Recent diplomatic and legislative gyrations over whether U.S. soldiers or U.N. inspectors will invade Iraq have been nothing less than dizzying. Amid this swirl of activity, one easily could forget what is at stake: the neutralization of Saddam Hussein’s current or potential capacity to exterminate human beings in numbers exceeding four, five, or even six digits.
The term “weapons of mass destruction” has been echoed to the point of cliché. Britain’s steadfast prime minister, Tony Blair, believes “word fatigue” has set in. As he reminded trade unionists September 10, these armaments “can cause hurt and agony on a mass scale beyond the comprehension of most decent people.”
In his stirring speech from Ellis Island the next evening, President Bush discussed “weapons of mass murder.” This phrase, which I have promoted since last July, is far more gripping than the bloodless “weapons of mass destruction.” America’s enemies do not wish to demolish vacant parking structures at 4:30 A.M. They want to turn thousands of Americans and our friends into corpses — preferably in broad daylight. Retiring the now hackneyed “WMD” and detailing the dangers of weapons of mass murder should help nervous members of Congress and invertebrate foreign leaders understand the importance of pacifying Iraq.
What, specifically, would such weapons do? The Bush administration vaguely discusses the unholy trinity of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Defense scholars aside, most people have no clue how such devices could affect their lives.
Dexter Ingram, a threat-assessment analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., ponders doomsday scenarios for a living. While a U.S. Navy flight officer, he managed nuclear contingency plans. Today, he uses the Consequence Assessment Tool Set to forecast the havoc that weapons of mass murder could unleash anywhere on the globe. “As far as we know, we’re the only civilians who have it,” Ingram says. “We use it to brief members of Congress.”
CATS generates conservative estimates. This non-classified Pentagon computer model predicts only the number of 18- to 25-year-old males who such weapons would affect. This is neither ageist nor sexist. “It’s a military model designed for combat use,” Ingram explains, “and those are the types of people who will be on the front lines, for the most part.” Add females to males below 17 and above 26, and casualty figures climb.
I asked Ingram to envision a VX nerve-gas attack on San Francisco. CATS’ default scenario assumes that an aircraft, perhaps a crop-duster, sprays 264 pounds of this chemical weapon over the city while people are home. At least 530 previously described men would be killed. People outside that demographic would boost the death toll, as would an assault at rush hour or on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Symptoms include nightmares, salivation, vomiting, involuntary urination and respiratory failure.
What if airborne terrorists exposed Chicago to 440 pounds of botulinum toxin, “the single most poisonous substance known,” according to the Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies? Conservatively, some 22,000 such males would be killed, along with many others. This biological weapon produces slurred speech, double vision, gastrointestinal distress, muscle paralysis and respiratory arrest.
Even worse, consider the detonation in Berlin of a three kiloton atomic device — like one of those “suitcase nukes” that vanished as the Soviet Union unraveled. At least 150,00 designated males would be killed. Over 100,000 more would suffer non-lethal radiation sickness, although cancer would strike many of them later. Birth defects also would harm their future children. Other Berliners would suffer and die in similar numbers.
How does this concern Saddam Hussein? More than just a megalomaniac who fires shotguns from his balcony, he works not with models but with the real deal. He pays the families of West Bank homicide bombers bonuses of $25,000 each. Czech prime minister Milos Zeman and interior minister Stanislav Gross insist that 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta met in April 2001 with Iraqi embassy intelligence agent Ahmed Al-Ani in Prague. Between March 16 -18, 1988, Hussein aerially bombarded Kurds in Halabja, Iraq. Mustard gas, nerve gas and cyanide killed more than 6,000, Amnesty International concluded. (The administration should educate the world on this chemical raid by bringing survivors of the onslaught to the White House to discuss their experiences and subsequent ailments. In some cases, victims say, these have included coughing up blood every morning.)
During the Gulf War — journalists Tom Mangold and Jeff Goldberg report in their book, Plague Wars: the Terrifying Reality of Biological Warfare — Hussein possessed 100 bombs, 16 Scud warheads, and several 122-mm rockets, all filled with botulinum toxin.
As for nuclear weapons, John Chapman, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said September 9 that if the dictator who already has invaded Iran and Kuwait “were able to obtain fissile material from abroad, steal it or buy it some way, we certainly believe he has the ability to put together a nuclear weapon very quickly, in a matter of months.” Remember, Hussein already has fired Scuds at Bahrain, Iran, Israel, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
America and its allies could wait and see what Saddam Hussein does next. But inaction has its costs. As national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice crisply states: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”