Wednesday, March 15, 2006

WMD: Once More Unto the Breach

[Goddamn it. I really wanted to concentrate on something else tonight. But I hate it when people who were against the war for all the usual reasons claim now they knew exactly what was going to go wrong. And there's been an outbreak of that lately. So I spent the evening, between laying out pages, cobbling together this, for another site.]

Maybe it's just as well that this site occasionally refuses to accept my comments. It gives me a chance to expand them into full posts and thereby raise more hell.

It began with this boast by an anti-war poster:

Back before the war I was against it for many reasons, but one big concern of mine is what is happening now. We’d go in there, find no WMDs, Bush would look like an oil-hungry liar, our credibility to fight subsequent wars would fall under serious question in every corner of the globe, we would end up pulling out of Iraq before the country was TRULY ready and the three factions in Iraq would start fighting…ultimately leading to a civil war. THAT is why I opposed The Bush Doctrine. Not because I don’t think people should have the right to be free. I just didn’t believe in the shaky logic of the neo-cons “dream” scenario of being thrown candy and flowers, which completely threw blinders on to the history of that region.

What an astonishingly prescient man! He saw the whole thing in advance. And not only him, apparently. Other anti-war commenters here have his supergenius savant powers:

What is happening now is almost exactly what I was worried about as well.

Wow! And of course they committed these concerns to writing, right? These are people who post on the Internet, after all. So let's go check the record, since offering proof is only common courtesy for those who boast of Nostradamus' powers.

So as far as a timestamp goes, well Cal, that I don’t have. But I think this rather lengthy explanation with information that was ALL available pre-war is more than enough to afford me the courtesy of trust.

Ah, I see.

And no, Cal, I can’t prove it either, unless I can get some of my Repub friends to vouch for my complaints at that time.

Uh-huh, OK.

And as a matter of record, I correctly predicted every single first-place finisher in the sulky races at Brandywine in the summer of 1987. I bet on the horses merely to amuse myself, you see. But I knew every single winner. No, of course I didn't write it down at the time. But trust me.

Let's take a look at just the single interesting phrase "We’d go in there, find no WMDs ..."

Now I was watching that debate, too. And you can go see what I wrote about it at the time, if you're interested, because I did put it on the record. I was wrong about a lot of things, but probably not the things you will automatically assume based on cartoon caricatures of neo-cons.


If you can’t show me where you said that, at least show me where someone you admire said it. It can’t be that hard to find if it’s true. If it's not, you're just rewriting history.

I went looking once upon a time. Here’s what I found on prominent blogs of anti-war voices.

Josh Marshall on March 18, 2003, 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.

Duncan Black (Atrios), on March 27, 2003, quoted this Josh Marshall passage from Washington Monthly predicting the situation six months after the war:

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.

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.

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, Markos, 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.

Here’s Daily Kos from 09/02:

Iraq has weapons of mass destruction? Join the line. About a dozen nations have such weapons these days. Only the US has deigned to use them, and that was when it was the sole nuclear power. The threat of annihilation through retaliation has checked any subsequent use of such weapons.

The "where are the WMD?" posters at anti-war rallies began to turn up after the invasion, not before. Here's Juan Cole on April 1, 2003:

The failure of the British or US troops to turn up any stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons is striking. Perhaps it is the case that they are well hidden or that they are hidden in Baghdad or to the north. It is dangerous to get out on a limb here and say they just don't exist. But the possibility that they just don't exist now has to be taken increasingly seriously.

Emphasis added throughout. And so on and so on. I'm not blaming these people; I held about the same estimation of the likelihood that Saddam had WMD of some sort. So Juan Cole was as surprised as the rest of us by the lack of any sort of WMD stockpile? So was every intelligence agency in Europe. But now a whole lot of armchair Mid-East experts want to jump up and say they knew it all along.

Here's what I think is happening: "WMD" is a deceptive term covering a broad range of weapons, and used in slightly different contexts by different people. Iraq did have prohibited WMD in 2003: the sarin shells have since turned up across the country, dozens of them, with more perhaps to be found.

But Saddam's nuclear program, unlike what we feared and he led us to believe, was deader than a doornail. Not that he wasn't looking every day for ways to revive it. But the combination of inspections and the sanctions were keeping that out of his reach. The sanctions also were killing innocent Iraqis in batches, but that's another story. And Saddam was rapidly undermining them by exploiting the greed of French and Russian leaders, but that's another story, too.

And while nukes weren't the only WMD Bush and Blair talked about, and WMD wasn't the only topic in their brief in favor of overthrowing Saddam, it was the nukes that disturbed people most and produced money lines about "mushroom clouds" and "14-minute warning."

