Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saddam Hussein and the WMD issue

On the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, local progressives are congratulating themselves for opposing that war. One of the District 5 candidates for supervisor, Andrew Resignato, in Fog City:

I never bought the idea that Saddam was a threat any more than he had been over the past 20 years. I never believed that 9/11 had changed the context. I was never fooled into thinking that we were interested in freeing the Iraqi people or even finding ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ I saw the invasion for what it was: a neoconservative, geopolitical chess move; an opportunity for the United States to gain strategic control over a country with the largest reserves of untapped oil. We were being lied to about the reasons for the war, its prospective costs, or that there was even a plan to win the peace after the invasion.

Resignato is right that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11; that argument wasn't convincing to justify invading Iraq. But the weapons of mass destruction threat from Iraq was serious, since Iraq had in fact used chemical weapons in the war with Iran and against the Kurds. President Bush's CIA head, George Tenet, told him it was a "slam dunk" that Iraq had WMD, though Tenet has tried to backtrack on the quote since.

The Bay Guardian's Tim Redmond: "We were right about the Iraq war and they were wrong." The war in Iraq may be the only thing Redmond got right in the last ten years:

Ten years ago, we shut San Francisco down...When George W. Bush gave the order to launch the invasion of Iraq, so many protesters hit the streets that it was impossible to do business. Market Street was closed. Tens of thousands of people didn't go to work. Some 2,300 people were arrested, held in warehouses at the piers because there was no way to fit them in the county jail. It was an exhilarating week (although I spent much of it trying to get my reporters out of the clink; the SFPD wasn't paying much attention to press passes in the massive sweeps). It was a statement of how overwhelmingly this city was opposed to Bush's War. It was repeated in smaller versions all over the country. And it didn't matter. Rep. Nancy Pelosi not only missed the antiwar rallies, she criticized us for costing the city money.

Pelosi in fact opposed the invasion of Iraq. Like Resignato, Redmond mentions the cost to the city of the demonstrations---between $4 million and $10 million, depending on how you calculate. Pelosi had a point. How San Francisco felt about the war was surely the last thing on President Bush's mind, and of course "shutting down" San Francisco only wasted a lot of money and gratified the egos of people like Resignato and Redmond. Take that, wicked US imperialism!

And now we know the truth. It's hard to find a single credible person who argues that the Iraq War was a good idea. After nearly $2 trillion dollars wasted, 4,300 US soldiers dead, and at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed, nothing of value has been achieved. The new Iraq is not a reliable US ally in the Middle East. That nation is not stabilized; in fact, it's headed for civil war. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

But no one at the time really knew whether Iraq had WMD. Nuclear weapons were unlikely, since an industrial size operation like that would have been spotted by U2 planes. After Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq and created an inspection regime to force Iraq to get rid of its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. 

Since the UN inspectors of the United Nations Special Commission---"UNSCOM"---were locked out of Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1998, there was little reliable evidence of what Iraq was or was not doing until shortly before the invasion in 2003, and those inspections were cut short by the Bush administration, which was clearly determined to invade Iraq. (see Richard Butler's book on his experience as head of UNSCOM; he tells how Iraq consistently hindered the inspectors from doing the job.)

Butler in 1999:

First of all, the fundamental legal requirement was for Iraq to tell the truth and to comply with the law. It never did. Never. You look at [former UNSCOM Chairman Rolf] Ekeus' reports and mine over the last nine years. It never did. What is more, through a major defection of Hussein Kamel in 1995 and some others, it became clear that Iraq had been playing an elaborate shell game with UNSCOM, a game to conceal weapons, the full extent of which is probably still not known.

What was even more disturbing was how incompetently the Bush administation handled things in Iraq after the invasion. James Fallows summed up both the pre-invasion and the post-invasion bungling in Blind into Baghdad in the Atlantic magazine.

Jonathan Chait, among other supporters of the war, has done some soul-searching:

Since it’s Iraq War mea culpa week, I ought to fess up for those readers who didn’t follow me ten years ago and admit that I supported the war. I was wrong about it. But the conclusions I’ve drawn from the episode are not the conclusions many other liberals have drawn. Since I am asked about this periodically, I should explain why.

Unlike, say, David Frum or Andrew Sullivan[Actually, Peter Beinart], I can’t claim to have been freaked out by 9/11. I can’t even claim to have been carried away by enthusiasm for the project of democratizing Iraq. The argument I made at the time was more prosaic. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the United States and its allies forced Iraq to promise, among other things, to submit to United Nations inspections to verify that it had vacated its unconventional weapons and was not building more of them (especially nuclear weapons). Iraq never fully complied with these terms. Over more than a decade, Saddam Hussein vacillated between complying with some of the terms and complying with none of them. (Richard Butler, the U.N. chief weapons inspector, was among many of those who testified about Iraq’s years of noncompliance.) I followed this throughout the nineties frustrated at Saddam’s ability to evade full compliance for so many years...

Looking back, I have several regrets. We now know that Iraq no longer had any unconventional weapons program. Over the years, this has come to be seen as retrospectively obvious. It was not. While the Bush administration deliberately twisted and overhyped evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the legitimate evidence did show, albeit less dramatically than the administration said, that Iraq had active unconventional weapons programs. This was the judgment of fellow Western intelligence agencies. It was also a logical inference from Saddam Hussein’s refusal to fully comply with U.N. demands even after threatened with invasion. (That Iraq refused full compliance was documented at the time by Hans Blix, Butler’s successor, but this has largely been brushed aside in the retrospective critique.)...

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