Reprint rights.


The WMD lies



Truth has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Distortion only serves to derail it for a time. No matter to what lengths we humans may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually. But the danger is that at some point it may no longer matter. The danger is that damage is done before the truth is widely realized. The reality is that, sometimes, it is easier to ignore uncomfortable facts and go along with whatever distortion is currently in vogue.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), Iraq war critic [1]

The failure to uncover Saddam's alleged arsenal of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) during the three months since the fall of his regime has fueled a great outcry from critics of the war and evoked various defenses from war apologists. Thus a review of the whole Iraq WMD issue is appropriate. Since efforts have been made by war apologists to blur what had been the administration's actual pre-war position on WMDs, the essay will start by documenting that position. I will then classify and evaluate some of the arguments that attempt to explain the absence of physical evidence for WMDs, my aim being to provide, in essence, a typology of WMD spin.


It was not just Saddam's alleged possession of WMDs that served as the Bush administration's primary justification for launching a preemptive attack on Iraq but also the concomitant grave threat that Saddam's weapons posed to American security: that is, the possibility of his using them against the United States. The imputed immediate danger meant that Washington could not safely rely on the slow process of searching by UN weapons inspectors. Yet when Saddam was attacked, no WMDs were used against the Anglo-American invading force. If Saddam were ever going to use WMDs, one would think he would use them when his regime and his very life were at stake. Even more remarkable is the fact that no solid evidence of such weapons has been discovered after four months of American occupation.

The pre-war message about Saddam's WMD threat resonated strongly with the American people. Traumatized as they were by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans were ready to believe stories of the most extreme terrorist dangers. When asked, in the September 2002 PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll, "Do you think that Saddam Hussein does or does not have the capability to use chemical or biological weapons against targets in the United States?" an overwhelming 79 percent of the respondents answered in the affirmative. In the September 2002 CBS/New York Times poll, 80 percent believed Iraq had WMDs, and 62 percent believed that Iraq would launch a WMD attack on the United States. [2]

It is significant that "weapon of mass destruction" was defined to include weapons incapable of causing actual mass destruction: the moniker was applied to all chemical and biological weapons as well as nuclear weapons. Thus, the mustard gas that Saddam used in the Iraq/Iran War of the 1980s was fitted into that category. But it was a battlefield weapon just like the poison gas used during World War I. Inhumane as the weapon was, it had never previously been regarded as in any way comparable in destructiveness to nuclear weapons. Therefore, it was quite possible that Saddam possessed weapons that were inhumane, and banned by international agreements, including the 1991 UN Resolution ending the first Gulf War, but that did not threaten masses of civilians and certainly posed no imminent danger to Americans. As Robin Cook, who resigned as foreign secretary [see correction] from Tony Blair's cabinet over the war issue, puts it: "We need to rescue the meaning of words from becoming a further casualty of the Iraqi War. A weapon of mass destruction in normal speech is a device capable of being delivered over a long distance and exterminating a strategic target such as a capital city. Saddam had neither a long-range missile system nor a warhead capable of mass destruction." [3]

Of course, not even battlefield chemical weapons have been found so far.

Since physical evidence of WMDs has not been found, some Bush administration apologists have attempted to deny that such claims were ever made. For example, the conservative Christopher Ruddy, best known for his conspiratorial views of Bill Clinton, writes: "The war was not fought because we knew for sure that Saddam Hussein had nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. The war took place precisely because we did not know for sure what this maniac was up to." [4] But a simple, straightforward reading of the Bush administration's pre-war speeches clearly shows otherwise.


The case they made

In his address to the nation on October 7, 2002, President Bush asserted that "Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction." Bush's claim was not that Saddam would simply build weapons but that his WMD arsenal already existed: "If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today, and we do, does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?"

Bush maintained not only that the administration had evidence of an Iraqi WMD arsenal but also that Saddam could attack neighboring countries, endangering Americans stationed there:

And surveillance photos reveal that the [Iraqi] regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons. Every chemical and biological weapon that Iraq has or makes is a direct violation of the truce that ended the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Yet Saddam Hussein has chosen to build and keep these weapons despite international sanctions, UN demands, and isolation from the civilized world. Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles, far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and other nations in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work.

More ominously, Bush declared that Saddam threatened not just Americans living in the Middle East but even the United States itself. Saddam could provide WMDs to terrorists. "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists," Bush intoned. "Alliances with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints." Moreover, the president avowed that Iraq had the technical capability to hit the United States directly: "We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these U.A.V.'s for missions targeting the United States." [5]

Vice President Cheney also expressed absolute certainty regarding Saddam's possession of WMDs. "Simply stated, Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," Cheney asserted in a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention on August 26, 2002. "There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us. There is no doubt that his aggressive regional ambitions will lead him into future confrontations with his neighbors, confrontations that will involve both the weapons he has today and the ones he will continue to develop with his oil wealth." [6]

In an effort to mobilize international support for an armed attack, Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the Bush administration's case at the UN on February 5, 2003. Marshaling satellite photos and alleged transcripts of intercepted phone conversations of Iraqi military officials, Powell asserted: "Our conservative estimate is that Iraq has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical-weapons agents. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets." He emphasized that "Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein has used such weapons. And Saddam Hussein has no compunction about using them again — against his neighbors and against his own people. And we have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them. He wouldn't be passing out the orders if he didn't have the weapons or the intent to use them." [7]

Powell emphatically claimed unambiguous proof for Saddam's possession of biological weapons: "There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction." Among the reasons for his certitude, Powell maintained that "we have first-hand descriptions of biological-weapons factories on wheels and rails. We know that Iraq has at least seven of these mobile, biological-agent factories." Powell offered impressive detail on how Iraq had obtained vast amounts of equipment to produce WMDs:

Iraq's procurement efforts include equipment that can filter and separate micro-organisms and toxins involved in biological weapons, equipment that can be used to concentrate the agent, growth media that can be used to continue producing anthrax and botulinum toxin, sterilization equipment for laboratories, glass-lined reactors and specialty pumps that can handle corrosive chemical weapons agents and precursors, large amounts of vinyl chloride, a precursor for nerve and blister agents, and other chemicals such as sodium sulfide, an important mustard agent precursor.

And he provided "evidence" for his claims. He showed satellite photos of various sites that were purported to contain weapons, such as "a chemical complex called 'Al Musayyib,' a site that Iraq has used for at least three years to transship chemical weapons from production facilities out to the field." [Ibid.]

