July 18, 2003
WHERE'S THE WMD?....Asked about the infamous 16 words and how they got into the State of the Union address, White House press spokesman Scott McClellan asked everyone to take a step back yesterday:
You have to go back to the bigger picture. That was one piece of a much broader case against Saddam Hussein....
That might be good advice, so let's ask the broader — and far more important — question: where is the WMD?
I'm reminded of this by a couple of things. First, I noticed this
sentence about special ops teams in Iraq from Max Boot's article "The
New American Way of War" in Foreign Affairs (summary only online):
had been operating in Iraq for several months, focusing especially on
the search for weapons of mass destruction and missile launcher sites in
I had forgotten about that, but he's
right. In addition to the UN inspectors, who may have been doing an
inadequate job in the view of the Bush administration, we had our own
troops searching for WMD in Iraq for several months before the war. But
they came up empty handed. Did that cause any doubts in Washington?
Today in the Globe and Mail, Canadian analyst Sunil Ram goes further and says directly that Iraq didn't have a nuclear program and didn't have chemical or biological weapons of any significance either. What's more, he said American officials had been told this in early 2001:
people doing the presentation were weapons inspectors and former
weapons inspectors and senior members of (U.S. government) agencies,"
Mr. Ram said in an interview.
....The conclusion they reached, he said, was that "Iraq's nuclear
weapons program (didn't exist) because (the Iraqi government) had
He said the message of experts at the meeting was heard loud and clear by many U.S. military and political officials.
....The Washington meeting dealt specifically with nuclear weapons,
but Mr. Ram said it also addressed chemical and biological weapons to a
smaller extent. Even there, he said, the danger to the world from such
weapons was dismissed by the presenters.
If there were such weapons in Iraq at that time, he said, "they were negligible in quantity and militarily meaningless."
After 9/11, however, apparently the Bush administration no longer wished to believe this.
So: where is the WMD? In March Donald Rumsfeld said not just that Iraq had WMD, but pointed out their exact location:
We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.
it's not the entire country we need to search, it's just the areas
around Baghdad and Tikrit. Except that there's nothing there.
I have long thought that Saddam did indeed have chemical and
biological weapons and that the Bush administration is genuinely
surprised that we haven't been able to find them. But the more I read,
the more I wonder about that. I wonder if the intelligence regarding
those weapons was far less compelling than we've been led to believe and
the Bushies aren't quite as surprised as they pretend to be.
This is indeed the bigger picture. But it looks no better for the
Bush administration than the 16 words. In fact, it looks considerably
UPDATE: Tim Dunlop suggests that Sunil Ram's recollections are not entirely accurate. After looking at a transcript of the conference's keynote address, he says:
it definitely puts a huge question mark over Saddam's nuclear
capability, but it leaves no doubt that he was trying to pursue such
devices, as he was other weapons, including conventional weapons. It
also indicates that they thought inspections were essential to confirm
their intelligence reports.
He also thinks that the
Bushies really did think their suspicions about WMD were correct and
really are surprised that they haven't found any yet. Despite what I
said above, I imagine he's probably right about that.
Transcripts of the entire conference are here.
Posted by Kevin Drum at July 18, 2003 01:45 PM
But... he's Canadian!
Anyway... it doesn't matter, since the inva^h^h^h^hliberation was
about something else all along. When we know what is was, we'll let you
know. Nosy untrusting traitor.
I take it this isn't too good for Kenneth Pollack's credibility, either.
I'll just point out that Rumsfeld's statement is "technically
accurate". For a broad enough interpretation of "somewhat", I can
guarantee that there are, in fact, WMD "in the area around Tikrit and
Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."
just a question. if in fact the WMD justification was knowingly
forged (stretched, perhaps) by Bush & co., didn't they figure that
it would come to this? eventually, all this stuff would come out about
who knew what when, and more importantly, no WMD would be found.
are they really that stupid? i mean, they seem too politically
shrewd to me to knowingly lie about something with such obvious
consequences that is the subject of intense international public
scrutiny. unless there was some plan to manufacture the appearance of
WMD's, which would be almost impossible. what was the plan?
morally speaking, i wouldn't put it past bush, rumsfeld, & crew
to use political capital for selfish means. but politically speaking?
actually, Kevin, although it didn't get much attention, Liberal Oasis
noted that Rummy walked that line back in his appearance last Sunday
with George Stephanopoulous.
He said: "I probably should have said 'we know where they were,' instead of 'we know where they are.'"
