The Washington Times

Let’s go over the possibilities on the question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Their supposed existence constituted the principal legal rationale for going to war [to disarm Saddam in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions] and a major part [but not all] of the strategic case. What would be the implications of failing to turn any up?

If we never find chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, there would seem to be two possible reasons why not: First, they are so well hidden that they are not detectable except to those who hid them and deny having done so; second, they do not exist.

The first possibility doesn’t seem likely to hold forever. It is a perfectly plausible condition to persist for a period of time, as President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seem to think is happening. But sooner or later, something turns up.

The second possibility, no WMD at all, would constitute a huge failure on the part of U.S. intelligence. It is quite clear that top administration policy-makers, including the president, made the decision to go to war on the basis of their conviction that Iraq continued to possess these weapons. There are conspiracy theorists out there who think that key members of the administration never really cared about WMD except as a pretext for getting on with the real project, the wholesale remaking of the Middle East. Now, I’m in favor of working to liberalize the Middle East. But I don’t think lying about why you are going to war advances liberalization. Secretary of State Colin Powell laid out the WMD case at the United Nations because he, like other senior administration officials, believed it.

If the intelligence on a question so fundamental was completely wrong, the conclusion that follows is that administration policy-makers simply do not have the information they need. If true, that’s a disaster waiting to happen. And the only reason it wasn’t a disaster in this instance is that the humanitarian case for removing a brutal dictator as well as the strategic case [the long-term danger he presented] may offer sufficient justification after the fact: given the relative ease of the military victory and its relatively low cost, and given as well a commitment by the United States to ensure a decent successor regime.

There is an intermediate possibility, namely, that Saddam turns out to have minimal biological and chemical weapons stores far fewer that we thought beforehand. That, too, would raise serious questions about intelligence.

But let’s not leap to the conclusion that there are no such weapons, either. Because if there aren’t, there are two very serious puzzles remaining: What happened to them? And why on earth was Saddam Hussein unprepared to be forthcoming with U.N. weapons inspectors?

If Saddam Hussein destroyed the weapons stocks he was thought to possess, why not produce records of having done so, rather than an avalanche of documents indicating evasiveness on the subject? Why restrict inspectors’ access to certain sites? Why not be forthcoming with scientists involved with the program? Why act like you are hiding something if you are not, when a successful demonstration that you are not hiding anything A] ensures that you continue unmolested in power and B] yields a lifting of the sanctions that have been hobbling you?

If Saddam Hussein had no chemical or biological weapons or capability to produce them, then it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he is a fool of the first magnitude.

Some anticipated that Saddam Hussein would use chemical weapons against coalition forces once it became clear that he had nothing to lose. For some, his not having done so is an indirect indication that he may not have had any.

It seems quite clear that the reason Iraq used no chemical weapons is that its forces had none deployed. It’s not enough to posit that no one gave the order because of disrupted command-communications-control links. There were enough Iraqi surrenders that had any chemical weapons been deployed, we would almost certainly have heard.

But again, this is consistent with two possibilities. The first is indeed that there are no such weapons. But the implication is, once again, extreme foolishness on the part of Saddam Hussein.

A second possibility is that whatever stocks exist were well-hidden, in order to avoid detection by weapons inspectors.

So, to sum up, either A] U.S. intelligence was monumentally off the mark and, in addition, Saddam is foolish to the point of allowing himself to be deposed by an occupying army when he could have avoided that outcome easily; or B] Saddam Hussein did a pretty decent job of hiding things he wanted to keep from the people who were looking for them. I think it’s more than a bit tendentious at this point to insist that A is more likely than B.