Politics & Policy

Errors of Mass Destruction

WMD search and accusations.

The Bush administration has made two errors regarding weapons of mass destruction. First, it is now failing to make clear that prior to the war the administration did not have the burden of proving that there were, or were not, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That burden fell on Saddam Hussein. (This simple conclusion should have always been clear to all, since the U.N. inspectors never carried the burden of proof either.)

Since Iraq was known by U.N. inspectors to have had many such weapons until 1998, and since the disposition of these weapons after that time was not known, as by international obligation it ought to have been, the United States had no practical choice but to assume that they were still in existence.

Second, the public has not been made aware of how small a set of objects the U.S. is now looking for. In January, Hans Blix said that, among other things, 8,500 liters of anthrax were unaccounted for. How much space do 8,500 liters occupy? That’s about 45 drums — the size of oil drums — probably spread out in several different hiding places.

If one contemplates how much damage a single teaspoon of anthrax caused in Washington, D.C., when it was spread through the mail in October of 2001, the United States was right to be worried about the enormous damage that a suitcase full of anthrax delivered by a small cell of terrorists might wreak.

That is why our troops in the field are not expecting to find huge warehouses or enormous storage spaces. They are looking for materials that may be hidden in somebody’s basement, behind a false wall, in a space the size of a clothes’ closet.

THREE FURTHER POINTS

After September 11, given the character of Saddam Hussein and the variety of terrorist leaders who took shelter under him in Baghdad, from Abu Nidal to top people of al Qaeda, President Bush had to recognize a clear and worrisome danger. On any day that went by, terrorists seeking biological weapons might offer their clandestine delivery system in exchange for a supply of Saddam’s weapons.

Again, as Stanley Kurtz has pointed out on NRO, several Iraqi villagers recently became ill after they broke into an unguarded nuclear facility at Tuwaitha (the one bombed by the Israelis years ago). In ignorance, they had emptied out barrels containing radioactive materials in order to use them as water containers. The New York Times now laments that these dangerous materials had been left unguarded, and so could have been seized by terrorists intent on manufacturing “an inestimable quantity of so-called dirty bombs.” Here is the New York Times making Bush’s prewar argument!

And, by the way, 1.8 tons of low-enriched uranium counts as a weapon of mass destruction, doesn’t it?

Finally, Democrats in Congress should assemble all the evidence about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction revealed by President Clinton and Vice President Gore right up till they left power in early 2001, and by the U.N. inspection teams both in 1998 and again in 2003. Then they should try to measure any daylight between this evidence and the evidence adduced by President Bush and his team. They may end up pointing fingers at themselves.

— Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael Novak was a Catholic philosopher, journalist, novelist, and diplomat.

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