Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Crow Watch

Another report from the seekers of Iraqi WMD makes it more certain that the vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and the nukes, were not there in 2003. It also casts cold water on another theory.

The U.S.-led group that scoured Iraq for weapons of mass destruction has found no evidence Iraq hid such weapons in Syria before the U.S. invasion in March 2003, according to a final report on the investigation.

When I was shifting around from a reflexive left/antiwar position to support of the overthrow of Saddam, the concern that he had, or soon would acquire, WMD loomed large in my thinking. Should I be eating crow today, as many voices who remained in the left/antiwar camp demand?

Sure, I'll tuck in. If they'll join me. I don't remember anyone back in the winter of 2002-03 shouting that there were no WMD in Iraq. Instead, I remembered hearing two arguments from that side that involved such weapons. One was, why should the U.S. have such an arsenal and deny it to Islamic nations? Wasn't that a double-standard? And anyway, our enemies the Soviets had nukes for decades and we were fine with that. The other was that Saddam did have WMD, and that was a good reason not to send our troops into war against him.

To see if my memory was accurate, I went back through the archives of some of the best left/Democratic/antiwar sites. By "best" I mean the more sane and thoughtful ones, as well as the more prominent ones. I looked for what they had written on WMD, to see if any had been saying all along there was no such thing in Saddam's Iraq.

All of them were more or less skeptical about the specific evidence as presented by Bush, Cheney, and Powell. None of them came out right and said "no WDM in Iraq." Instead, all seemed to assume there was something dirty up Saddam's sleeve.

Here's Josh Marshall on March 26, 2003:

This war isn't really about Iraq or deposing Saddam or even eliminating his WMD, though each of those are important benefits along the way.

On March 18, 2003, he described the looming war in these terms:

At this point, obviously I hope this goes quickly and as cleanly as possible. Getting rid of Saddam will be a very good thing as will getting rid of his WMD and ambitions to get more. I was long for something like this. I changed my position because in the course of moving in this direction we incurred an even greater risk to our security than Saddam himself was.

Atrios, meanwhile, on March 27, 2003, quoted this Josh Marshall passage from Washington Monthly:

Imagine it's six months from now. The Iraq war is over. After an initial burst of joy and gratitude at being liberated from Saddam's rule, the people of Iraq are watching, and waiting, and beginning to chafe under American occupation. Across the border, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, our conquering presence has brought street protests and escalating violence. The United Nations and NATO are in disarray, so America is pretty much on its own. Hemmed in by budget deficits at home and limited financial assistance from allies, the Bush administration is talking again about tapping Iraq's oil reserves to offset some of the costs of the American presence--talk that is further inflaming the region. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence has discovered fresh evidence that, prior to the war, Saddam moved quantities of biological and chemical weapons to Syria. When Syria denies having such weapons, the administration starts massing troops on the Syrian border. But as they begin to move, there is an explosion: Hezbollah terrorists from southern Lebanon blow themselves up in a Baghdad restaurant, killing dozens of Western aid workers and journalists. Knowing that Hezbollah has cells in America, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge puts the nation back on Orange Alert. FBI agents start sweeping through mosques, with a new round of arrests of Saudis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Yemenis.

Emphasis added. And his comment is, "You know Josh, that's why some of us have been against all of this..." Later (April 4, 2003) Atrios went on the record about Saddam's weaponry:

For the record, I've never doubted that Saddam probably has some sort of chemical weapons. Heck, I can brew up some nasty stuff with common household cleaning agents. The issue is whether or not he had "weapons of mass destruction" in the genuine sense - that is, weapons which could kill an immense number of people, quickly, from a distance. At this point, the US could find an ammonia bottle sitting next a bleach bottle and the media will praise Jeebus that Bush had the sense to protect us from that extraordinary danger. But, serious people (just kidding, Matthew) know that most chemical weapons aren't very good at killing a lot of people, quickly, from a distance. Our cruise missiles more fit the definition than do most of the nasty substances they might find (such as Ricin).

Same thing at Daily Kos. Skeptical of specific administration claims and evidences, but not of the existence of Iraqi WMD. And willing to invoke them, if they could be used to make the White House look bad.

"How does the US know that Iraq has biological weapons? Easy. Because we sent them the equipment and anthrax spores to build them." [Sept. 26, 2002] On Jan. 17, 2003, he quotes approvingly a "Christian Science Monitor" piece that claims "Iraqi forces defending the cities could try to halt invading troops by shelling them with chemical weapons," and predicts, "Americans will die -- lots of them."

On Feb. 12, 2003, Kos, who is a military man, laid out his own set of possible Iraq war scenarios. WMD figured in them: "And if Saddam is going to use chemical weapons, this would be a good time -- with US troop concentrations exposed in the open desert. ... There's no doubt that Kuwait is sufficient for staging purposes, but having a single supply line is problematic. Not only is it exposed to dehabilitating guerilla attacks, but Saddam could hamper the entire resupply operation by either detonating a nuke (if he has one) or contaminating wide swaths of the logistical lines with chemical and/or biological weapons."

I quote these things not in an attempt to embarrass these men, who I believe are honorable, even if I think they're also wrong. But I quote them to give perspective to the left's tendency to believe it never fell for that WMD talk. Just like it claims the war supporters never talked about democracy until the WMD claims fell apart. There are plenty of references to democratizing the Middle East -- generally dismissive -- on these sites, but that's a post for another day.

In the more strident sites, the skepticism about the Administration's WMD claims was stronger, but so was the need to use anything -- including fear of WMD -- to oppose the war. In a letter to Congressional Democratic leaders, published in the March 19, 2003, "Counterpunch," Ralph Nader listed as one of the core reasons to oppose the war:

The risk of serious casualties for our soldiers, including toxic illness as in the first Gulf War and, in Mr. Bush's view, possible exposure to chemical and biological weapons for which official U.S. army audits say they are inadequately trained and ill-equipped.

Which manages to suggest both that only Bush believes Iraqi WMD are real, and that Bush's false dream could make our troops genuinely sick. Truly the man lives in a Lewis Caroll world. But if it veers toward self-parody, it expresses well the irreconcilable views about Iraqi WMD that many in the anti-war camp in those weeks managed to hold, simultaneously.

At "Counterpunch" I also stumbled on this delightful prediction from late March 2003 from Chuck O'Connell, who teaches sociology at the University of California Irvine.

4. Democracy will NOT come to Iraq. What will happen is that some very rich exiled Iraqi who has made it clear in the past several months to the State Department and CIA that he is and will be forever and ever in complete agreement with what ever the Americans want in Iraq shall become the new ruler. He will be labeled by the U.S. press as a democratic wonder and indeed may have the trappings of "elections" (just as Hussein had "elections"). But the people of Iraq will be no more "free" than the people of Kuwait are today (even though we "liberated" them 12 years ago).

I'll pass my share of crow to Perfesser O'Connell.