In the same show, he also had this exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: …couldn’t the war then…have provoked your worst fear,
that these weapons would be moved and get in the hands of terrorists?
RUMSFELD: It could have. And it still could. Which is the reason you need to find them…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that show a failure then of the Defense Department…to secure those sites?
RUMSFELD: No. I mean, how can you secure…sites in a country the size of California, that has open borders, porous borders…
…It’s not possible to secure every single site.
What one has to do is to go in and win the war. Throw out the regime.
And then, as rapidly as possible, shift that fighting force into a presence force and try to provide security in the country.
I mean, can you ask for a better example of how these guys think?
Having just conceded that if there were WMDs, they could now be
anywhere, he still shows no regrets whatsoever over policy.
Maybe they counted on being able to manufacture WMDs if none was
found, and only afterwards learned how hard that is to get away with.
My money's on: they didn't care, and they counted on no one paying enough attention to make them care.
Sarah k - i can't remember which recently retired State Department
analyst called the Bush policy a "faith-based" policy, but that's what
They believed because they believed.
Just as they didn't have a Plan B for the post-war period, because
they believed their own myth of cakewalk, liberation, and everybody
still reports to work the next day, they didn't, for a second, entertain
the notion that they could be wrong about WMDs.
Bear in mind that with the exception of acknowledging that he
shouldn't have traded Sammy Sosa, neither Bush nor any of his top aides
has ever, in his or her life, admitted to making a mistake of any kind.
They are all '70s style CEOs, and we all know how well American business
did in those days.
Judging by what Bush's supporters are saying nowadays, the WMD justification was just for the little people who needed to have their security threatened before they would support the war.
Wolfowitz. Vanity Fair:
"[Saddam's criminal treatment of the Iraqi people] is a reason to
help the Iraqis, but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at
risk, certainly not on the scale we did."
Other stated rationales for war:
1) WMD Programs
2) Terrorism Support
3) The bogeyman of the intersection of 1 & 2
Personally, I think 3) was a reasonably good reason to intervene, but
I would have done it through escalation of the UN inspections, not GW2.
IOW, build a real international coalition, not this COW crap.
I personally have believed that there were no significant chemical or
biological weapons there, since the first Gulf War. This is consistent
with IAEA and UN pronouncements. In 1998, inspectors said that the
weapons programs had been dismantled, and Iraq effectively "disarmed".
This is also consistent with many statements by Iraqi exiled scientists -
the ones not appearing eager to personally benefit from the new order,
Wasn't the UN case basically that Iraq couldn't verify the
destruction of tons of nerve gas and bio. culture media (agar?) from the
1980's? Iraq's own documents showed that it existed, in the 1980's,
they turned these documents over after Gulf War I to try to comply and
end the sanctions, and the UN deemed them incomplete, because a fraction
were unaccounted for. Has anyone seen anything else? Ever?
We claimed to have evidence - that we couldn't turn over to the UN
without compromising sources, we finally did early this year - the
inspectors visited the sites we suspected (all this before the war) and
If we had overwhelming evidence of a systematic and extensive program of
nasty weapons, wouldn't something have been found? Anything?
This has felt very strange for the last year while the country talked
about imaginary things. Even lefties had to go through logical
contortions to make sense of all this (...well for an innocent person,
Saddam sure acted guilty, etc.) Two words - Cognitive Dissonance.
Whatever he once had, I think it is very clear that the US did not
have any evidence of an existing program. But, of course, the absence of
evidence does not mean evidence of absence - according to zen master
I confess that I figured the WMD stuff was too important and too
public to be dismissed after the war was over. And yet, that's exactly
what quite a few war proponents have tried to do. "It was a war of
liberation. WMD had nothing to do with it."
Cynical though I sometimes am, I am appalled at the general finding
that most people don't really thing it's important if we find WMD. It
seems that the Bush administration knows the American public far better
than I do.
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, though. I wrote a post a few
months ago asking what things would have to happen for the war to be
considered a success. One of the bullet points was "Find the WMD."
Unfortunately, this was before I had comments, but I got quite a few
emails from people saying that that really didn't matter that much to
I agree with sarah_k that they can't be so stupid that they expected
everyone to forget the WMD argument. If they had planned to shift to a
humanitarian argument post-war, they could just as easily have made that
the centerpiece of their new doctrine, no bait & switch necessary.
In fact, didn't Tony Blair recently articulate such a doctrine?
