One could be forgiven for thinking that the detonation of two "improvised explosive devices" equipped with toxic chemical agents would be seen as confirmation that there are still Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. These events might even be seen as rebuttals to those who have derided the Bush administration for its prior inability to substantiate pre-war claims that such weapons in Saddam’s hands constituted an intolerable threat to the United States.
Unfortunately, such thinking fails to appreciate a stand-by of Washington Beltway politics: "moving the goalposts." Whenever the opposing team comes close to proving its point, one simply relocates the end zone to a point out of reach.
Rarely has this phenomenon been more in evidence than with respect to Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. Practically everyone – members of the Coalition’s intelligence services, the United Nations, even the French, Germans and Russians – recognized that, at one time, Saddam had chemical and biological weapons and a program for building nuclear devices. Since he never satisfactorily accounted for the complete destruction of the stocks of WMDs, like those he previously used in lethal attacks on Iran and his own Kurds, the only reasonable conclusion was that they continued to exist in some form, in unknown quantity.
To prove the point, one would seem to need only to have found a few chemical and/or biological weapons. Well, that would appear to have been the incontrovertible upshot of the two recent episodes, involving sarin and mustard gas weapons. Yet the goal-post-movers’ response has been that these do not – in and of themselves – confirm the claims that Saddam still had stockpiles of these sorts of WMDs.
UN inspectors – whose return to Iraq in 2002 was only made possible by President Bush’s determination to disarm Saddam, one way or the other – shed no more light on the question. That did not, however, keep then-Chief Inspector Hans Blix from suggesting that there was no evidence Iraq still had active WMD programs.
To disprove this contention, it would seem sufficient to establish that chemical and biological production facilities continued to exist, perhaps in the form of advanced fertilizer or pharmaceutical plants which, thanks to the dual-use nature of their technologies, would allow them readily to be used for weapons purposes. And the Iraq Survey Group, a team of specialists that has been scouring Iraq since the fall of Baghdad trying to ferret out and secure Saddam’s WMDs, has confirmed that, while actual weapons have eluded them so far, the ancien regime did indeed have the ability to produce fresh batches of chemical and biological agents at will. Yet the skeptics choose to ignore the reality that, in the wrong hands, even small amounts of such toxic substances – precisely what could be manufactured in short order by this sort of stand-by production capability – could cause immense loss of life.
No less studiously ignored is evidence that has come to light that Saddam Hussein could, indeed, have handed Weapons of Mass Destruction to terrorists bent on employing them against the United States and its allies. As Charles Smith reminded us in Newsmax.com yesterday, "(F)ormer Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen testified that in 1998 Saddam's top nerve gas experts met with several members of al-Qaeda in Baghdad."
Recent events underscore the danger such a combination represents. Smith notes that just a few weeks ago, a number of al-Qaeda operatives based in Iraq were caught before they were able to carry out a plot aimed at killing tens of thousands of Jordanians with poison gas. Evidently, the failure to perpetrate such an atrocity permits some to persist in the fantasy that this aspect of the WMD case against Saddam is still without foundation.
Whether partisan Democrats, antiwar zealots and rabid Bush-haters wish to admit it or not, Saddam Hussein is guilty as charged. We now know that Saddam once had significant quantities of Weapons of Mass Destruction and aspired to build more; he used them against his own people and his neighbors; and he persisted in violating nearly two-score UN Security Council resolutions – right up to the end of his days in power – by concealing his actual programs and capabilities.
It is now safe to conclude as well that Saddam bequeathed a frightening legacy to post-liberation Iraq: the Weapons of Mass Destruction still at large in Iraq. The alternative thesis – namely, that the only two WMDs left in the entire country were employed in the (fortunately) failed IED attacks involving sarin and mustard gas conducted in recent days – is preposterous on its face.
While we may still be in the dark as to where all of the remaining WMDs are – their specific condition and numbers – these attacks should serve indisputably to establish that there are at least some WMDs in-country and accessible to terrorists. Moreover, the Jordanian near-miss underscores the point that we should take no comfort from the fact that the status of such weapons is unknown, since some of them may wind up being used outside Iraq.
It is entirely understandable that those who opposed the war with Iraq and/or President Bush for launching it would try to make hay of the difficulty we have had to date locating quantities of WMDs that former chief inspector David Kay once said would fit in a two-car garage, while searching a country the size of France. Now that we have begun to find them the hard way, it behooves such critics to stop moving the goal-posts, to recognize the validity of Mr. Bush’s concerns and to throw their support behind the urgent effort to find and destroy such weapons – wherever they may be, including possibly in neighboring Syria – before any more of them are used against us...inside Iraq or outside.