Nuclear weapons were the most fearsome type of WMD. Some neoconservative proponents of war claimed that Saddam might actually have them. For example, in early 2001 Frank Gaffney stated that the "Butcher of Baghdad may also have acquired atomic and perhaps even thermonuclear weapons, as well." [8]

While the Bush administration did not explicitly state that Iraq already possessed nuclear weapons, it did claim that Iraq was trying to develop them and would soon have them. In October 2002, President Bush stated:

The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his nuclear mujahedeen, his nuclear holy warriors. Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of his nuclear program in the past. Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

And Bush warned:

If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. And if we allow that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed. Saddam Hussein would be in a position to blackmail anyone who opposes his aggression. He would be in a position to dominate the Middle East. He would be in a position to threaten America and Saddam Hussein would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists.

Since Saddam would soon become a nuclear power, the United States would have to take immediate action to forcibly disarm him, Bush averred: "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." [9]

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" on March 16, 2003, Cheney was queried about the International Atomic Energy Agency's position that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program. The vice president said that American intelligence sources held otherwise: "I disagree, yes. And you'll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree." [10]

The UN weapons inspectors' failure to find WMDs in Iraq did not dispel the administration's certitude on the subject; it was taken to indicate only that Saddam was concealing the weapons. "Iraqi operatives continue to hide biological and chemical agents to avoid detection by inspectors," Bush declared on March 6. He even claimed to know how the Iraqis were hiding their banned materials: "In some cases, these materials have been moved to different locations every 12 to 24 hours or placed in vehicles that are in residential neighborhoods." Speaking in tones of absolute certainty that the Iraqis possessed WMDs, Bush opined: "If the Iraqi regime were disarming, we would know it because we would see it. Iraq's weapons would be presented to inspectors and the world would witness their destruction." [11] That the inspectors were unable to find weapons because none existed was not presented as a possibility.

Because of the urgency of the Iraqi WMD threat, Bush contended that he could not rely on weapons inspectors to continue their search and that it was essential to launch an immediate preemptive attack, avowing, on March 6, that he could "not leave the American people at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator and his weapons." [Ibid.] As the attack on Iraq began on March 17, Bush once again justified a preemptive strike because of the peril of Iraq's WMD: "Intelligence by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." And Iraq's lethal weapons threatened the United States herself: "Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed. The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security. That duty falls to me as commander in chief by the oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep." [12]


Denial of dissent

Although the administration's dire WMD warnings persuaded the American people of Iraq's immediate threat, the rest of the world remained unpersuaded. In fact, there was considerable dissent from Washington's claims. It is important to document that dissent, because after the war administration apologists started claiming that a consensus on the Iraqi WMD danger existed before the war. Some of the critiques focused on the fraudulent nature of the purported evidence. For example, after Colin Powell on February 5 presented the United Nations with the American case for war, which he alleged was based on "solid sources," critics immediately showed some of the evidence to be bogus. One document provided by the British government that Powell relied on turned out to be copied, in some cases plagiarized word for word, from three old published articles, including one written by a graduate student. And the student had relied on information predating the first Gulf War. [13]

The most significant proof the Bush administration offered to show that Iraq was restarting a nuclear program was its allegation that Iraq had attempted to acquire yellowcake uranium to make nuclear weapons from the African state of Niger, an allegation that Bush made in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003. In March 2003, however, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, told the UN Security Council that the documents purporting to confirm the uranium sales were crude forgeries. [14]

In fact, the authenticity of the information was questioned, if not totally disbelieved, within the American intelligence community itself at the time it first surfaced. In early 2002, the CIA sent Joseph Wilson, former acting ambassador to Iraq and ex-career service officer, to Africa to investigate the uranium purchase allegation, and he reported back that it was without merit. [15] Believing the uranium purchase charge to be dubious, CIA Director George J. Tenet intervened with administration officials to have a reference to the alleged event removed from a presidential speech in October 2002. [16]

Later, the CIA told the president's National Security Council that the uranium purchase charge should be dropped from the State of the Union address. Instead, White House officials tried to finesse the information by adding the claim that the British government "has learned" of Iraq's shopping for uranium. That was perhaps technically correct in that Britain was still officially holding the view, though it is doubtful that it could be said that Britain "learned" the information, since it was false. In any case, the gravamen of the allegation was deceptive. Furthermore, the idea that the U.S. government would simply take the word of British intelligence on a significant matter without finding out how it arrived at such a conclusion was mind-boggling. In the event, however, the White House's finessing did receive the CIA's clearance. [17]

In early July 2003, the Bush administration admitted that Bush should not have made the uranium purchase allegation, because it rested on faulty intelligence. [18] However, the fact that Bush administration officials continued to try to present the uranium-purchase charge to the public after the CIA had revealed its dubious nature suggests that officials were willing to peddle any information, spurious or not, so long as it helped make a case for war.

The Bush administration also made much of Iraq's purchase of high-strength aluminum tubes, which it claimed were used in the enrichment of uranium for nuclear weapons. Outside experts questioned that claim from the very beginning, and the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in early January 2003 that the tubes were for short-range artillery rockets. [19] There were also many dissenters within the U.S. government, especially among experts in the Department of Energy, who doubted that the aluminum tubes were suited for gas centrifuges needed for uranium enrichment. [20]

Perhaps the biggest revelation contradicting the official administration line on Iraq WMDs was a story in the March 3 issue of Newsweek (released February 24) about Iraqi General Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law, who had headed Iraq's weapons program. Kamel had defected from Iraq in 1995 and was killed upon his return in 1996. On many occasions, Bush administration figures had cited Kamel's testimony to UN weapon inspectors in an attempt to show that Iraq was still hiding weapons of mass destruction, even though Kamel had left Iraq in 1995. [21]

The reporter who wrote the Newsweek story, John Barry, had recently obtained a transcript of Kamel's 1995 testimony to the UN weapon inspectors, in which Kamel revealed that "that after the Gulf War, Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them." You read that right: destroyed them. Barry wrote that Kamel's testimony "raises questions about whether the WMD stockpiles attributed to Iraq still exist." Barry noted that "Kamel was Saddam Hussein's son-in-law and had direct knowledge of what he claimed: for 10 years he had run Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile programs." The writer added that a military aide who defected with Kamel "backed Kamel's assertions about the destruction of WMD stocks." And Barry revealed that Kamel had also given his story to the CIA and British intelligence in 1995. [22] When the Newsweek article appeared, the CIA denounced it as false, but an original transcript of Kamel's testimony to the UN inspectors was produced that confirmed the story. [23]

The most authoritative dissent from the administration's position on WMDs came from the UN weapons inspectors themselves who returned to Iraq in November 2002, after being withdrawn at the end of 1998. Though critical of Iraq's lack of cooperation, the inspectors never found any weapons or weapons production facilities. At the beginning of June 2003, the UN's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, delivered his final report to the Security Council, saying that he had no evidence that Iraq had continued or resumed its prohibited weapons programs — that "the Commission has not at any time during the inspections in Iraq found evidence of the continuation or resumption of programmes of weapons of mass destruction or significant quantities of proscribed items — whether from pre-1991 or later." [24]

