Paul Craddick has now added a fourth part to the"Rethinking Iraq" series in which he's been reviewing diverse controversies - subjects of heated discussion especially over the Summer - associated with the war in Iraq. The latest entry concerns WMDs and the familiar arguments put forward by war opponents that the failure to turn up large WMD stockpiles exposes the entirety of the Bush Administration's case for war as false, even criminal. After examining the evidence, Paul reaches the following conclusion:
In light of the preponderance of informed opinion which before the war held that Iraq had not disarmed (entailing both infrastructure and extant weapons), and in light of the fact that infrastructural elements are now coming to light, it seems to me that it is still eminently reasonable to assume that Iraq did indeed have stockpiles of WMD which have so far eluded us – either through being hidden/moved, or destroyed. In any event, nothing yet has emerged – by a longshot – to establish that the war was/is fraudulent on its own terms.
Of course, many of us, including Paul, have argued further that there were multiple justifications for the war, of which the possible existence of deliverable WMDs in Iraq was merely the most frightening, but very few observers, it seems to me, have come up with reasonable responses to certain obvious questions. Paul's conclusions do not rest on any definitive answers to the WMD mysteries, but I have long thought (much of this post was in fact written several months ago) that the questions can be answered reasonably, even if we assume for sake of argument that the state of evidence never progresses far beyond what we currently possess.
1) If Saddam did not possess a WMD capability, why didn't he comply fully with UN inspections resolutions, and thus avoid war?
Even if Saddam had had all or most of his WMDs and WMD equipment destroyed, there are several reasons why he wouldn't want to comply with inspections: The aim of the inspections was not to discover hidden WMDs; the aim was to verify full disarmament or declare non-compliance with disarmament requirements. As Hans Blix himself confirmed, Iraq never offered more than isolated, piecemeal cooperation on matters of substance, and instead focused on stringing the inspectors along by offering superficial procedural cooperation.
Total cooperation would have required, among other things, full access to all elements of Iraq's WMD programs, including technicians and scientists, and all dual use equipment, alongside a full accounting. Saddam never came close to providing this. To do so would have exposed and confirmed his past deceptions - both known ones and new ones - and would have inevitably have added impetus to ever more intrusive and comprehensive efforts.
The end result would have been either real, complete disarmament, including the eradication of Saddam's ability ever to reconstitute the program, or confrontation. Saddam was unwilling to allow the former to occur, and instead hoped to delay and manage the latter - as he had successfully done in the past. Additionally, maintaining uncertainty about his WMD capacities served purposes of its own in managing external and internal threats, and refusing to give in on this (or virtually any) issue served his image as "the one who doesn't back down," which was fundamental to his political effectiveness and aspirations.
2) If Saddam possessed a WMD capability, why didn't he use it?
At no point did Saddam have any reason to believe that what WMD capacity he preserved would be of high military utility on the battlefield. WMDs of the type Saddam possessed even at the height of his military power are difficult to use effectively against a well-prepared, highly mobile force. Additionally, the moment that a single WMD was used, or even discovered in a position where it could be used, his political strategy - which became even more important once hostilities had actually begun - would have collapsed. (Even France had stated publically that WMD use would cause it to reverse its opposition to the war.)
Nor is there any reason to believe that this political strategy was ever abandoned, up to and including the US invasion, and even the present day. To us, Saddam's defeat seemed inevitable, but it may not have seemed that way to Saddam. Even at this late date, we have no reason to believe that Saddam has admitted defeat. Both he and the Iraqi people - including WMD scientists and WMD program officials - may still believe that a Baathist insurgency and other difficulties of occupation may sooner or later force a US withdrawal, and provide him (or his allies) with a chance to re-gain authority - if not over the entire country in the near term, then at least over a secure base of operations. He may even believe that he's re-gained momentum.
As for the WMDs themselves, I still tend to suspect that there are WMD materials and possibly even some real WMDs somewhere in Iraq, and that some items may have been successfully moved out of the country, but that the old WMD artillery shells and the like were probably destroyed or discarded, and that any quantities of precursor chem/bio materials are probably much smaller now than when originally observed by the UN. As has frequently been pointed out by David Kay and others, it's also worth keeping in mind that even x-thousand liters of one or another toxin requires only a few tens of barrels for storage, and that a much, much smaller amount is sufficient for re-starting the manufacturing process over again, especially if the "intellectual capacity" has been preserved.
Saddam knew this last point well. He was much smarter and more knowledgeable about and more experienced with WMDs - how they're made and how they're used militarily and politically - than, say, most Bush Administration opponents, and, it's fair to say, probably than a lot of Bush Administration operatives and allies as well.