research in translating post-war documents and interview of Iraqi officials found:
Woods and his team interviewed hundreds of former senior members of the Iraqi army and government, and were handed tapes of Iraqi government meetings, including meetings chaired by Saddam. It took them about five years to piece the story together. There’s too much of interest to cover here – you’ll have to buy the book – so I’ll focus on what Iraqi officials said to him about WMD.
Woods was surprised to find that many of the Iraqi officials had drawn the same conclusions about Iraq’s WMD as the West had done. Saddam constantly signalled that he was playing the West along when he denied he had WMD.
Woods asked the regime’s head of research into WMD whether he had ever thought it possible there was a secret WMD programme that even he didn’t know about. The official nodded. Yes, he had thought it a possibility. After all, he explained, the government was extremely compartmentalised and secretive, and everyone lied to everyone else. Only one man knew everything.
“Also”, he continued, “Your president said it was so!”. Iraqi officials had been impressed by Bush’s certainty, and thought of the CIA as an intelligence service of legendary prowess which wouldn’t make a mistake like this. (This raises the Heller-esque possibility that some Iraqis were telling Western intelligence that the WMDs existed because they believed Western intelligence when it said they existed).
Saddam had constructed a hall of mirrors into which everyone, including the West, had allowed themselves to be drawn into. When the U.S military turned up in Iraq and discovered no WMD, they were amazed. So were Iraqi officials – not so much because it turned out that Saddam had been bluffing, but because they couldn’t believe that Bush would be so stupid as to neglect to take the precaution of planting some WMDs on Iraqi soil, so that the Americans had at least something to “discover”. To their minds, it was incompetence of the highest order.
The WMD narrative has been shaped by media and opponents of the war into the belief that the sole war justification was in the assertion that Saddam had an active WMD program and the threat was imminent (In President Bush’s 2003 SotU speech, he warned that we must act before the threat becomes imminent; otherwise, we would have waited too long. Also note: Senator Rockefeller and Democratic Party presidential hopeful Howard Dean did make the assertion of “imminent threat”; and Senator Rockefeller in a Feb 2003 interview with Wolf Blitzer made an assertion that President Bush never made: Tying Saddam to OBL).
“The fact that Zarqawi certainly is related to the death of the U.S. aid officer and that he is very close to bin Laden puts at rest, in fairly dramatic terms, that there is at least a substantial connection between Saddam and al Qaeda.”
February 5, 2003
Speaking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN regarding the implications of al Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq before the war.
If one looks back to the original AUMF II that had full bipartisan support from Congress, it contained around 27 “whereas” clauses with only about 7 that pertained to wmd. If I remember correctly, it lists the word “terrorism” or “terrorists” 16 times in its justifications portion. In comparison, the word “weapon(s)”, as it relates to WMD, is used 15 times. That dreadful neocon Douglas Feith believed the case against Saddam was strong enough without the wmd emphasis. The CIA overestimated Saddam’s WMD status, due to no new intell after 1998 (kicked out weapons inspections); but they underestimated Saddam’s ties to Islamic terror/al Qaeda (Thanks to an incurious and politically partisan Paul Pillar and like-mindeds within the CIA who refused to turn over that rock and examine outside of their preconceived box).
As Douglas Feith writes, being the evil neocon that he is,
WAS the war in Iraq fought only to remove WMD stockpiles?
Saddam’s pattern of aggression, defiance, and ties to terrorists were a major concern, made all the more serious by his programs of WMD development.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 distorted public discourse on the Iraq issue, focusing the debate narrowly on WMD disclosures and inspections-and therefore on whether the inspectors would find contraband stockpiles. And it ignored the logic of the rationale for regime change-that Saddam’s record of aggression was so long and so bloody as to be irredeemable. (p. 336)
Contrary to later claims by many commentators, President Bush did not build his case against Saddam exclusively on assertions that Iraq possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Not even the portion of his case that dealt with weapons of mass destruction focused only on stockpiles. (p. 311)
Saddam maintained connections to foreign terrorists. To some he gave refuge. Others he allowed to operate from Iraqi territory. He trained thousands of foreign terrorists in Iraqi facilities and provided them political support and funds. The CIA reported in September 2002 that “Iraq continues to be a safehaven, transit point, or operational node for groups and individuals who direct violence against the United States, Israel, and other allies. Iraq has a long history of supporting terrorism.” (p. 187)
With economic sanctions eroding, we anticipated that they would soon collapse and Saddam would emerge emboldened by his victory over the United States and the United Nations. Our main concern was not that Saddam would then attack the United States out of the blue. We worried rather that, in his effort to dominate the Persian Gulf and the broader Middle East, Saddam would aim to deter outside intervention by developing his conventional and WMD capabilities, along with the prohibited long-range missiles (or, possibly, terrorist alliances) to deliver them. (p. 514)
After weighing the risks of war against the risks of leaving Saddam in power, President Bush decided it was unreasonably risky to allow Saddam to choose the time and place for turning Iraq’s ongoing, low-level confrontation with the United States into a high-level conflict. (p. 515)
In dealing with the threat from Saddam Hussein, President Bush understood that he was responsible for calculating the risks of inaction as well as the risks of action. In the prewar deliberations on Iraq, he discussed both types of risk. The decision to go to war was controversial, and he knew he would be damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. He had to choose the course of action for which he would rather be damned by his contemporaries and by history. (p. 525-6)
The decision to remove an irredeemable regime from power- one that had defied its legal obligations to disarm for over a decade and was in materiel breech- had as much to do with history, capability, and intent as it did with actual possession of WMD stockpiles. And as we know from post-war findings by the Iraq Survey Group, Saddam clearly retained both the capability and the intentions to restart his dormant weapons programs as soon as sanctions were lifted (sanctions were eroding; you had countries like France, China, and Germany selling Saddam illegal materials and weapons; there was the Oil-for-Food scandal).