Although Iraq's old stocks of biological and chemical agents were still not fully accounted for, Blix contended that "it is not justified to jump to the conclusion that something exists just because it is unaccounted for." [25] Blix emphasized that he had not found anything based on the information given him by American and British intelligence. As he told the British Broadcasting Corporation in early June: "We went to a great many sites that were given to us by intelligence, and only in three cases did we find anything — and they did not relate to weapons of mass destruction. That shook me a bit, I must say." [26] Blix added that the United States and Britain had promised him the best intelligence information that they had, and "I thought — my God, if this is the best intelligence they have and we find nothing, what about the rest?" [27]

It has now been revealed that the U.S. government possessed considerable intelligence that undermined the official certitude about Saddam's possession of WMDs. Intelligence experts have claimed that the Bush administration higher-ups manipulated intelligence information to mobilize public support for war. [28] "It's looking like in truth the Iraqi (weapons) program was gray. The Bush administration was trying to say it was black," according to former CIA Iraq expert and member of Clinton's National Security Council, Kenneth Pollack, who had avidly supported the war on Iraq. Going even further, Greg Thielmann, who until his retirement in September 2002 was director of the strategic, proliferation, and military issues office in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, stated: "What disturbs me deeply is what I think are the disingenuous statements made from the very top about what the intelligence did say." [29] Significantly, Thielmann had access to the classified reports that formed the basis for the U.S. case against Saddam. He summarized the administration's attitude toward intelligence on Iraq as being "faith-based." In short, "We know the answers, give us the intelligence to support those answers." [30]

Intelligence that conflicted with the White House's war message was seemingly ignored. For example, a classified Defense Intelligence Agency report of September 2002 said the DIA did not have enough "reliable information" to determine that Saddam was producing and stockpiling WMDs, although it assumed that some prohibited weapons existed. [31]

John Prados, a leading historian of national security matters, observes that there was nothing unusual about the DIA's position of uncertainty regarding WMDs. "Instead, the DIA information is consistent with the CIA's reports to Congress (up until September 11, 2001) which outlined Iraq's desire to reconstitute a weapons infrastructure but did not declare there was a clear and present threat." Prados goes on to say that an "extensive record of declassified CIA reports from the '90s portrays a decayed and destroyed Iraqi weapons-production infrastructure. So does the account Iraqi weapons manager Hussein Kamel issued to UN inspectors (his CIA debriefings have also been declassified), as do UN and media reports." In short, Prados points out that the bulk of the intelligence product militated against the idea of an Iraqi threat, "yet none of this information stopped the administration from hyping its crusade." Ultimately, Prados points out, the CIA gave in to pressure from the Bush administration to issue "alarmist views." [32]


Pressure and evasion

In February 2001, the CIA released a report that expressed uncertainty about the existence of WMDs in Iraq. It stated that "we do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox [1998] to reconstitute its WMD programs, although given its past behavior, this type of activity must be regarded as likely. We assess that since the suspension of UN inspections in December of 1998, Baghdad has had the capability to reinitiate both its CW and BW programs within a few weeks to months. Without an inspection monitoring program, however, it is more difficult to determine if Iraq has done so." [33] However, in October 2002, when the CIA offered another report, it provided a detailed account of a vast arsenal of WMDs in Iraq, including sarin, mustard gas, VX, which the Agency claimed Iraq had been stockpiling over the years. According to Tenet, in a February 11, 2003, briefing, the new information was "based on a solid foundation of intelligence." [34]

What caused the CIA to make a such a radical change in its assessment of Iraqi WMDs has not been explained. Ironically, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 9, 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that no new significant evidence had come to light in the period prior to the war. Rather, he claimed that the government saw existing information on Iraqi arms programs in a different light after 9/11. [35]

However, Cheney made repeated visits to the CIA prior to the war, going over intelligence assessments with the analysts who produced them. His chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, engaged in the same type of monitoring activities when Cheney was not there. Some analysts felt they were being pressured to mold their assessments of Iraq's military arsenal in such a way as to advance the administration's case for war. [36]

But pressuring the CIA and DIA was not enough for the warhawks in the Bush administration. In order to produce intelligence to promote the war policy most effectively, Rumsfeld had deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz set up a new Office of Special Plans in the Defense Department. The OSP provided a way of getting information to the president that did not have to be filtered through the director of the CIA, as was usual. The Office was headed by Abram Shulsky, a hawkish neocon, and it relied heavily on information from Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, which provided the most extreme allegations aimed at provoking war. According to one report, the Office of Special Plans received information from a special unit created in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office. According to another allegation, the OSP played a major role in promoting the faulty Niger uranium purchase story. [37]


Alarums and excursions

After the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, consumers of news releases were treated to numerous alarms about the discovery of WMDs, which served to buoy pro-war opinion. All proved to be false. What appeared to be chemical weapons in metal drums were actually pesticides; a seeming nerve agent was rocket fuel; boxes of white powder thought to be chemical weapons turned out be explosives; and what was proclaimed to be a chemical weapons complex near Naif was nothing of the sort. [38] An arms search unit, the 75th Exploitation Task Force, combed the country for the outlawed weapons, but came up empty. By the first part of May, its embarrassment complete, the unit was preparing to leave the country. [39]

As of mid July 2003, the best evidence that the United States has come up with for Saddam's alleged vast arsenal of WMD involves two trailers, which Washington claims appear to be components of mobile bioweapons production labs. Bush initially misinterpreted this find as evidence that the United States had "found the weapons of mass destruction," and he proclaimed, "But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them." [40]

The Washington Post article that carried the initial story gently corrected Bush's erroneous claim: "U.S. authorities have to date made no claim of a confirmed finding of an actual nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon. In the interview, Bush said weapons had been found, but in elaborating, he mentioned only the trailers, which the CIA has concluded were likely used for production of biological weapons."

The CIA found no trace of pathogens in the two trailers and only surmised that civilian use of the trailers was "'unlikely' because of the effort and expense required to make the equipment mobile." The CIA report concluded that "production of biological warfare agents 'is the only consistent, logical purpose for these vehicles.'" [Op. cit.]

Now, how does one evaluate the CIA's conclusion? The Agency admits that no trace of any biological agents have been found — that somehow the Iraqis perfectly decontaminated the trailers so that even under the closest scrutiny, with the most sensitive instruments, no physical evidence could be detected. Lacking physical evidence, the CIA falls back on logic — seeking to logically eliminate any possible alternative explanations for the trailers. But if logic is going to be the standard, wouldn't it have been more logical (as well as easier) for the Iraqis simply to destroy the trailers, rather than perform an intensive decontamination effort and then leave them to be found by American investigators?

