Did Iraq really have weapons of mass destruction?

Military analysis.
May 30 2003 2:01 PM

Vanishing Agents

Did Iraq really have weapons of mass destruction?

(Continued from Page 1)

One could ask: Since when was Saddam's Iraq considered a model of efficiency?

The report concedes that U.S. officials found no traces of any bioweapons agent inside the trailers. "We suspect," it states, "that the Iraqis thoroughly decontaminated the vehicle to remove evidence." That's possible.

The report also notes that, in order to produce biological weapons, each trailer would have to be accompanied by a second and possibly a third trailer, specially designed to grow, process, sterilize, and dry the bacteria. Such trailers would "have equipment such as mixing tanks, centrifuges, and spray dryers"—none of which were spotted in the trailers that were found. The problem, the CIA acknowledges, is that "we have not yet found" these post-production trailers. Question: Is it that they haven't been found—or that they don't exist?

It could well be that the CIA is right about its inferences. Either way, these trailers—simply by being capable of producing biotoxins—constituted violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring such technology. However, we're beyond U.N. resolutions at this point. We're looking for evidence that Iraq actually did produce such weapons. From what we know so far, the trailers constitute less than airtight proof.

Advertisement

At his Council on Foreign Relations appearance, Rumsfeld expressed confidence that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction and that we'll find the solid evidence someday. But he did seem perplexed about where they all went. "Now what happened?" he asked. "Why weren't they used? I don't know."

He mused about "several possible reasons." First, he reminded his audience how quickly the U.S. ground troops advanced through the Iraqi desert. "Now," he said, "if the speed and the way that [war] plan was executed surprised [the Iraqis], it may very well be that they didn't have time to … use chemical weapons."

This hypothesis seems exceedingly unlikely. Surely they knew that war was coming; they had, as Rumsfeld admits, "strategic warning" of the invasion (even if they lacked "tactical warning" of just when, say, the 3rd Infantry Division would reach Baghdad airport). If they had planned to use—or even contemplate using—chemical or biological weapons, there would have been plenty of time to place them on alert.

"It is also possible," Rumsfeld added, "that they decided that they would destroy [the weapons] prior to a conflict."

If this turns out to be true, it has profound implications. Under this scenario, Saddam would most likely have destroyed the weapons sometime during the Security Council's deliberations, to prevent the U.N. inspectorate from finding them and thus to keep the council from declaring Iraq in "material breach" of U.N. resolutions and, as a result, declaring war. In other words, he would have been disarming in order to avert a war. Such covert disarmament would have been foolish, clumsy, and in itself a violation. (The resolutions required Iraq to declare its weapons and all steps taken to destroy them.) Still, if this is what Saddam was doing, it might have been evidence—however stupidly kept hidden—that the inspections were working, that war was not necessary to disarm Iraq. (Of course, if the American WMD-hunters eventually do find the goods, it would confirm the view that the U.N. inspectors—with all the limitations placed upon them—never would have.)

All this speculation, of course, assumes that Saddam, who certainly had such weapons as late as 1995 (his son-in-law told us where they were, whereupon the U.N. inspectors of the day went and destroyed them), still had them in March 2003. Maybe he did, and maybe we will find out he did, but the case has yet to be made.

To some, this does not matter. In the latest Vanity Fair, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, long the most vociferous advocate of ousting Saddam by force, is quoted as saying there were many issues that justified going to war. "For bureaucratic reasons," he says, "we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on."

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.