Yesterday the New York Times published a major scoop: American troops had uncovered chemical weapons during the Iraq war, and on at least six occasions were injured by chemical agents. The government then frantically tried to conceal the WMDs, keeping the information classified and, in some cases, denying soldiers care for chemical-related injuries.
There are plenty of conclusions to draw from the Times story.
That the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq is vindicated is not one of them.
The Times reports that many of the chemical weapons were empty, most were unusable, and all were manufactured before 1991. This fits with the current wisdom that Saddam Hussein abandoned his chemical weapons program after the First Gulf War.
As the Times concludes, “The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.”
Still that hasn’t stopped many conservatives from engaging in a little hackneyed told-you-so. “Put that ‘Bush lied, kids died’ in your pipes and smoke it!!!” went today’s typical Tweet.
Over at the Ace of Spades blog, Gabriel Malor offers a more thoughtful response. “This NYTimes piece has an overarching political goal: to cement forever the lie that the Iraq War was directed solely at stopping an active weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq,” Malor argues, when the war’s real intent was “finding Hussein’s old weapons and deterring his hope to once again restart his weapons programs.”
It is true that the Bush administration never used the term “active weapons of mass destruction program.” It just muddied the waters to make it sound like Iraq was feverishly pursuing WMDs when it wasn’t.
In 2002 President Bush gave a speech in Cincinnati where he presented the evidence for an invasion of Iraq. “Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons of mass destruction,” Bush declared. However: “The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.”
Bush was more delicate when he made his case to the United Nations, but he still dismissed the notion that Iraq had abandoned its WMD program: “We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in the country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left?”
Then there was Colin Powell’s infamous address to the UN Security Council. “Indeed, the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction,” Powell declared at the outset. Saddam was “no doubt” pursuing biological weapons, “has no compunction” about using chemical weapons, and “is determined to get his hands on” nuclear weapons.
“We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction; he’s determined to make more,” Powell concluded.
The common denominator in all these speeches was urgency. The argument deployed by the Bush administration wasn’t just that Saddam Hussein had preexisting weapons of mass destruction, but that inevitably more would come off the conveyor belt, and soon enough to require immediate action. None of this is corroborated by a stock of chemical weapons that were mothballed and put in storage long ago.
Also not corroborated are countless other claims about WMDs that turned out not to be true. There were the aluminum tubes that Iraq supposedly obtained for use in enriching uranium, which weapons inspectors later determined were for artillery shells. There were the mobile biological weapons labs, information on which came from a source named “Curveball” who later admitted that he made it all up. There was the sale of yellowcake uranium to Iraq from Niger, which was a fiction based on forged documents.
And there was Hussein Kamal, an Iraqi official who had supervised the WMD program and later defected. War supporters touted Kamal’s testimony, but in fact Kamal claimed in 1995 that he had ordered the destruction of every biological, chemical, and nuclear weapon under Saddam’s control. “Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction,” he flatly told CNN.
Kamal apparently wasn’t thorough enough, which led to our troops finding those moldering chemical agents. And those agents should concern us: the Times reports that ISIS controls the sites where many of the weapons were left and recently used chemicals to attack the Kurds.
President Bush said we needed to depose Saddam Hussein because otherwise jihadists would be supplied with WMDs. Now jihadists have been supplied with WMDs thanks to the fact that we deposed Saddam Hussein.
It isn’t Bush who’s been vindicated; it’s those who worried about the ever-present unintended consequences of war.