The CIA report is actually significantly nuanced regarding other possible uses, which is pointed out in an incisive commentary by Fred Kaplan in the Webzine for Slate magazine. [41] Kaplan notes that the trailers could have served rather innocent purposes of civilian-use bio-production and hydrogen production, but the CIA asserts that they were too expensive to justify those purposes. Especially significant is the fact that the CIA report acknowledges that the trailers could not have produced biological weapons without additional support — consisting of second and possibly third trailers — which support has not been found. Kaplan pertinently wonders: "Is it that they haven't been found — or that they don't exist?" [Ibid.]

Some American and British intelligence analysts, including members of the CIA, reject the official bioweapons argument. According to a story in the New York Times: "One skeptic questioned the practicality of some of the conjectural steps the Iraqis are envisioned as having taken to adapt the trailers to the job of making deadly germs.

"'It's not built and designed as a standard fermenter,' he said of the central tank. 'Certainly, if you modify it enough you could use it. But that's true of any tin can.'" [42] Some American scientists actually believe the explanation given by senior Iraqi scientists that the trailers are mobile facilities for producing hydrogen gas for artillery weather balloons, used to improve the accuracy of artillery fire. The Iraqi military did have such equipment at one time, sold to them by a British company in the late 1980s. [43] In addition, the New York Times quoted U.S. government officials as saying that, according to a classified memo from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (June 2), it was premature to conclude that the trailers provided proof of an Iraqi biological weapons program. [44]

No independent experts have examined the trailers. Doesn't the CIA have a vested interest in saying what the Bush administration wants it to say? The credibility of the CIA and the executive branch of the U.S. government are in question. Therefore it seems imperative to have outside experts analyze the evidence. As the Institute for Science and International Security points out: "Because the United States has such a vested interest in proving the existence of WMD in Iraq, the report's findings cannot be trusted without independent confirmation.... A credible independent inspection of the trailers is critical before these trailers are indeed determined to be mobile biological warfare production plants." [45]


Shifting grounds and mystery ships

Even those who consider the two trailers to be evidence must admit that they don't measure up to the vast arsenal claimed by the Bush administration. Thus, as a result of the lack of physical evidence for WMDs, administration apologists have been forced to come up with various theories to explain the failure.

The most brazen argument, which is put forth by conservative columnist Ann Coulter, maintains that administration allegations have been proven to be correct and that the critics do not know what they are talking about. "In fact, the question was never whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," Coulter asserts. "We know he had weapons of mass destruction. He used weapons of mass destruction against the Kurds, against the Iranians, and against his own people. The United Nations weapons inspectors repeatedly found Saddam's weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, right up until Saddam threw them out in 1998." [46] To set the record straight, while Saddam obviously had some types of WMDs prior to Gulf War I, contrary to Coulter no inspectors ever claimed to have found any WMDs in more recent years. Blix has said the last significant discoveries by inspectors were made in 1994. [47]

One of the early arguments used, and one that continues to be the mainstay of the Bush administration, is that weapons will eventually be found, but that more time is needed. Emphasis is placed on the great size of Iraq — it is the size of California — and Saddam's alleged ability to hide the weapons. However, if the United States had sufficient evidence to be certain of the weapons' existence, it would seem to follow that their general whereabouts had to be known. And it would seem impossible to move all the material from the suspected sites without the United States becoming aware of it through satellite and airborne surveillance. Blix has appropriately remarked that "it is somewhat puzzling, I think, that you can have 100 percent certainty about the weapons of mass destruction and zero certainty about where they are." [48] Moreover, many of the Iraqi scientists who are supposed to know something about Iraq's alleged WMDs have been apprehended and should be able to reveal any secrets, if they exist, regarding the location of the missing weapons, if they exist.

In the wake of Washington's failure to uncover any WMDs, one new argument that has emerged at least has the virtue of being imaginative: the weapons are too tiny to find! According to Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), "The weapons of mass destruction that we're talking about today are new. They're little viruses, they're bacteria, they're chemicals, things you can't see, you can't touch, you can't smell. So intelligence is tough." [49] But these invisible weapons were not what the administration was talking about before the war. And if the WMDs were invisible, one wonders how the Bush administration could possibly have held with certainty that they existed.

If we may leave senatorial fantasy and return to the realm of reason, Ron Manley, former director of verification at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (which is charged with implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention), points out that militarily significant chemical weapons require a "big chemical infrastructure, and that sort of infrastructure would be seen." [50]

In fact, Defense Department officials during the invasion of Iraq claimed to have had some general knowledge about the whereabouts of the WMDs. Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said that the administration knew about "a number of sites" where Iraq still had WMDs. [51] And on March 30, 2003, Rumsfeld claimed that the United States knew the general locations of the weapons, stating: "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad, and east, west, south and north somewhat." [52]

Antiwar critic Justin Raimondo furnishes a pertinent evaluation of the "hidden weapons" argument: "Such an arsenal of biological and chemical weaponry would be hard to conceal, especially from the prying eyes of the U.S. military frantically looking for evidence of WMD. If they could find the fabled treasures of Nimrud, gold jewelry, and other small objects, such as manuscripts, thought looted from the Baghdad museum, hidden beneath a sewer, why can't they locate what is surely a larger and more visible quarry — Iraqi WMD weighing thousands of tons?" [53]

But if the weapons were not hidden, perhaps they were no longer in Iraq. A story was floated (pun intended) even before the start of the war that the WMDs had been placed on "mystery ships." We were to believe that the "mystery ships" were traveling around the world in radio silence. According to the story, the ships left Iraq at the time the UN weapons inspectors arrived there in late November 2002. The vessels supposedly spent much of their time in the deep waters of the Indian Ocean and actually berthed in a handful of Arab countries. [54] The "mystery ships" story, however, had only a brief shelf life, perhaps because it does not really help justify the Bush decision for war. For if all the WMDs were on the ships, there was no need to attack Iraq; instead, the United States should have gone after the ships.

Another early argument was that the weapons had been looted. That argument seemed to be dying out until Bush resurrected it in his June 21 radio address. [55] But if looters were involved it seems highly unlikely that all traces of the weapons would have been eradicated — the goal of looters is to hurriedly carry off their booty, not to methodically and painstakingly eliminate all evidence at the site. And where is the evidence that the weapons sites had been looted? Wouldn't there have been satellite and air surveillance of weapons sites? Bush did not even provide any locations of looted sites. Moreover, the looter argument undercuts the rationale for the war. For it had been argued by the administration that Saddam would provide terrorists with weapons if the United States did not invade. The "looted weapons" argument implies that terrorists may have obtained WMDs as a result of that very invasion.

