Friday, September 17, 2004

Iraq planned WMD programs. NYT misses headline.

The New York Times today published and article entitled, Iraq Study Finds Desire for Arms, but Not Capacity. The article makes some relevant points, but leaves out some other equally compelling information.

First, the headline. The most significant new information in the report is "considerable detail, particularly on the question of Iraq's intention to produce weapons if United Nations penalties were weakened or lifted." Okay, let's make that the headline. Here's my vote for a better headline: Study Reveals Iraq's Plan to Resume WMD Programs Once U.N. Sanctions Lifted.

On to the article:
A new report on Iraq's illicit weapons program is expected to conclude that Saddam Hussein's government had a clear intent to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons if United Nations sanctions were lifted, government officials said Thursday.

But, like earlier reports, it finds no evidence that Iraq had begun any large-scale program for weapons production by the time of the American invasion last year, the officials said.
Let's revisit the 2003 State of the Union in which the President said we cannot wait until the threat is imminent: "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announce their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option."
The most specific evidence of an illicit weapons program, the officials said, has been uncovered in clandestine labs operated by the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which could have produced small quantities of lethal chemical and biological agents, though probably for use in assassinations, not to inflict mass casualties.
This confirms key evidence presented by Bush in the State of the Union: "From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological-weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ-warfare agents, and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them." Seems he didn't destroy them after all. Also, are small labs not potential precursors for larger labs down the road (as mentioned much later in the article)?
A draft report of nearly 1,500 pages that is circulating within the government essentially reaffirms the findings of an interim review completed 11 months ago, the officials said. But they said it added considerable detail, particularly on the question of Iraq's intention to produce weapons if United Nations penalties were weakened or lifted, a judgment they said was based on documents signed by senior leaders and the debriefings of former Iraqi scientists and top officials, as well as other records.
So if, as some suggest, we would have been better off continuing with the inspections and sanctions, two results seem inevitable: 1) The rampant corruption of the sanctions would have continues and 2) As soon as inspections scaled down, Iraq would have ramped up its weapons program.

The officials said the report would portray a more complicated and detailed picture, based on a far more extensive examination of suspected Iraqi weapons sites and records, as well as the debriefings. They said new information in the draft report based on on-site inspections of clandestine labs described the possibility that they were intended to provide small quantities of poisons.

A final version of the report, by Charles A. Duelfer, the top American weapons inspector in Iraq, is expected to be made public within the next several weeks.

In its current form, the report reaffirms previous interim findings that there is no evidence that Iraq possessed stockpiles of illicit weapons at the time of the American invasion in March 2003, the officials said. Prewar intelligence estimates that said Iraq actually possessed chemical and biological arsenals and was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program were cited by the Bush administration as the major rationale for war.

Not exactly so. The Times itself critiqued the Bush administration for not identifying one major rationale for the war. Only after it became likely that there were no WMDs did the Times, and the left in general, center on WMDs as the "major rationale for war."
With the presidential election campaign in its final weeks, Republicans and Democrats are likely to seize on separate aspects of the report in an effort to score political points.
True enough. Wonder on which of those points the Times will seize?

Skipping ahead in the article a bit...

Mr. Kay's report last October cited "a clandestine network of laboratories and safe houses within the Iraqi Intelligence Service" that contained material suitable for research into chemical and biological weapons. Mr. Duelfer's report, based on inspections of clandestine labs, will say the Iraqis were capable of using the labs to produce small quantities of lethal agents or to conduct very primitive research as a very early step toward broader weapons production.

Mr. Duelfer, who took over as the chief weapons inspector in January, said in testimony to Congress in March that Iraq did have dual-use facilities that could have produced biological or chemical weapons on short notice. He also noted that Iraq was working until March 2003 to build new facilities for the production of chemicals.

But officials who have seen Mr. Duelfer's report say it describes no conclusive evidence that any effort was under way to use these facilities for weapons production.

As this article noted near the beginning, Iraq's strategy was to wait until the weakening of inspections before rolling out the weapons program. Seems that dual-use facilities currently used for benign purposes fit that plan well. And while finding mass production of weapons would certainly have retrospectively bolstered the case for war, remember that the case for war was premised on acting before the threat becomes imminent.
Mr. Bush, who warned before the war that Iraq's illicit weapons posed an urgent threat to the United States, now generally describes Iraq as having been a "gathering threat," a phrase he has used at least 11 times since Aug. 12. In a Sept. 9 campaign speech, Mr. Bush told voters in Ohio: "Remember, Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons; he could have passed that capability on to the enemy."
Wrong. Bush said before the war that we must act before the threat is imminent.
Mr. Kerry, by contrast, has focused on the fact that the illicit weapons have not been found in Iraq as evidence that Mr. Bush's assertions lack credibility. "Everybody knows that just saying that there are weapons of mass destruction didn't make them so," Mr. Kerry said in an Aug. 2 television interview.
While I suspect the quotation is accurate, I would have preferred this Kerry quotation (from a Dec. 14, 2001 television interview): "I think we have to keep pressure on terrorism globally. This doesn't end with Afghanistan by any imagination... Terrorism is a global threat, a scourge. And it is absolutely vital that we continue, for instance, [with] Saddam Hussein." If the Times can focus on what Bush said (or actually, what the Times wants Bush to have said) in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, the least it can do is quote what Kerry was saying at the time.

End of analysis of Times article and beginning of more general thoughts.

I was and am a supporter of the Iraq invasion. It has made the world a better place by improving our long-term position in the War on Terror and incidentally freeing tens of millions of people from a brutal dictator. I pray that the problems on the ground in Iraq are mere hiccoughs on the way to a pluralistic democracy in the heart of the Middle East -- a process which may take many years. But even if it does not turn out that way, we still have done the right thing.

I am very concerned by what seems to have been a major intelligence failure regarding Iraqi WMDs (unless they are were moved to Syria). In this world of nuclear weapons and terrrorists, I think we have no choice other than a doctrine of pre-emption. But pre-emption demands first-rate intelligence. What will it take to get there?

Update: Captain Ed weighs in on the report:
Duelfer's report promises something for everyone; a bone for the Left, which they will use to beat George Bush over what they continue to insist was his only "justification" for toppling Hussein. The GOP stalwarts can and will argue that Duelfer's report also demonstrates the futility of trying to wait out Saddam and his boys through twelve years of economic sanctions. This has more implications than just electoral...