The Magazine

Questions of Mass Destruction

From the June 23, 2003 issue: . . . for hawks and doves alike.

Jun 23, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 40 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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MUCH HAS BEEN SAID and written in recent weeks about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. As the methodical search for those weapons continues in Iraq, the back-and-forth in the United States and Europe about their whereabouts has gone ballistic--with hysterical, unfounded accusations leveled by critics of the war and increasing defensiveness by the Bush administration.

There are two elements to the current debate: substance and politics. Sometimes it's hard to separate the two, as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts noted last week in dismissing Democratic calls for a formal investigation. And as the nation slowly turns its attention to the 2004 presidential campaign, the politics of the war will be inescapable.

But first, the substance. There are serious questions the Bush administration will have to answer:

*How did a forged document about Iraq's pursuit of uranium make it into the State of the Union address?

*Why would President Bush tell the world that "we have found weapons of mass destruction," when quite plainly we have not?

*Before the war, the administration rightly focused on interrogating Iraqi scientists about WMD. What are the scientists in U.S. custody saying today?

*Is it possible that some of Saddam's WMD have already been distributed to terrorist networks?

These and other concerns deserve a full hearing--in Congress or elsewhere. As the president's critics point out, nothing is more serious than taking a nation to war, and the American people properly expect a full accounting of the Bush administration's reasons for doing so.

Many of those who argued for regime change in Iraq believed a compelling case for war existed before the Bush administration's attempt to make it last fall, and it even pre-existed the Bush administration itself. For seven years following the Gulf War cease-fire, Saddam Hussein claimed he did not possess weapons of mass destruction. And for seven years he lied. The routine, as described in detail by U.N. weapons inspectors, was simple: Iraqis told inspectors they had no mustard agent and then expressed their profound shock when quantities of mustard were found; Iraqis told inspectors they had never weaponized VX nerve agent and then feigned surprise when inspectors found weaponized VX nerve agent. And on it went. In the process, we learned that Saddam Hussein had constructed elaborate concealment mechanisms--the Iraqi regime spent a decade working to ensure that prohibited weapons' production was kept quiet. Still, black market procurement efforts continued unabated, and when inspectors were kicked out in 1998, the Iraqi regime had failed to account for vast quantities of its WMD stockpiles.

Here is what President Bill Clinton had to say about that, on February 17, 1998:

Iraq repeatedly made false declarations about the weapons that it had left in its possession after the Gulf War. When UNSCOM would then uncover evidence that gave the lie to those declarations, Iraq would simply amend the reports. For example, Iraq revised its nuclear declarations four times within just 14 months and it has submitted six different biological warfare declarations, each of which has been rejected by UNSCOM. In 1995, Hussein Kamal, Saddam's son-in-law, and chief organizer of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program, defected to Jordan. He revealed that Iraq was continuing to conceal weapons and missiles and the capacity to build many more. Then and only then did Iraq admit to developing numbers of weapons in significant quantities and weapon stocks. Previously, it had vehemently denied the very thing it just simply admitted once Saddam Hussein's son-in-law defected to Jordan and told the truth.

Clinton wasn't finished.

Now listen to this: What did it admit? It admitted, among other things, an offensive biological warfare capability--notably 5,000 gallons of botulinum, which causes botulism; 2,000 gallons of anthrax; 25 biological-filled Scud warheads; and 157 aerial bombs. And might I say--UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq has actually greatly understated its production.

On November 8, 2002, after nearly four years without U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, the world formally registered its belief that Iraq possessed WMD with a unanimous vote on Resolution 1441 at the U.N. Security Council. Four days later, speaking on French radio, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin told his countrymen, "If Saddam Hussein does not comply, if he does not satisfy his obligations, there will obviously be a use of force," later adding, "the security of the Americans is under threat from people like Saddam Hussein who are capable of using chemical and biological weapons."