Something about the obligation of well-off countries to topple dictators
one-by-one and end misery everywhere in the globe? If you can figure
out a way to do it, Tony, more power to ya.
One story that has not received much attention in the press today is
about Judicial Watch and the Cheney Energy Task Force. We put up a link
on robwire.com today to the story from Judicial Watch of the documents
they have obtained under court order from the Cheney Energy Task Force
show that Cheney and his group were involved in a review of the Iraqi
oil infrastructure in March of 2001 long before September 11th and long
before the claim that Iraq had WMD's ever came up.
The documents contribute to the growing pattern
that the Bush administration was extremely interested in Iraq from the very start.
Sarah K makes a good point, but overlooks the point that just about
EVERYONE around the world assumed Sadam had chem/bio weapons. It was the
conventional wisdom - the UN certainly believed. And think of the
larger post 9/11 picture: in the eyes of the administration, weren't all
these crazy middle east wackos looking to develop WMD? We found some
evidence of chem research in Al Queda camps in Afganistan, no? A maniac
like Hussein - who had actually used these things in the past (!) -
certainly must have some on hand.
So, I think we need to cut them a certain amount of slack on making
the argument in the first place. What is absolutely inexcusable is that
they OVERSOLD the story with a bunch of clearly fabricated evidence,
gave the finger to our allies and ran in there practically alone.
Imagine if they had made nice with the Germans - if not the French - and
managed to bring NATO along for the ride. The 3rd ID would be home
right now. There'd be a lot fewer dead and maimed GIs. The press from
the theater might not be great, but at least it wouldn't be disastrously
awful as it is now. And, the lack of WMD would be a minor story with
Europeans and Americans alike scratching their heads and saying, "hmm,
boy, coulda sworn we'd find something by now..."
BTW: Check out John Dean on the SOTU:
I just read the Dean piece and posted on it somewhere else. This is a
powerful one, as Dean claims that the problems of deceptive wording go
far beyond the "16 words" and that a special prosecutior is now clearly
And John Dean would know . . .
I think they originally just assumed there were WMD. As intelligence
began to hint that the WMD may be gone, they said "hey, we better hurry
this operation up while we've still got a case!" They probably thought
the WMD existed, but that intelligence to prove it would be harder to
come by as time went on. Their own zenophobia prevented them from
accepting that the WMD were indeed gone.
Rumsfeld said they were around Tikrit and Baghdad "and east, west, south and north somewhat."
Hmm. Wouldn't that in fact be all of Iraq?
If we'd made nice with the Germans, French, Russians, and Belgians:
Saddam would still be in power, Hans Blix would still be inspecting and
finding nothing, Saddam would still be supporting terrorist groups, the
Iraqi people would still be living under tyranny and sanctions, Israel
would never have agreed to pursue the roadmap, and the radical Arabs and
Islamists would regard us as decadent, impotent westerners -- all talk
and no action.
Chirac NEVER would have agreed to the forcible overthrow of Saddam if
the inspectors didn't find WMDs, and the rest would have gone along
with the French.
John Dean's comments lose a lot of credibility in my eyes because he
fails to acknowledge that the British stood by, and continue to stand
by, the intelligence behind the "16 words." The rest of his critique is
essentially that Bush didn't emphasize enough the fact that
intelligence is sometimes imprecise or wrong. I have a hard tine taking
I see this argument a lot. Chirac would NEVER have gone along with
military action. What evidence do you have to support this contention?
You misrepresent my argument: I base my case on the assumption that
Chirac would never come around ("if not the French"). Maybe the Germans
wouldn't have either, but the administration didn't even try to bring
NATO around. I'm no NATO expert, but from what I understand the US
carries far greater weight in that organization than the French. Clinton
managed to get the Germans and Duthch and Belgians to move into Kosovo
under the NATO banner, why couldn't Bush manage the same trick with Iraq
- obviously a greater threat than to us than the Serbs?
Many of us would have supported an action based on strategic
rationale that you allude to - get our troops out of Saudi, remove a
major impediment to Israeli/Palestinian negotiation, etc. The
administration didn't make that argument. They argued that it was urgent
to go in as soon as possible based on an imminent threat. And that
argument is now clearly spurious. No nukes. No WMD. No connections to al
It's clear that you admire the administration's enthusiasm for
action. Fine: now the president has to live with the consequences.
I'm with NYer somewhat. I think there's a subtext of international
economic competition (currency blocs, debt payments, OIL) that hasn't
seen daylight yet.