So people who are obsessed with what Bush said will be fixated on the fact that the administration oversold its case for Iraqi nukes. Never mind that it was never a terribly convincing case, once the administration's claims were held up to examination, which usually occurred within days of their being made.

Here's one I can tell you, and I can back it up from the record: I never believed there was solid evidence Saddam had nukes. But I didn't want to trust the 5 or 10 percent chance that he did, or would soon get them, after having stood at the barricades on Greenwich Street at Rector and stared at the latticework shell of one of the towers, fragile, fused tuning forks. Like lace, like confectionery.

The case for Iraqi nuclear WMD always was the most deadly case, and it always was the most dubious. But I have yet to meet an anti-war person who said positively, before the invasion, "Saddam has no nukes" — after all, only a prophet or a lunatic could have said that before we overthrew him and found out for sure.

It was a guessing game: Maybe he has them. Maybe he doesn’t. We don’t have the proof. But are you willing to take the chance?

But the anti-war movement that I saw wasn't capable of thinking rationally at that point. What they were saying, if you added it up was, "Bush has no proof that Saddam has WMD, and if we invade Iraq, Saddam will use WMD on our troops."

OK, fine, whatever. Lack of a coherent model of reality, and a willingness to believe mutually exclusive propositions, so long as they both make the Chimperor look bad, is a hallmark of that side of things. Come back when you get a coherent model of reality and we'll talk about voting for you.

And what baffles me is that so many people who thought there was any sort of chance Saddam had such weapons were willing, in the post 9-11 world, to let a man with his track record keep them. That’s not “anti-American, terrorist loving, moonbatish nonsense.” It is, however, like letting a live rattlesnake nest under your bed because it hasn't bitten anyone yet.

I'm not obsessed with what Bush said. That's a domestic political fixation. I'm very interested, however, in what Saddam did. And I'm glad we don't have to be worrying about it any more except in an abstract past tense.


More from our all-seeing and all-knowing commentators (though of course they already know what I'm going to say about it):

So Dems were worried that if no WMDs are found, our credibility would get knocked down quite a few notches.

Ah, of course. The Dems were worried about the credibility of America -- Amerikkka -- Indian-genociding, hiroshima-incinerating, racist-ruled, Vietnam-War-fighting, Rosenberg-executing, Israel-arming, fag-bashing, imperialist, colonialist, witch-burning, McCarthy-ruled, hypocritical, slave-owning, dissent-crushing America. They were concerned deeply. Not that they ever were concerned when their leftist buddies in academe who have been undermining that as loudly as they could for generations.

The most disappointing thing for me is that so many of the neo-cons and war hawks were too in love with the ideal of “spreading democracy and freedom through war” that they couldn’t step back to realize that if you gamble with our credibility and then screw it up, it’s going to hurt our long term chances to do it elsewhere in places where it’s really needed, like Sudan, et al. In other words, it hurts our credibility to actually fight the WOT effectively.

Of course. Our "credibility" in the world would have stood so much higher today if Saddam were still on his tyrant’s throne (remember: "we put him there") and Qusai and Uday in their rape palaces and the U.S. invaded impoverished Sudan instead.

By the way, what's with the "candy and roses" fixation. U.S. troops were greeted in many places with candy and roses and tea. There are pictures of it. So what? History is full of cases of armies greeted joyously as liberators and quickly resented as occupiers. The French in the Rhineland in 1792, for instance. Everyone likes to be liberated. No one likes to be occupied. But yes, they were greeted with flowers. What's the point?


With Iraq, everyone knew what failure would look like when we went in there to try to set up a democracy: either the country would revert to strong-arm rule (via a caudillo or a theocracy) or break apart into religious and ethnic enclaves.

That was understood on both sides. And the anti-war voices widely predicted both, but the ones I read leaned toward “another Saddam, backed by the U.S.,” since they assumed that outcome would suit Bush best. So, no points for predicting failure always, everywhere, at every step of the way, in a project you opposed from the start.


No doubt everyone has stopped reading by this point. So I'll just add my "ditto" to these remarks from the days of the war itself:

"My own knowledge of the horrors Saddam has perpetrated makes it impossible for me to stand against the coming war, however worried I am about its aftermath. World order is not served by unilateral military action, to which I do object. But world order, human rights and international law are likewise not served by allowing a genocidal monster to remain in power."


"I hold on to the belief that the Baath regime in Iraq has been virtually genocidal (no one talks about the fate of the Marsh Arabs) and that having it removed cannot in the end be a bad thing. That's what I tell anxious parents of our troops over there; it is a noble enterprise to remove the Baath, even if so many other justifications for the war are crumbling."

Juan Cole, in case you're wondering. Before the BDS virus reached his brain.

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