According to yet another tale, or speculation, Saddam sent his weapons to another country — Syria being the most popular candidate. This one is a favorite of Israeli intelligence. [56] Israel, of course, would like to see the United States put more pressure on Israel's enemy Syria. However, satellite and air surveillance should have been able to detect such a movement of arms. [57] And why Saddam would move his weapons to Syria, which has not always been a friend, rather than actually use them against an invader, is also difficult to understand. Too, it is difficult to understand why Syria would accept the weapons, which could give the United States a pretext to attack her. Finally, even if the weapons themselves were moved, the factories that produced them should be findable.

Next is the argument that Saddam, on the eve of the war, carried out the total destruction of all his WMDs, with no physical evidence remaining. It appears that this explanation first gained public attention in an article by Judith Miller in the New York Times of April 21. [58] According to Miller, U.S. officials maintained that this information had been provided by an Iraqi scientist, who remained anonymous to protect his safety. Later the "destroyed weapons" explanation was adduced by Rumsfeld and Bush, without reference to the anonymous scientist. [59] Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker embellished the story, proposing that Saddam "may have ordered his men to destroy them in the vast Iraqi desert and then killed them as the only witnesses. The perfect crime." [60]

Let's get to the leaky bottom of the "destroyed weapons" theory. As the theory would have it, with Iraq facing an imminent American-led invasion, Saddam ordered the destruction of his most powerful weapons. If he were suicidal enough to attack the United States with his WMDs, as the Bush administration maintained, his failure to use the weapons for his own survival seems incongruous. Moreover, if he were willing to destroy his WMDs, why didn't he instead turn them over to the UN weapons inspectors and avoid an American attack? According to the hypothesis of destruction, Saddam's fundamental concern was not to try defend himself, or even survive, but rather to embarrass the United States by eliminating the evidence for the pretext for the invasion, thus giving ammunition to the opponents of the war, which would presumably damage American credibility. Needless to say, that scenario is very far-fetched, and I am not aware of any ruler acting in such a manner at any time in history.

Furthermore, it seems impossible to destroy all WMDs without leaving traces behind, especially since we are apparently supposed to believe that the weapons were eliminated in a short period of time. Someone should be able to show where the alleged destruction took place, and sensitive instruments should be able to determine the existence of any chemical or biological agents. Miller's story claims that U.S. officials were taken to the alleged site by the anonymous scientist, but since no more has been heard about that site, apparently it was not true.

If the Iraq scientists can make physical evidence vanish, they must be superior to Western scientists. Maybe they should be hired to work at America's hazardous waste dumps, since American experts don't know how to make toxic substances simply disappear. One might also wonder about the factories that made the weapons — they couldn't vanish, too, could they? Ah, but that objection elicits the claim that the factories that produced WMDs are indistinguishable from factories for civilian products and thus cannot be identified; and that brings us to the "dual use" theory.

According to "dual use," Saddam was able to create WMDs in factories that also produced civilian products, so that there would be no way of telling that WMDs were produced there. Moreover, there would be no large stocks of weapons lying around, because they would be produced only as needed. Rumsfeld has claimed that there was "speculation" that Iraq had arranged the weapons programs so that it "could do what in business you would call 'just-in-time' delivery." As a result, he contended, Iraq would not have to maintain "large stocks [of chemical or biological agents] which are dangerous and can be a problem, but in fact have things like this mobile laboratory which can produce things in a rapid way and have them when you need them." [61]

Serious problems inhere in the "dual use" theory. First, if the factories were indistinguishable from those producing civilian products, how could it be proven that they actually produced WMDs if there are no WMD stockpiles remaining there? If it is simply asserted that the factories are so disguised that it would be impossible to tell that WMDs were produced and that there were no WMDs around, then the contention would be unfalsifiable, which in science, at least, automatically invalidates a theory. [62]


Didn't everybody agree?

Another explanation for the lack of WMD evidence tends toward agnosticism on the actual existence of WMDs, but tries to deny that the Bush administration in any sense lied, because non-administration figures and even critics of the war also believed that Saddam possessed WMDs. According to this view, there was a common consensus about Saddam's WMDs to which the U.S. government naturally adhered. If the administration was wrong on that issue, then it was just like everyone else. In making this case, Byron York in the conservative National Review contends:

In the months leading up to the war, there was a bipartisan consensus that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; the real debate was between those who believed that Saddam would have to be disarmed by force and those who wanted to rely on UN inspectors to contain him.... Such a consensus makes it extremely difficult to argue that the president lied about Iraq and WMD; if the administration's case was a lie, then everybody, including much of the political opposition, was in on it. Just as importantly, if it turns out that prewar estimates of Iraq's capabilities were incorrect, the Bush administration can say — truthfully — that it erred on the side of protecting American national security. [63]

Coulter points out that even liberals wanted to "disarm" Saddam. She makes much of the fact of liberals' being "smitten with the idea of relying on UN weapons inspectors. As their title indicates, 'weapons inspectors' inspect weapons." [Op. cit.] Somehow, Coulter does not quite see that weapons inspectors are not completely analogous to fruit inspectors, who do actually inspect fruit, instead of search for fruit.

A variant of the "consensus" argument that moves into the realm of parsing definitions involves the meaning of a "lie." Of those who claim that Bush lied about WMDs, neoconservative Jonah Goldberg writes: "The basic problem with this analysis is it requires that Bush knew the truth but said the opposite. After all, a lie is only a lie if you know the truth and then say something very different. So in this case, Bush needed to know something nobody had an inkling of." [64]

The problem with the "consensus" argument is that what others might have believed was irrelevant to what the Bush administration claimed. Politicians, for example, do not have their own intelligence services, meaning that they may actually have relied on the Bush administration for intelligence involving Iraq. But more importantly, the "consensus" argument is simply not true: there was no complete consensus behind the administration's WMD claims among those who had some firsthand knowledge of the situation. As pointed out earlier, there were knowledgeable individuals who denied the existence of Iraqi WMDs, or at least questioned the alleged "proof" provided by the Bush administration. Some of the dissent arose within U.S. intelligence agencies. The Bush administration simply ignored evidence that would militate against its drive for war and pressured intelligence agencies to manufacture information that would promote it. Not only that, but even those opponents of the war who might have believed that Saddam possessed WMDs did not believe that his weapons posed an immediate threat to the United States, as the Bush administration trumpeted.