The status-quo-ante sucked. Something needed to be done with Saddam.
Unfortunately he was a bagman of the same UN powers that deliberated his
But Bush lacked the true leadership to mobilize this country for a
long-term multi-lateral engagement with Iraq, and proceeded in the most
destructive, and correspondingly remunerative way possible.
Analogies fail me, but it's like causing a trainwreck to take out a
crackhouse or something, or when the Philadelphia police firebombed an
entire block to take out that armed sect.
NATO's collective security sphere of influence seems to extend only as far as Turkey. Or at least it should.
I'm inclined to agree with your posting. Nonetheless, in a year, I
expect the situation will be worse than if we hadn't invaded. The
lasting good will be that Iraqis won't have to live under a police
state, or at least Saddam's police state, and that is so attractive that
it seems to outweigh other considerations. But it's unlikely that the
material situation of the average Iraqi will be better than it was under
Saddam. Many Arab and Muslims are impressed by our use of force, but
if we are seen as involved in a quagmire, this will not be unmixed
respect. I hope this prediction turns out to be wrong, but I'm afraid
we may look back on the situation of March, 2003 with nostalgia.
Blair is standing by those 16 words with:
"it's not beyond the realm of impossibility"
or words to that effect.
circumstances will be materially improved for us if the Iraqis move
off their anti-US agenda. Intervention had that potential, and still
does, but so far the occupation has been a mixed bag. Aforementioned US
economic interests, and general activist imperialistic do-goodism, is
clouding our message and efforts.
I'm no NATO expert, but from what I understand the US carries far greater weight in that organization than the French.
bling--One of the reasons for that, aside from the obvious difference
in military power between us and France, is that France officially
withdrew from NATO's military command structure in the 1960s under De
Gaulle. The French have often co-operated with NATO since then,
certainly in Kosovo where they took part in the war, but they never took
the final step of officially re-joining the military planning committee
of the alliance.
Stories like this, and Chinese food, share a common malady. One hour after you eat them you're hungry again.
I know everyone involved with whispering stuff thinks this is the big whoop. But it isn't.
How come men know the difference between a power hitter in
pro-sports, for instance, and a dad's bragging about his ten year old?
This story, while the people foaming it think its as beautiful as
their kids' baby pictures ... misses a detail ... that if it was a
product int he market place would pop out at ya.
It's not selling, folks. Not even Sam Walton, with his Blue Lights is
gonna get this story to carry out the door by customer purchase.
Tell me, where do all the lame stories go?
that's great Carol.
K-Mart has the blue lights. And I'm scared, daddy.
Aforementioned US economic interests, and general activist imperialistic do-goodism, is clouding our message and efforts.
I'd choose a stronger word than "clouding". Nam showed that
incompetent execution can wreck an effort based on clear and
praiseworthy motives. And we don't start with the clearest or most
praiseworthy motives in Iraq.
I was just thinking on the US's incompetence with SVN. We treated
them like we were on a very short timetable, and could not reconstitute
their army into a force that could defend their people from PAVN
We're making the same mistakes in Iraq. Only Iraqi boots on the ground can make Iraq a safer / more lawful / freer place.
In the manouevring before the war, I took a paricular interest in
closely watching Tony Blair and his demeanour. Like Bush, Blair is a
devout Christian, and knowingly telling flat lies makes him very uncomfortable.
Unlike GWB, he's lacks the unimaginative man's capacity for
self-deception. Not even his supporters claim GWB is imaginative - they
emphasise his gifts for "delegation" (ie slackness) and "moral clarity"
(ie ignorance and prejudice) - so he finds it easy to lie without
admitting to himself that he's doing it.
Blair very, very confidently stated his case up to about a month or
so before the war. Then his body language changed sharply - he looked
quite haunted. And he started to play down the "Saddam will blow us all
up" line and talk about the "humanitarian" issues and the need to show
solidarity with the US in order to restrain it (Bush used Blair's
support as evidence that he - Bush - was being reasonable. But Blair
was saying that he had to support Bush to stop him from being unreasonable!)
I reckon the awful realisation that somebody had been leading him
down the garden path about the whole WMD thing dawned on him about then.
And this is not just hindsight - I noted the sharp change in demeanour
and political line at the time on more than one blog.
I can't wait for Mr Blair's memoirs (the sooner he is given the
leisure to write them, the better for his country and for his own peace
Nothing's far when one wants to get there.
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