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  xFriday, June 20, 2003

yglesias op-ed on wmds


Matthew Yglesias has an op-ed column at Tech Central Station on why it's important to determine the veracity of Bush's prewar claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Saddam Hussein was a very bad man running a very bad regime and I'm not going to shed any tears over its departure from the scene. Nevertheless, as conservatives more than anyone ought to realize, one can't evaluate the merits of a government program by simply looking at whether or not it has accomplished anything good. Rather, one needs to consider whether or not the initiative in question accomplished more good than the available alternatives.

...Invading Iraq had some real benefits, notably in that it promises a better life for those citizens of the country who managed not to get killed by bombs and who survive the current shortage of clean drinking water and the attendant outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. But it also had costs - around two hundred coalition soldiers killed, tens of billions of dollars spent, over one hundred thousand tied down and unavailable for other missions, and an enormous amount of diplomatic capital burned. The question is not whether or not something good was achieved at the expense of these costs, but rather whether or not this was the best deployment of the country's military, financial, and diplomatic assets. The answer, especially in light of recent revelations about the weapons intelligence, is no.

...while Iraq does not have nuclear weapons, North Korea and Pakistan - two countries with appalling proliferation records - do, but the United States has already expended the political and diplomatic resources that could have been used to address the problem. Russia's nuclear arsenal, meanwhile, continues to be poorly maintained and secured and the administration has actually cut funding to programs designed to prevent this arsenal from falling into the hands of terrorists while spending billions to combat Iraq's merely hypothetical arsenal. Afghanistan, famously, is slipping back into anarchy and members of the Taliban and al Qaeda are regrouping away from the desultory Karzai government's capital in Kabul. So from the point of view of American security is it a good thing that Saddam Hussein is gone?

Go read the whole thing. CalPundit offers some additional commentary, and yours truly chimes in on the comment thread (noting, among other things, that if Saddam had chemical and biological weapons, he was deterred from using them; a point I've been making all along.

By the way, I realize the acronym "weapons of mass destruction" is hardly applicable to Iraq's capability; some have claimed that it's intended to dishonestly conflate chemical and biological weapons (which are weapons of area denial, hideously inefficient, dangerous to handle and transport, and have a short shelf life) with nuclear weapons (which are tiny in proportion to their destructive power, can lay waste to entire cities, are easily transportable by an industrialized nation and can be stored for long periods). Frankly, though, although "CBR" (chemical, biological, and radiological -- i.e., radioactive waste and the like is more accurate, also less familiar. I'm going to concede, with some grumbling, that WMD is the accepted shorthand, with the proviso that we aren't even close to talking about the Godzilla of WMDs, nuclear weapons, with regard to Iraq. That case was known to be bogus long before the war stared.

Update: South Knox Bubba has a great list of related links indicating that the so-called "liberal media" is beginning to wake up to Bush's dissembling, and comments, "This is far more serious than a third-rate burglary of a political party headquarters or a stained blue dress. The implications for the U.S. Presidency, the balance of government power, and American credibility and respect around the world are far reaching. I really hope the people of American and other free nations value their freedoms enough to demand truth and accountability from the leaders they have chosen to govern them."

Hey, that's all I'm asking here.

And Joshua Marshall points out, "[T]here really is no new debate or new scandal. It's really more that it's suddenly become acceptable to discuss what everyone knew for the last year or so: that is, that the administration was willfully misrepresenting the evidence both on WMD and a purported link to al Qaida."

For the record, many of us were pointing that out -- or at the very least demanding not to simply take Bush at his word -- for the last year at least.





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