Listen to Fred Kaplan discuss this topic on NPR's Day to Day.
David Kay's interim report on whether Saddam Hussein had a serious program to build weapons of mass destruction—an investigation that Kay and 1,500 agents from the Pentagon's Iraq Survey Group have been conducting for three months now—is a shockingly lame piece of work.
President Bush has insisted that the report proves Saddam "was a danger to the world" and thus vindicates the war. Secretary of State Colin Powell chimed in that the Kay report left him "even more convinced … that we did the right thing."
These statements were mustered to counter criticisms from Democratic senators who, upon reading the report, proclaimed that it proves only that Bush had no basis for whipping up prewar fears of an imminent Iraqi danger.
A close reading of the actual, unclassified report—which Kay delivered as testimony on Oct. 2 to a panel of several congressional committees—reveals not only that Bush's critics are closer to the mark, but something much more significant: that Saddam wanted and, in some cases, tried to resurrect the weapons programs that he had built in the 1980s, but that the United Nations sanctions and inspections prevented him from doing so.
First, let us dispose of the president's argument for taking the report as proof that Saddam posed a "danger to the world." On the White House lawn last Friday, Bush recited the report's finding that Iraq's WMD program "spanned more than two decades" and "involved thousands of people, billions of dollars."
The report does contain these figures, in precisely those words. However, it does not claim, or even pretend to suggest, that the WMD program consumed so much manpower or money toward the end of its run—i.e., on the eve of Gulf War II. In context, the numbers clearly refer to how much Iraq put into the program through its entire 20-plus-year duration. And elsewhere, the report notes that most of this effort was undertaken before Operation Desert Storm, the first Gulf War of 1991.
For instance, there's this eyebrow-raising sentence halfway into the report: "Multiple sources with varied access and reliability have told ISG [the Iraq Survey Group] that Iraq did not have a large, ongoing centrally controlled CW [chemical weapons] program after 1991. … Iraq's large-scale capability to develop, produce, and fill new CW munitions was reduced—if not entirely destroyed—during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox [Clinton's 1998 airstrikes], 13 years of UN sanctions and UN inspections."
Throughout the report, Kay kicks up a sandstorm of suggestiveness, but no more.He notes, in alarming tones, the discovery of "a clandestine network of laboratories and safehouses within the Iraqi Intelligence Service," including equipment "suitable for continuing CBW [chemical and biological weapons] research" (all italics—here and henceforth—added). This is an interesting finding, but it says nothing about CBW development or production or deployment, and proves nothing about whether the equipment was actually intended or designed for CBW purposes.
The report cites "multiple sources" who told Pentagon agents "that Iraq explored the possibility of CW production in recent years." But there is no indication Iraq went any further. In fact, the report adds, when Saddam asked a senior military official "in either 2001 or 2002" how long it would take to produce new chemical weapons, "he responded it would take six months for mustard" gas. Another senior Iraqi official, replying to a similar request in mid-2002 from Saddam's son Odai, estimated it would take "two months to produce mustard and two years for Sarin."
Though the report doesn't say so explicitly, these exchanges reveal fairly conclusively that, in 2001-02, Iraq had no ongoing CW program. Just about any country, starting from scratch, could produce mustard gas or Sarin along this timetable, given access to the materials. Nor does the report cite any indication that, after posing the question, Saddam or Odai ordered production to commence.