Monday, August 07, 2006

WMD, Again

The AP story about half of Americans believing Saddam had WMD in 2003 got a lot of press over the weekend. This headline in the St. Paul Pioneer Press was typical:

Still no WMD, but half of U.S. says Iraq had them

Which only goes to show that half of U.S. is smarter than one Pioneer Press copy editor. Because the story, inexplicably, in the middle of bitch-slapping average Americans for believing Saddam had WMD, breaks off to describe the WMD Saddam had.

Here's the crack this story falls through:

The reality in this case is that after a 16-month, $900 million-plus investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.

Emphasis added. What it doesn't tell you is that the investigations also found Saddam was raring to start up these programs again, constantly and confidently seeking a loophole, and actively and successfuly undermining the international system that kept his hands off the WMD. That's what emerged as the alarming "reality in this case," but that wasn't what we were talking about before 2003.

Then, it was Saddam has. And as the article points out, Saddam didn't have arsenals, as far as anyone can determine.

Despite this, a Harris Poll released July 21 found that a full 50 percent of U.S. respondents — up from 36 percent last year — said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack whose stated purpose was elimination of supposed WMD. Other polls also have found an enduring American faith in the WMD story.

Saddam didn't have arsenals. But he did have weapons of mass destruction. As the article goes on to point out:

Two weeks before the survey, two Republican lawmakers, Pennsylvania's Sen. Rick Santorum and Michigan's Rep. Peter Hoekstra, released an intelligence report in Washington saying 500 chemical munitions had been collected in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

Some people here would reply to this that a chemical warhead is not a "WMD." That seems to me nonsense unsupported by any widely-accepted definition of WMD I can find. Besides, the article never stretches to make that point. Instead, it switched back and forth from "WMD" to "arsenals" without any awareness that half the people seem to have given the correct answer to the question they were asked.

There were WMD, mostly old chemical artillery shells, scattered around Iraq. Many of them were in the wider arsenals of the Iraqi military. Saddam "had" them. What other verb could apply here?

If you asked, did Saddam have an active WMD program, or did he have a stockpile of WMD, then you get a different answer. But apparently that's not what was asked.

Instead -- with unintentional irony -- the article blames the "misperception" on "simplistic headlines." But I suspect they didn't mean headlines that don't know the difference between "some" and "none," which, after all, have separate entries in the dictionary.