Thursday, January 13, 2005

WMD hunt fizzles -- War on Terror strategy sound

The Washington Post reports that Charles A. Duelfer's Iraq Survey Group has completed their Weapons of Mass Destruction investigation and left Iraq without finding any of the expected WMD stockpiles.

So what does it mean? Is this a great failure of the United States? Did we lie to the world and murder thousands of innocent people? Absolutely not. The reasons for removing Saddam are fully valid and the strategy is sound.

Yes, one of the justifications has not been proven. But the UN and many countries around the world agreed that Saddam had WMDs. Bizarrely, we were all deceived by Saddam Hussein. We may never know why he chose to do this.

Leftie bloggers Atrios, Kevin Drum, and Kos are gloating. They "knew" it was a big lie all along. Charles notes the event on Little Green Footballs without comment. But his commenters have lots to say.

And Mark at Decision '08 is deeply concerned about the credibility hit this represents:
I firmly believed the WMDs were there, so did the members of the UN Security Council, so did the U.S. Congress, so did Bush - still, they weren't there. We should have known better than to make WMDs the centerpiece of our war argument, in light of the flimsiness of the evidence, when the better argument was the humanitarian, anti-totalitarian one.
But let's look at the record.

Did the President claim Iraq was an imminent threat? No. Did he call out Saddam's human rights abuses? Yes. Here is the President in the 2003 State of the Union address:
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option. (Applause.)

The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages -- leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained -- by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning. (Applause.)

And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country -- your enemy is ruling your country. (Applause.) And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation. (Applause.)
Did the administration articulate other reasons for ousting Saddam, like his ambition for regional domination and his defiance of the UN? Yes. Here is Colin Powell speaking before the UN:
When we confront a regime that harbors ambitions for regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction and provides haven and active support for terrorists, we are not confronting the past, we are confronting the present. And unless we act, we are confronting an even more frightening future.
...
Underlying all that I have said, underlying all the facts and the patterns of behavior that I have identified as Saddam Hussein's contempt for the will of this council, his contempt for the truth and most damning of all, his utter contempt for human life. Saddam Hussein's use of mustard and nerve gas against the Kurds in 1988 was one of the 20th century's most horrible atrocities; 5,000 men, women and children died.
Was the administration choosing the proper moment to act against Saddam? Yes. From the President's ultimatum to Saddam:
We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater. In one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over. With these capabilities, Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies could choose the moment of deadly conflict when they are strongest. We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities.
But Duelfer has repudiated all that, hasn't he? If he didn't have a stockpile, Saddam was harmless right? Wrong. From the key findings of the Duelfer Interim Report:
Throughout the 1990s and up to OIF (March 2003), Saddam focused on one set of objectives: the survival of himself, his Regime, and his legacy. To secure those objectives, Saddam needed to exploit Iraqi oil assets, to portray a strong military capability to deter internal and external threats, and to foster his image as an Arab leader. Saddam recognized that the reconstitution of Iraqi WMD enhanced both his security and image. Consequently, Saddam needed to end UN-imposed sanctions to fulfill his goals.
In 2003 Saddam was collecting billions of dollars through the corrupt UN "Oil for Food" program and he was making progress on eroding the sanctions regime that was in place. If we had not acted then, the UN would probally be arguing now over when, not whether, to lift the sanctions on Saddam.

So the clearest and most factual justification for the war, WMDs, turn out to be absent. But the argument for invasion remains sound.

UPDATE: The end of the WMD hunt leaves Arthur Chrenkoff cold.