Research: Commentary

Right! It Was All Wrong

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 24, 2003 | Article


During his recent visit to Iraq and other countries in the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld chided those who had criticized the conduct of the war by giving Winston Churchill's famous words a new twist. "Rarely," said Rumsfeld, "had so many been so wrong about so much."

And if one shifts the focus of his remarks, he was absolutely right! The whole rationale for the war put forwarded by Rumsfeld, President Bush, Colin Powell and all their cohorts was wrong.

They strongly suggested that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons. Remember the president's reference to a mushroom cloud in his speech just before the invasion? Not only nuclear weapons but myriad other weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological, ready to fire. In his speech just before the invasion, Bush said that in the face of all this, he had no choice but to defend the American people. Their security and their freedoms were threatened. And so we went to war. Indeed, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer stated categorically on April 10 that weapons of mass destruction were "what this war is all about."

But as it turns out, there were no nuclear weapons. No weapons and no means of delivering them. Nor was Iraq on the verge of achieving nuclear capability. Nothing. Even the reports cited by both President Bush and Colin Powell that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger to build nuclear weapons turned out to be false, based on amateurishly falsified documents.

And as for the chemical and biological weapons, they don't seem to be there either. Remember, we were warned that the Iraqis might use them against invading U.S. forces. And had they had such weapons, surely in such an extremity they would have used them. But no chemical barrage was forthcoming.

Beyond question, the Iraqis at one point possessed chemical and biological weapons. As comedian Mark Russell has commented, we know they had them because we've got the receipts. True enough, back during the 1983-88 Iran-Iraq war, at a time when we knew the Iraqis were using chemical weapons against the Iranians and the Kurds, the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague. This has all been carefully documented by Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post.

But any chemical or biological weapons the Iraqis had back during the war against Iran would either have been used or would now be so degraded as to be useless. Iraq did of course have the capability to produce new weapons -- had the know-how, the laboratories -- both mobile and otherwise -- and perhaps the raw materials. The raw materials haven't yet been found, but American occupation forces may yet come up with a few stocks of chemicals and biological agents that could have been used to make weapons. But none of that is proof of an active program to produce chemical or biological weapons, simply of a residual capability.

The administration, not having found what it assured one and all was there, is now saying that war was justified even if all Iraq had was the "potential capability" to produce weapons of mass destruction.

But no, sorry, that doesn't work. The Bush administration went to war because it said Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and the U.S. was threatened. If all Iraq had was the "capability" to produce such weapons, then time was not of the essence. There was no imminent threat and Hans Blix and Kofi Annan were right. There was plenty of time to press ahead with more aggressive inspections -- and thus to have strengthened, rather than, as Bush did, to undercut the United Nations and to have antagonized some of our closest allies.

The Bush administration also managed to suggest that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the attacks on 9/11, and many Americans supported the war thinking that he was in part responsible. The war in Iraq was sold as somehow a part of the war against terrorism. It was not. Saddam Hussein was a bloody and tyrannical dictator, yes, but there is not a shred of evidence that he had anything at all to do with the 9/11 attacks or that he was somehow working with Osama bin Laden. Reference was often made to a supposed meeting between representatives of the two in Czechoslovakia, but in fact, no such meeting ever took place. Rather than working together, bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were bitter enemies.

The reasons given were false, but Bush and Co. had to have their war -- perhaps to divert attention from the disaster they are making of the economy? Or to bolster his popularity and provide stirring photo-ops such as the staged landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln? And along the way to get cushy contracts for their favorite companies, Hallibuton and Bechtel? Perhaps. But certainly not to defend the United States, for the United States was never threatened.

Wayne S. Smith, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, was a foreign service officer for some 25 years, with tours in Moscow, Havana, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the Department of State and various other posts.

Copyright 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.  Original article available here.

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