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Friday, April 29, 2005

Much Ado About Nothing...Redux

Last October, Charles Duelfer release his preliminary report on Iraq's WMDs. The report went into great detail about the threat Iraq could have posed, but it also stated that no WMDs had been found to date. Predictably, a great cry of "Bush Lied!" went up from every corner of the liberal world, and the people rejoiced in self-satisfaction.

On Tuesday, Duelfer released his final report, and unfortunately for anyone who's tired of hearing the aforementioned phrase, there are still no WMDs to report. So that should close the book on the matter right? Bush deceived the nation and the anti-war crowd has finally been exonerated right? Well, no, don't uncork that champagne just yet...

The term "WMD" can mean a lot of things, and in the case of Iraq it translated into chemical and biological weapons. Now unlike the image most people have of a top secret bunker with 1000 white-coated scientists building a super germ, most of the evidence presented on this matter (by Colin Powell no less) consisted of what amounted to a couple cookers in the back of converted 18 wheeler; not exactly high-tech. Nevertheless, those are all the ingredients necessary for making a really scary weapon.

So when we talk about having WMDS, what are we talking about? Raw materials are generally no problem, any medical supply company can sell all the chemicals and bugs you need. Ditto on the lab materials, hell you don't even have to spring for the white coats. So far any number of home scientists could be hauled off to jail, so what creates the distinction? At what point do you move beyond playing in a lab and into being a threat?

The answer is three things: the money to do it on a large scale, the people with knowledge to manufacture it in a practical matter, and the will to use the finished product. While Duelfer reports an absence of completed weapons, it does detail Saddam's success in stockpiling the first two requirements (see here and here and thank you U.N for the Oil-for-Food funding), and anyone who knows what happened to the Kurd's after Gulf War I has no doubts about the third.

Is this revisionist history? I don't think so. What Bush and the administration were selling was a threat, a threat which certainly existed. What it became was an acid-test justification for the war, where nothing but a stockpile of completed weapons would suffice. Politically this was a mistake, but it doesn't change the facts. For all intents and purposes Saddam had WMDs. When he decided to push the button, no missiles would have rocketed off immediately, but scientists with the know how and resources would have begun feverishly working and "quite quickly" according to the Duelfer report, we would have had all the proof we never wanted.

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