TWO WEEKS into Operation Iraqi Freedom, the talking heads who once warned of a fierce, bloody, and protracted struggle can’t believe that total victory has yet to be achieved.
Those who once fretted about the Bush Administration’s "rush to war" can’t understand why allied forces haven’t simply marched into Baghdad. And after lamenting for months about the "massive military buildup" that preceded the war, they now wring their hands about American forces being undermanned and ill-equipped.
Forget about truth; consistency is the first casualty of this war.
The most amusing inconsistency of all is the shared sense of impatience among the Eurocrats, the establishment media, and the American anti-war left about coalition forces’ alleged inability to turn up any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Yes, this is the same group that, just two weeks ago, insisted was that UN weapons inspectors needed "more time" to scour the Iraqi countryside. Four months, they said, was simply not long enough for 108 experts to discover Hussein’s stockpile.
Now they complain that allied forces haven’t found it in 14 days.
This "U.S. failure," as the Washington Post puts it, is for them a vindication of Saddam Hussein, or at least a preliminary indictment against President George W. Bush. If coalition forces couldn’t turn up Hussein’s chemical or biological agents in the war’s opening days, the reasoning goes, then Hussein must have never had any to begin with, and thus the war to disarm him was never necessary at all.
Never mind that allied troops might have more pressing concerns at the moment than playing Hans Blix—like waging a war and warding off the attacks of Hussein’s suicide bombers and death squads. And forget that, unlike Blix and his band of international merry-makers, coalition forces aren’t working with the nominal support of the Iraqi government. If they want access to a suspected site, they usually have to bomb the daylights out of it first, then run in guns blazing.
All things considered, the troops have done a more than adequate job confirming what UN inspectors had already demonstrated—that Hussein’s government had no interest in complying with UN Resolution 1441.
For starters, they’ve had illegal Scud missiles fired at them—weapons the Iraqis weren’t supposed to have, and which UN inspectors were never able to find. Then, on Monday, U.S. Marines seized "a large weapons cache, about 40 buildings worth" containing various ammunition, artillery, and—most damning of all—chemical decontamination equipment and chemical suits. That follows the discovery, almost a week earlier, of 3,000 Iraqi chemical protection suits at a hospital near An Nasiriyah.
But all the smoke leaves the war’s critics all the hungrier for a smoking gun. Why hasn’t one turned up yet? If Hussein has a stockpile of such deadly weapons, why hasn’t he used them against coalition forces?
To answer the second question first, consider his military strategy: Massively outgunned, Hussein can’t hope to defeat allied forces outright. His best hope is for a long, drawn-out war that produces a high coalition and civilian death toll. Over time, he suspects, American resolve will sap (note his showing of the film Black Hawk Down to Iraqi troops), and international pressure will mount for some sort of a peaceful resolution. The key to this strategy is not getting on the wrong side of Russia, France, and China, and that requires refraining from the use of WMDs, which are of limited use, anyway, against allied troops who have both the gear and training to protect themselves.
Meanwhile, his WMDs remain hidden. Israeli intelligence reports that the Iraqi government has shipped its stockpile to Syria. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claims that most Iraqi WMDs are "in the area south of Baghdad … near Karbala" as well as "north of Baghdad, up near Tikrit"—areas allied forces have yet to capture.
Barring a last-second strike borne of desperation, Hussein’s WMDs probably won’t be unearthed until the dictator is buried.
Yet even if coalition forces turned up a gigantic cache tomorrow, the critics would still be unimpressed. French and Russian officials insist that UN weapons inspectors must verify any findings to make sure U.S. and British forces aren’t lying. And even that probably wouldn’t be enough to satisfy some hard-core skeptics, as inspectors can only demonstrate that the illicit agents found in Iraq are, in fact, illicit—they can’t determine who was responsible for putting them there in the first place.
As was evident in the days leading up to the war, for the Axis of Appeasement, no smoking gun will ever be quite smoking enough.
But what if no smoking gun can ever be found? What if the weapons remain in Syria? What if Hussein’s forces have effectively hidden them, and after the war is over there are no Iraqi officials still alive who can find them? What if, as Hussein and his apologists claim, he doesn’t have the weapons at all—they were all destroyed in the first Gulf War or by UN weapons inspectors afterwards?
For any of these unlikely scenarios to be true, Hussein would have to be a fool or a suicidal maniac. After all, he could have avoided war by simply making made a good-faith effort to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors. If he had nothing to hide, then what was he so busy hiding?
In due time, the world will know.