Did Bush himself lie? It is difficult to determine an individual's internal mental state. But it appears that the Bush administration, as opposed to Bush, deliberately selected information, some of it totally false, to support its war agenda; it did not present an objective account of Iraq's WMD situation. Bush administration "errors" were always in the direction of promoting war. While it appears that administration leaders were cooking the evidence for war, it is hard to determine the president's personal role. Nonetheless, he has not been pushing to investigate to find the truth about the missing WMDs, which would seem to indicate that he either doesn't understand what is going on or that he is satisfied with the apparent deception. When Bush tried to present the two alleged bioweapons trailers as WMDs, he revealed two things: he wanted to present Saddam as a dangerous threat, and he had no idea what constituted WMDs.


Just fooling

Still another intriguing argument is that Iraq did not really possess WMDs, but that she effectively pretended she did and thus fooled the United States.

Kenneth Adelman, a member of the Defense Policy Board, contended that Saddam may even have launched "a massive disinformation campaign to make the world think he was violating international norms, and he may not have been." [65] That argument was most thoroughly developed by Jim Lacey in an article for National Review Online. In Lacey's rendition, Saddam himself was tricked into thinking he had WMDs by his corrupt underlings.

"In the event that we do not find the WMD smoking gun this is the only explanation that would make any sense," Lacey maintains. "Saddam wanted the program and was willing to endure crippling sanctions to have it. However, his henchmen were unable to deliver and, unwilling to be on the receiving end of Saddam's zero-defects program, they faked it. In the process of making Saddam believe he had a functioning program they could easily have sucked U.S. intelligence into the deception. In fact, deceiving U.S. intelligence in this way would have been important to them. It would not have been conducive to a long life if the United States had come to Saddam and told him they had discovered he had no WMD program and all of his most trusted advisers were lying." [66]

Ingenious as it is, this explanation is like something out of Alice in Wonderland. There does not seem to be any actual evidence of efforts made to fool Saddam. Moreover, why would fooling Saddam actually trick the United States with her vast intelligence apparatus? Further, as was pointed out earlier, experts outside and even inside the Bush administration existed who did not believe in the WMD threat. It appears that the Bush administration preferred to push the WMD threat in order to galvanize support for its war policy.

Finally, the argument that Iraq fooled the United States into thinking Iraq had a WMD program conflicts with the contention that Iraq went to great lengths to conceal her program.


The uncertainty principle

Then there is the argument, mentioned at the outset of the essay, that the administration had never claimed that Saddam's WMDs posed an immediate danger to the United States. In a continuation of his denial that I cited at the beginning, Christopher Ruddy asserted that "we did not attack Iraq because he [Saddam] was developing these weapons. We attacked Iraq because he did not allow us to verify this fact." In short, Saddam did not fully abide by UN Resolution 1441 requiring inspections, so the United States enforced the resolution. America opted to attack Saddam, intones conservative columnist David Limbaugh (brother of the popular radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh), "not because we had definitive proof that he still had WMDs ... but because he failed to satisfy his conditions of probation showing us the banned goods or proof he had disposed of them." [67]

Max Boot summarizes the argument on the Website for the neocon Weekly Standard: "Nothing since the war discredits the casus belli, which was Hussein's failure to fully cooperate with weapons inspectors — a failure that continued until the end, even though it cost the regime billions of dollars in lost oil revenue." Bush and Blair "decided that, even if Hussein was not about to strike now, it made sense, based on his long record of violating international law, to remove him from power rather than wait for him to augment his WMD capacity in the future, possibly even by acquiring nuclear weapons. It is reasonable for critics to find this rationale for war unconvincing. It is not reasonable for them to accuse Bush and Blair of lying." [68]

Conservative columnist William Safire emphasizes that military attack was the safest approach in an uncertain situation. "When weighing the murky evidence of an aggressive tyranny's weapons," he declaims, "President Bush and Prime Minister Blair were obliged to take no chances. The burden on proof was on Saddam. By his contempt, he invited invasion; by its response, the coalition established the credibility of its resolve." [69]

The fundamental problem with the preceding "uncertainty" argument is that it was simply not the pre-war position of the Bush administration, which explicitly claimed that it possessed proof positive that Iraq possessed WMDs that threatened the United States. Never did U.S. officials acknowledge that their evidence was "murky," or anything short of rock solid. And the idea that the onus is on the nation about to be attacked to prove its innocence, not on the aggressor to prove the threat, violates all legal standards for making war. Moreover, the argument implies that the United States, rather than the United Nations itself, has the right to militarily enforce UN resolutions, a right that the United States would not concede to any other country. Imagine the horrified reaction of Washington if any country tried to enforce UN resolutions affecting Israel.


Humanitarianism, exquisitely nuanced

Apologists argue that it doesn't matter whether WMDs are found or not because there were other perfectly valid humanitarian reasons for eliminating Saddam by military means. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas writes: "The discovery of torture chambers and mass graves containing the bodies of thousands of Iraqis was reason enough for a free and compassionate nation to stop the murderous ways of a maniacal dictator. Killing people one at a time or by the thousands leaves them just as dead. When civilians are targets, there is no moral distinction when they die from a single bullet or a weapon of mass destruction." [70] As Max Boot puts it: "Whatever the details of his WMD program, the fact that Hussein was a dangerous monster is no lie." [Op. cit.]

Trying to turn the tables on those critics who decry the administration's false WMD claims as a moral, if not legal, wrong, Andrew Sullivan, editor of the liberal (pro-Israel) New Republic, counters that it is actually those who now bring up the WMD issue who are morally obtuse. "One reason I find some of the grand-standing over WMDs increasingly preposterous," Sullivan avers, "is that it comes from people who really want to avoid the obvious: more and more it's clear that the liberation of Iraq was a moral obligation under any circumstances.... Saddam's evil was on a world-historical scale. Ending it was one of the most progressive things the United States and Britain and their allies have ever done." [71] Writing in a similar vein, R. Emmett Tyrell, editor of the conservative (pro-Israel) American Spectator, maintains that the evidence of Saddam's mass murders means that "there is something obscene about the rising clamor for evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." [72]

The emphasis on Saddam's heinous crimes leads some to identify his regime itself as the weapon of mass destruction. As Scott Simon of National Public Radio said, the "largest source of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was the regime of Saddam Hussein against the Iraqis." [73] Similarly, Walid Phares in an op-ed column in the conservative Washington Times presents Saddam's killings as the real weapons of mass destruction and berates those who fail to make that connection:

If we cannot see why we went to Iraq, after we got there, even if we don't see yet the biochemical elements we are looking for still, then we are blind. The weapons of mass destruction exist. They were shotguns and knifes [sic] that slaughtered half a million men and women. Mass destruction occurred, and that is relevant. For that reason alone, our intervention was more than warranted. It was obligatory, and, unfortunately for many, it was late. [74]

Needless to say, defining Saddam's murderous actions as WMDs just does not square with what the Bush administration said prior to the war. Moreover, when Saddam was most murderous in the 1980s, the United States was supporting him, actually facilitating his use of poison gas against the Iranians. And the now-superhawk Rumsfeld served as the U.S. envoy who in 1983 paved the way for the restoration of relations with Iraq, which had been severed in 1967. [75]

To claim that the United States now makes human rights the lodestar of her foreign policy appears highly questionable when such a standard is virtually nonexistent in her relations with close allies such as Israel and Turkey, both of which actively oppress their minorities. It is grisly to watch the United States preen and strut as liberator of the Iraqi Kurds after supplying the Turkish military with the weaponry to suppress Turkey's own Kurdish population.

