This post is also available at Leon’s new weblog!
In today’s Guardian, there’s a column by William Shawcross which asserts that Iraq’s WMD programs posed a threat to, well, he doesn’t really say to whom, but they Posed A Threat nonetheless. He quotes the Butler report, which stated, in paragraph 499, that “statements on Iraqi attempts to buy Uranium from Africa in the government’s dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House Of Commons, were well founded.”
It’s interesting to note, however, the paragraph which followed this statement, paragraph 500 in the Butler report: “We also note that, because the intelligence evidence was inconclusive, neither the government’s dossier nor the Prime Minister went on to say that a deal between the governments of Iraq and Niger for the supply had been signed, or uranium shipped.”
He also quotes Charles Duelfer, the Director of Central Intelligence Special Advisor for Strategy regarding Iraqi WMD Programs, who asked “Were weapons hidden that were not readily available? Was there a plan for a break-out production capacity?” What he doesn’t quote is another bit of Duelfer’s testimony to Congress, on March 30 2004: “Let me state at the outset that I do not believe we have sufficient information and insight to make final judgments with confidence at this time.”
Despite pre-war intelligence, says Shawcross, it may be the case that at the time of the invasion, Saddam Hussein did not have reserves of WMD. However, he goes on to assert that, this being the case, it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an Iraqi threat from WMD (that would “trivialise” the issue, he says, though exactly what he means by this is unclear: does he mean that the current lack of WMD is not proof that no WMD exist, or does he mean that any attempt to discuss Iraq’s real or imagined WMD is trivial, and therefore misses the point that Saddam Hussein is a very bad man, which undoubtedly he is?)
Shawcross’s assertion that the lack of WMD at the time of invasion isn’t proof that WMD didn’t exist at all is decent enough logic, as it goes. But when he then says that “intelligence has to look to form” he’s really falling into a logical trap, which assumes that because Saddam Hussein attempted to acquire WMD in the past means that he was still trying to do so in 2003, despite being under surveillance from a multitude of international bodies. “During the Gulf War [i.e. the first Gulf War] he fired 39 missiles into Israel. They had conventional warheads, but they might not have done,” [my emphasis] he says. Yes, and the water balloons that I lobbed into my neighbours’ garden could have been toxic but, y’know, they were just filled with water since I couldn’t get hold of any anthrax.
Shawcross says that “Saddam may not have been an immediate threat” - ignoring the fact that the immediacy of Saddam Hussein’s threat is supposedly why we went to war in the first place - “but he was an inevitable one.”
If Saddam Hussein’s threat was an inevitable one, it’s not a threat which Colin Powell believed in. Talking about the Iraqi threat in 2001, he said that sanctions against Iraq exist “not for the purpose of hurting the Iraqi people, but for the purpose of keeping in check Saddam Hussein’s ambitions toward developing weapons of mass destruction. We should constantly be reviewing our policies, constantly be looking at those sanctions to make sure that they are directed toward that purpose. That purpose is every bit as important now as it was ten years ago when we began it. And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”
Meanwhile, David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group when he gave the following testimony to the CIA in October 2003, said that “Multiple sources with varied access and reliability have told ISG that Iraq did not have a large, ongoing, centrally controlled CW [Chemical Weapons] program after 1991. Information found to date suggests that Iraq’s large-scale capability to develop, produce, and fill new CW munitions was reduced - if not entirely destroyed - during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of UN sanctions and UN inspections.
“We have also acquired information related to Iraq’s CW doctrine and Iraq’s war plans for OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom], but we have not yet found evidence to confirm pre-war reporting that Iraqi military units were prepared to use CW against Coalition forces. Our efforts to collect and exploit intelligence on Iraq’s chemical weapons program have thus far yielded little reliable information on post-1991 CW stocks and CW agent production, although we continue to receive and follow leads related to such stocks. We have multiple reports that Iraq retained CW munitions made prior to 1991, possibly including mustard - a long-lasting chemical agent - but we have to date been unable to locate any such munitions”
So. Saddam Hussein was constrained, his weapons programs were all but destroyed, the supposed WMD he was developing were not an immediate threat. Yet Shawcross says that, “Given all we knew of Saddam by 2003, the conclusion had to be that he still possessed a residual WMD capability.” Those for the war will hope that Shawcross is right. Those against the war will see Shawcross’s supposed evidence as further proof that this war was nothing to do with liberation and everything to do with securing strategic interests.