In his 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush listed the following among his reasons for invading Iraq: “25,000 liters of anthrax … 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin … materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent … upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents … several mobile biological weapons labs … ” – all cited as parts of Saddam Hussein’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
If Bush’s administration had ever managed to prove that Saddam was indeed getting his blood-soaked hands on such chemicals and equipment, it would have proved – as Vice President Cheney also argued during the run-up to war – that US and international export controls were incapable of keeping bad stuff from bad people.
As it happened, of course, the neocons never proved any of that. Syria’s apparent ability to develop chemical weapons may support Cheney’s point (a matter I will address in a forthcoming post); but as a toiler in the fields of export control, I have always thought the neocons were particularly graceless for their refusal to admit that export controls might have actually worked in an arena that they themselves nominated as the test case.
But that’s all water under the bridge. What isn’t old news is a crushing indictment in Wednesday’s New York Times, detailing how US forces did indeed find a few thousand chemical warfare agents in Iraq. As The Times reported, however:
- what soldiers found were forgotten remnants of decades-old (and long-discontinued) programs, “designed in the US, manufactured in Europe and assembled in Iraq in production lines built in Iraq by Western firms” – for Saddam’s use against our then fiend-du-jour, Islamist Iran; and
- the Pentagon (Obama’s, like Bush’s) has steadfastly refused to disclose these chemical agents’ existence – even to military doctors treating soldiers unwittingly exposed to their still toxic effects – because the age of the found agents fits Iraq-War critics’ counter-narrative, that Saddam had long-since abandoned his chemical weapons program.
Bottom Line 1, then: Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, the neocon’s did not know what they stoutly professed to know; and when they learned what they didn’t want to hear, they pretended not to know – at the expense of soldiers whose sacrifice they purport to honor.
Bottom Line 2: When we wink-away our principles and treaty obligations in support of short-run goals (helping proxies like Saddam to target Iranian troops for sarin gas attacks; using torture to fight Al Qaeda), we cede the high ground to thugs who argue – too often with evidence – that our arms- and terrorism-control efforts are cynical attempts, based on calculated lies, to advance our own narrow interests.