Robert Lane Greene in The New Republic echoes the line about the rightness of militarily removing Saddam because of his malevolence: "The discovery of mass graves, hundreds of millions of dollars plundered by government officials, testimony of torture victims, and much more has revealed that, if anything, Saddam Hussein was more of a monster than any of us gave him credit for. And even if he didn't have WMD (and that is still a big if), he certainly wasn't a run-of-the-mill, relatively harmless thug who could simply be contained." Greene writes that "America may have [invaded Iraq] for the wrong reasons." He opines that the United States focused on the alleged WMD danger because it would have the most popular appeal: "The State Department likely argued that WMD was the only justification that could be sold to allies and the United Nations; domestic political operatives probably argued that they could only sell an attack on Iraq if Saddam was depicted as a threat to America." Greene acknowledges that this was not a perfectly honest way to operate but that such is not unusual for governments: "That the government thinks this way is hardly a shock; but it rarely gets said aloud. And when it does it reveals a level of cynicism which most Americans prefer to pretend doesn't exist — even if they're vaguely aware that it does." [76]


Nobility of deceit

Greene says openly what some of the other war apologists hint at — that in order to get the necessary public support for the war, which was the correct policy, it was necessary to deceive. However, most of us were taught in the state schools that truth-telling is essential for a representative government, one answerable, that is, to the people. Whether or not to go to war is the most serious decision any government makes. If the government provides false reasons for such a serious undertaking as war, even if they are considered "noble lies" in furtherance of a good cause, it is apparent that the people are not the rulers but the ruled, and the essence of popular self-government that we were all taught about has been subverted. It is especially ironic in the present case because "spreading democracy" is presented as a goal and achievement of the war. [77]

The reliance on deception also has a negative impact on U.S. relations with other countries by undercutting the credibility of the U.S. regime. Certainly other governments will be leery of future intelligence claims made by the United States. As William S. Lind, director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation, points out: "The international credibility of U.S. assertions based on military intelligence is now zero. When we make claims about other countries — as we are now doing about Iran — not a soul will believe them, even when they happen to be true." [78]

Administration apologists have tried to turn the credibility argument on its head. David Limbaugh contends that it was not the Bush administration that undercut U.S. credibility with its pre-war claims but rather administration critics who now publicize the apparent lies. Limbaugh writes that the

inevitable result of those charges will be a diminution of American credibility. For pure partisan reasons [critics] are causing the very damage they wrongly say that Bush has caused. In full view of the world, they have disparaged the integrity of the administration, the DOD, DIA, CIA, and our military elite [sic]. They've undermined America's credibility with foreign nations — all in the name of safeguarding our credibility with foreign nations. [79]

This shoot-the-messenger argument is just plain ridiculous, not to mention repugnant. The rest of the world hardly needs to rely on American war critics to be aware of the significance of the missing WMDs.


The memory war

With the coming of summer, the administration was still saying that the WMDs would be found. Bush has been claiming that those who question his WMD story are trying to "rewrite history" — that they are "revisionist historians." "Revisionist historians" carries a negative connotation nowadays, conjuring up the specter of those who attempt to question the official accounts of the World War II-era Jewish Holocaust. [80] While there is nothing wrong with "revisionism" per se — the discipline of history requires the continuous revising of previous accounts — in the case of the missing-WMDs issue it is the critics who are attempting to judge the administration's public statements, and it is the administration and its apologists who are trying to "revise" the record that they themselves created.

Sometimes Bush does not seem to remember how the war started. The Washington Post reported on July 15: "Defending the broader decision to go to war with Iraq, the president said the decision was made after he gave Saddam Hussein 'a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in.'" In rather euphemistic terms, the Post corrected the president: "The president's assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective." [81]

New revelations of WMD finds continue to pop up, receive publicity for a time, and then subside as they are abandoned by officialdom. In late June a former Iraqi nuclear scientist handed over to U.S. officials the parts of a gas centrifuge and documents related to Iraq's nuclear program that he had buried under a rosebush in his backyard in 1991 on the orders of Saddam's government. He said he was told to safeguard the parts and documents until sanctions against Iraq were lifted. [82] Of course, far from reinforcing the administration's case, the scientist's account strongly suggests that there were no preparations underway recently for an Iraqi nuclear weapons program. [83] If Iraq were going to reconstitute her nuclear program, as the Bush administration had claimed, the parts and instructions should have been dug up by now. That Saddam's government was not perfectly honest does not in the least show that it was developing a nuclear program that would be an immediate threat to the United States.

It has also been reported that U.S. troops discovered about 300 sacks of castor beans, which can be used to make the deadly biological agent ricin, hidden in a warehouse that had been a brake-fluid plant. Castor beans are turned into castor oil, which is used in brake fluid. However, the castor beans were inaccurately labeled as fertilizer, which, it is said, implies sinister intent. [84] And supposedly, as of July 12, the military was testing some material, "not in a readily identifiable state," which some U.S. officials, including Undersecretary of State John Bolton, claim can provide proof of Iraq's WMDs. [85]

The aforementioned finds are of dubious value, but even if legitimate, they would still fall far short of proving the administration's pre-war claims and could hardly provide justification for a preemptive war. In the buildup for war, had the president actually claimed that the chemical and biological weapons were castor beans and a "not readily identifiable" material, and that the nuclear program consisted of components and instructions buried under a rosebush, it is highly doubtful that those claims would have generated the fear and support for war that actual talk of reconstituting a nuclear program, and visions of mushroom clouds, definitely did achieve.