Douglas Feith on “nothing found”:
IS IT TRUE that “no WMD was found” in Iraq?
The Iraq Survey Group found that Saddam Hussein retained both the intention and the capability to revive bio-chemical weapons programs after sanctions were ended.
The reports we had from U.S. intelligence officials on Iraqi WMD painted essentially the same picture that those officials had presented to the Clinton Administration. The CIA declared that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons stockpiles. The stockpiles catalogued by the UN weapons inspectors in 1999 were still unaccounted for, and were therefore presumed to exist. (p. 224)
[T]he Iraq Survey Group team concluded that Saddam had retained the ability to produce chemical and biological weapons rapidly (within a month or two). In the 1990s he had shut down factories dedicated solely to making such weapons, replacing them with “dual-use” facilities capable of producing both civilian products and chemical or biological weapons. That gave him deniability if inspections ever started up again, as Saddam evidently expected they would. (p. 327)
The Iraq Survey Group also found that Saddam had the intention to revive Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs once the sanctions were ended. He had preserved the necessary teams of technicians, who would be the key to reviving the programs quickly. (p. 327)
The public’s impression of the Duelfer Report on these matters was shaped by news media headlines to the effect that “nothing was found.” Those headlines were misleading (one might even say fundamentally false), because the ISG found substantial WMD capabilities in Iraq, including personnel, materiel, facilities, and intentions-but not the stockpiles of the weapons themselves. (p. 328)
In the end, there are only three possible explanations for the failure to find the WMD materiel that had been catalogued in detail by UNSCOM. Saddam might have destroyed it, he might have hidden it in Iraq, or he might have transferred it out of Iraq. To this day, we do not know for sure which explanation is correct. (p. 330)
The Iraq Survey Group confirmed that President Bush had grounds for viewing Iraq’s WMD capabilities as a compelling threat. The CIA’s unsupportable statements about Iraqi stockpiles and WMD activity did not justify critics in making unsupportable pronouncements of their own, to the effect that Saddam had no WMD ambitions or capabilities. (p. 330)
For those who have not read War and Decision, I highly recommend it- not just for partisan OIF and Bush defenders, but for serious historians on both sides of the argument. It is a good academic read with valuable endnotes and appendix, and insiders’ account.
Here is more from the Iraq Survey Group’s final report findings on chemical weapons programs.
The CIA’s 2004 Detailed Preliminary Assessment of Chemical Weapons Findings on chemical weapons.
One of the points I found of interest in Eli Lakes piece regarding Karl Rove as the “decider” in not defending wmd finds in Iraq and the original justification(s) for removing Saddam from power, is this:
One explanation for why the White House was not interested was so as not to tip off Sunni insurgents in Iraq. As The New York Times reported this week, some of the main areas in Iraq used to store chemical weapons are in areas now controlled by ISIS.
Wurmser said that in 2004 and 2005 “chemical-weapons shells began turning up in arms markets in Iraq in small numbers, but eventually in batches of 100 or so.” He said that when he asked the U.S. intelligence community to go public with the information, they “quite properly asked it be kept quiet until they track down the source of the weapons so that they can secure it and not tip off Sunni insurgents to go and retrieve them themselves.”
Eventually, Wurmser said, Sunni insurgent groups did gain access to the shells in 2005. “There were to my memory at least two attacks on our soldiers using chemical weapons-rigged shells as [improvised explosive devices]. Fortunately, they were ineffectively weaponized and soldiers were wounded but not killed.”
Wurmser, however, grew more frustrated over time. “After waiting a year—during which we asked that the source of the batches be traced and followed to the location where the shells were being retrieved—we continued to see the trickle, but then discovered nobody was making any effort to track the source to the location of retrieval,” he said. “Instead, we were continuing to try to buy up some of the stuff in the market.”
After the U.S. found thousands of the old chemical-weapons shells, Wurmser and others at one point argued that they had an obligation to declare the stocks of chemical weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention and destroy them. The United States was, after all, the occupier of Iraq and had assumed the country’s sovereign responsibilities as a signatory to the convention.
Similarly, it’s for security concerns that the yellowcake uranium at Tuwaitha was not commonly known; and when the AP reported the movement of uranium from Iraq to Canada, that bit of news came as a surprise to some in the mainstream, misleading people into the belief that this was evidence of an active nuclear weapons program in Saddam’s Iraq. It was not.
The details of the transaction have been kept secret. By the time the AP reported the incident, the mission had already been underway for months. In a July 7 press conference, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the secrecy was due to “security concerns.” U.S. officials worried the uranium might end up in the wrong hands if kept in an unstable region like the Middle East.
Randall Hoven with a good analysis of the story’s significance at American Thinker, at the time.