This op-ed by the Cato Institute's Gene Healy was on the Fox News Web site, of all places. It's spot-on in its observation that the argument is not whether Iraq has any chemical or biological weapons at all -- it's about whether Bush had the evidence he claimed to back up his prewar assertions. This article is, frankly, astonishing, but it's reassuring to discover that there are still principled conservatives out there (definition, for the purposes of this post: that a president is not justified in going to war on false pretenses -- a premise that should be universal, and is rather almost universally rejected by many conservatives, at least in the blogosphere).
Some war critics can barely contain their glee about the missing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But they may be setting themselves up for a fall. As the Bush administration constantly reminds us, Iraq is a big country, and the weapons may yet turn up. If they do, does that mean the administration is vindicated?
Hardly. The focus on missing weapons threatens to obscure the larger point: that with or without chemical and biological weapons, Iraq was never a national security threat to the United States.
The proposition that Saddam Hussein was willing to hand over weapons of mass destruction to terrorists appears to have been based on sheer speculation, and implausible speculation at that. Despite over 20 years of supporting terror against Israel, Saddam never turned over chemical or biological weapons to Palestinian terror groups, reasoning, correctly, that such action would provoke massive retaliation. Still less was he likely to hand over such weapons to Al Qaeda, a group that has long opposed his "socialist infidel" rule and could not be trusted to keep the deal secret.
Moreover, Al Qaeda's behavior suggests that they never expected Saddam to give them chemical or biological weapons. Computer hard drives and paper documents seized in the March 1 capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a top-level Al Qaeda operative, reveal that the terror group had extensive plans to produce chemical and biological agents on its own.
As the Washington Post reported on March 23, the documents show that Al Qaeda had recruited competent scientists and extensively mapped out its plans for anthrax production. If access to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was a real possibility, why would Al Qaeda go to such lengths to produce its own?
And even if one believed the administration's assertions that Saddam might risk destroying his regime by giving Al Qaeda weapons of mass destruction, it was obvious that a war aimed at overthrowing Saddam would greatly increase the chances of those weapons ending up in Al Qaeda's hands.
What possible disincentive could the Iraqi dictator have to transferring his arsenal to terrorists, once regime change was underway and he had nothing left to lose? How could the administration ensure that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction would not be "privatized" and sold to the highest bidder in the chaos accompanying the collapse of the Baathist regime?
In fact, components for a "dirty bomb" may already be in the wrong hands. A large nuclear-material storage facility at Al Tuwaitha, south of Baghdad, was looted in the days following the war, and International Atomic Energy Agency officials fear that terrorists could make radiological bombs with the isotopes that have gone missing. What other dangerous materials or proscribed weapons have we lost track of in a "country the size of California"?
Sometime in the coming months, U.S. forces may well happen upon some VX canisters or anthrax stockpiles, and the administration will breathe a sigh of relief. Such a discovery may change the media's focus, but it can't change the facts: This war did not avert a serious threat to the United States. Instead, it may have created new ones.
Note, for starters, that Healy rejects the Administration's speculations that Saddam might give al Qaeda some nerve gas or biotoxins. Of course, his article seems to assume that Iraq had the capability Bush claimed. If it did, it's alarming indeed that whatever weapons Saddam may have had haven't been found -- if Bush's coveted war, touted as essential to keep deadly weapons from terrorists, instead enabled them to obtain some, it's a truly mind-bending level of malfeasance.
But the central point remains: Belated discoveries of some rusty barrels of mustard gas will not retroactively vindicate Bush, and it's important to be prepared for claims that it does -- "see, we were right, Iraq did have WMDs!" Bush never proposed going to war to see if Iraq had WMDs; he insisted going to war immediately, despite the resumption of inspections, was essential to protect national security from the imminent threat of weapons he said he had proof of.
It's quite simple...we went to war on the basis of Bush's assertions on occasions like this year's State of the Union that Iraq posed a threat. I've already pointed out that Bush is often careful not to make statements that are provably false. But the question is, can Bush prove, now that we've conquered Iraq -- at the cost of American lives and treasure, not to mention the lives of Iraqi civilians, including children -- can Bush prove right now that his statements were justified? Obviously, he can't -- and by parsing his statements, he's proved that he knows it.
Bush lied. And people died.
(via an open thread at Daily Kos)