It is actually rather amazing how little evidence of WMDs has been found in Iraq, considering that Iraq once possessed such weapons. By way of comparison, more biological weapons have been discovered in the United States during the last few months, although Washington officially abandoned its biological weapons program in 1969. In May 2003, bioweapons including anthrax and other dangerous bacteria were unearthed near Ft. Detrick, a bio-defense center in Maryland, about 50 miles from Washington, D.C. Had such a find been made in Iraq it undoubtedly would have been touted as physical evidence of Iraq's WMDs, especially since there is no documentation of Ft. Detrick's disposal of biological weapons; a comparable failure of documentation on Iraq's part fueled American claims that the Iraqi weapons must still exist. [86]


The gnostic gambit

That WMDs might still be found in Iraq cannot be ruled out. On June 27, David Kay, who now leads the CIA team searching for WMDs in Iraq, asserted that there are WMD revelations upcoming. [87] And after returning from a fact-finding mission in Iraq on July 3, Republican U.S. Senators Pat Roberts (Kansas) and John W. Warner (Virginia) claimed that the U.S. government possesses solid evidence of Iraqi WMDs but is keeping it classified. Roberts told reporters, "I'd be a little careful were I overly critical of the lack of finding any WMD — you may end up with WMD and some egg on your face." [88] This represents the idea that the administration has secret knowledge that it will use at some future date to discredit its opponents. In short, the failure to show the WMD evidence is just a sophisticated ruse. Along this line, Jack Kelly, a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration, writes in the Washington Times on July 16: "When might Mr. Bush make such information public? Perhaps when Democrats have gone too far out onto the antiwar limb to crawl back. Democrats may be racing into an ambush that Mr. Bush will spring at a time of his choosing." [89]

This "entrapment" argument misrepresents the fundamentals of epistemology. Obviously, one can only derive conclusions from known facts and not from unknown facts that may be revealed at some future date. All scientific theories could be overturned by the discovery of now unknown facts. Critics who addressed the missing-WMDs issue could not be faulted for not knowing facts that the administration had deliberately hidden. Moreover, the notion that the Bush administration may possesses solid evidence that it keeps secret while it publicizes various flimsy claims that are soon abandoned is simply incomprehensible. If administration officials were crazy enough to try such a thing, the yolk would be on them. Incidentally, the Democratic senators who took part in the same mission as Roberts and Warner said that the WMD evidence was inconclusive. [90]

After all the frenzied, kaleidoscopic, crack-brained deception, it is not apparent why anyone would believe any weapons claim made by an agency of the U.S. government. If claims are to be substantiated, it would now seem imperative to admit outside inspectors to evaluate any WMD evidence. It is the height of irony that administration officials complained to high heaven that Saddam was not providing full access to the UN weapons inspectors and then, after the United States had occupied Iraq, kept the inspectors out of the country entirely.

Even if some WMDs were now to be found, that discovery still would not necessarily prove the pre-war administration scenario that Iraq posed a grave danger to the United States. Many critics of the war did not deny Saddam's possession of WMDs, only that he posed an imminent threat to the United States or to the rest of the world. For the administration's pre-war arguments to be borne out, it would not be sufficient to simply find WMDs but to find WMDs of such types and quantities as to be threatening to the United States. It's hard to keep from concluding that the Iraqi WMD threat was simply fabricated to justify the invasion and conquest of Iraq, which actually was motivated by other, less well-publicized considerations. In fact, as I pointed out in my "The war on Iraq: Conceived in Israel," the war had been planned years before, and the atrocities of September 11 provided the catalyst, which, combined with the WMD propaganda, allowed for the implementation of the war agenda. [91]


Wages of deception

So far, the issue of missing WMDs has only begun to have some impact on the American people, who for quite some time remained rather undisturbed. In a Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks Poll conducted May 14-18, 2003, 34 percent of those surveyed believed that weapons of mass destruction had actually been found in Iraq (7 percent were uncertain), and 22 percent said Iraq actually used chemical or biological weapons in the war (9 percent were unsure). [92] According to a FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll of June 17-18, 2003, 25 percent of those surveyed believed that Iraq still possessed WMDs (the poll did not ask how many still thought that Occupied Iraq would attack the United States), and only 12 percent believed Saddam did not have them prior to the war. However, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll of June 27-29, 2003, found that 37 percent of those surveyed believed that the Bush Administration "deliberately misled" the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. [93] But 63 percent of the American people believe the war was justified even if WMD were not found, according to a ABC News/Washington Post Poll of June 18-22, 2003. [94]

Why have the bulk of the American citizenry seemed indifferent to the apparent falsity of the primary rationale of the war? Some Americans simply have unshakable faith in their government, and, like the less-intelligent creatures at George Orwell's Animal Farm, believe whatever story the U.S. government and the official media feed them, oblivious to alterations and contradictions. Moreover, the one-sided U.S. victory inflated the American people's patriotic, or at least nationalistic, pride. To many, it was like celebrating the hometown football team's victory over a hated arch-rival. They were not in the mood to consider evidence that might tarnish the celebration. And many Americans, traumatized and enraged at the 9/11 terrorist attack, saw the defeat of Iraq as an appropriate payback. In short, most Americans have been guided by attitudes and feelings that have nothing to do with a strictly rational analysis of the WMD issue.

The mounting attacks on American soldiers in Iraq, however, are beginning to work some change in the American attitude. To the question in the CBS poll of July 8-9 whether the war was worth it if no WMDs are found, 46 percent answered in the affirmative with an equal number responding negatively. [95] It is likely that continuing problems in the U.S. occupation of Iraq combined with more media attention and criticism by emboldened Democrats will cause concern about the WMD deception to grow, at least among that portion of the populace that is not congenitally credulous.

But even if the Bush administration can get away with grossly and systematically deceiving the American people, it will have to pay the price in the international arena. The United States cannot expect to lead the nations of the world, or even run an effective diplomacy, by relying on blatant lies and con games. Naked force only goes so far. And leadership by persuasion does not fit harmoniously with lies.

Moreover, if the United States is going to pursue policies on the basis of deception and force, what does that portend for international order? Throughout the 20th century, Washington publicly promoted peace and stability in the world through international law. In fact, world stability has been seen as central to the global economic interdependence that is the key to American prosperity. Undoubtedly, there has been an element of utopianism in that thinking, and in actual practice the United States has violated those rules, but it can be argued — and it certainly used to be argued at wearying length by Establishment soft-interventionist types — that the framework of international rules and standards promoted by the United States did serve to restrict global armed conflict.

Washington still preaches probity and restraint to other countries regarding the use of force. Hence, for the United States to launch a preemptive attack on a country on the basis of a false rationale undoubtedly weakens America's ability to restrain other countries, which would also see a need to preemptively strike at their foes and now might conjure up any number of false justifications for doing so. In short, the launching of preemptive war has the effect of destabilizing the world order all by itself, and Washington's doing so on deceptive premises has a doubly destabilizing effect. The peaceful world of law that the United States has promoted for so long will be transmuted into a global Hobbesian war of all against all, where only force prevails.

Maybe the United States has sufficient military power to keep other countries in line, for a time — though the current chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan does not bode well for that view. Maybe some of America's rulers view the upcoming era of global struggle with equanimity, or even anticipation, but it is not a vision that would find favor with most Americans, if they really understood what was being done in their name.

August 4, 2003

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