WMD, or the Risk of WMD?

Calpundit revisits the case for war, and finds it wanting. (Before you suggest that he’s the only liberal that I read, I’ll note that in times of limited blog-time, I tend to read only four blogs: Calpundit, Crooked Timber, Instapundit, and the Volokh Conspiracy. There are a lot of other good ones that I read [go check out my slightly-stale blogroll at Armed Liberal to get a sense of who], but time’s kinda short right now.)

Kevin lists the three legs of Bush’s arguments in favor of invasion, and proceeds to challenge each one, focusing on the WMD – which to my more dovish friends are the sole legitimate causus belli.

He concludes with Bush’s quote about Saddam’s intent to acquire WMD, and then asks:

The possibility that he could acquire weapons. Remember that. For better or worse, that’s what’s left of the public rationale for going to war.

Was it a good enough reason? Your call. But I wonder how strong the support for war would have been if Bush had said that back in January

Sorry, Kevin. Gotta disagree.

I’ll toss a quick question to Kevin and Kos and some of the others who share those views:

If we’d found WMD or real proto-WMD by now, would your position be different? Would the invasion have been wholly legitimate?

Answer honestly now…Now, personally, I don’t believe that WMD were the sole justification to invade. There are a host of broader issues (some of which Bush is handling well, some extremely badly).

But there’s a pretty serious problem with even this narrow argument being made by Calpundit.

Let me make a simplified model to make my point, in an area where I have some knowledge and direct experience, and which scales nicely, I believe.

The nightmare scenario for a police officer to be confronted by someone with a realistic-seeming toy gun. I have never bought my sons real-looking guns, not even chrome cap guns that look like six-guns. That’s for two reasons; first I didn’t want them, at a young age when children have an imperfectly-formed sense of the real, to ever possibly confuse a real gun for a toy one. And I didn’t want a police offer or armed citizen to ever confuse a child brandishing a toy gun for someone who presented a real threat.

We had such a case here in Los Angeles recently. The police were called to a loud party, and one officer, walking alongside the house, suddenly saw someone holding an extremely realistic prop gun – one so realistic that prop houses control access to them. The specific sequence of events is subject to some dispute, but the result wasn’t: officer opened fire with his very real gun and killed the innocent (but to my mind, foolish) partygoer.

The officer was investigated, and not criminally charged. The family sued, and the city settled for $225,000 – a relatively low amount in use-of-force cases.

Why?

Because the officer – and more important, any reasonable person in that position – perceived Anthony Dwain Lee as a mortal threat. In the limited time he had to make a decision, he made one – in this case, unequivocally the wrong one.

But it was one that most reasonable people in his position, with his training, and with his information would have made.

Now personally, I believe that police training places too great an emphasis on ‘shoot first’. I’ve argued passionately with police friends about it, and that’s a subject for another post.

Was the officer wrong to do what he did?

In the light of all the facts that we have on hand now, obviously yes. In the .4 seconds he had to make up his mind and act, however, his superiors and the courts didn’t believe that he was. While they might draw lessons learned about it – and I’d argue that they should – the notion that his shooting was somehow malign never arises in most people. They can distinguish between deliberate or careless error, and error that comes from incomplete or inaccurate information. And the standard used is typically “what would a similarly situated, trained, and informed reasonable person have done?”

You see where I’m going with this…

Similarly, let’s go to the record of how both parties felt about Saddam’s state of readiness before April 2003. I could dig like mad for quotes from Daschle and other leading Democrats, but let’s go with the Big 3:

Madeline Albright, in 1999:

“Saddam Hussein had been acquiring weapons of mass destruction. We carried out with the help of an alliance, a war [Desert Storm], in which we put Saddam Hussein back into his box. The United Nations voted on a set of resolutions, which demanded Saddam Hussein live up to his obligations and get rid of weapons of mass destruction.

“The United Nations Security Council imposed a set of sanctions on Saddam Hussein until he did that. It also established an organization that is set up to monitor whether Hussein had gotten rid of his weapons of mass destruction.

“There has never been an embargo against food and medicine. It’s just that Hussein has just not chosen to spend his money on that. Instead, he has chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction, and palaces for his cronies.”

Sandy Berger, in 1998:

Berger sought to frame the dispute in broad, strategic terms. He said the world could not afford to allow Iraq to flout the will of the international community.

“The lesson of the 20th century is, and we’ve learned through harsh experience, the only answer to aggression and outlaw behavior is firmness,” Berger said.

“He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has 10 times since 1983,” Berger said.

President Clinton, in 1998:

“Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons,” Clinton said in a December 16 statement from the White House.

These are the ones I could Google. There are a bunch more collected at http://www.nowanow.com/wmds.htm.

I list these, not to try and parse the blame for whatever faulty intelligence there may have been between Republicans and Democrats; I say it because reasonable, smart, well-informed people other than those in the Bush Administration believed that Saddam had WMD, and was willing to use them.

And so to look at the decision made to invade, we have to look not in the light of the perfect information of hindsight, but in the context of the imperfect information available – to the question of whether it was a toy gun or a real Desert Eagle.

There are absolutely legitimate questions to ask about the quality of our intelligence about Iraq – from before the first Gulf War until today. There are absolutely legitimate questions to ask about whether an invasion was the appropriate response to the risk of WMD.

But those aren’t the questions we’re asking.

And before we do, let’s step further into the reality of the pre-invasion world, and move away from an Anthony Dwain Lee innocently holding a prop, standing at a party, and to Alan Newsome:

Alan Newsome never thought his BB gun would kill anyone. When he brandished it in the hallway of his Harlem apartment building, it was just something to help scare some cash out of a burger joint deliveryman. But the deliveryman turned out to be a cop, and when Newsome pulled the fake gun, the cop’s partner shot the 17-year-old three times in the chest, killing him.

The threat posed by Newsome – brandishing a realistic looking pellet gun – was one that any reasonable person would have responded to with deadly force.

Saddam may have thought he had WMD because his staff lied to him. He may have thought he could use the empty threat to bluff.

But the fact of his behavior moves him from the Lee category to that of Newsome.

58 thoughts on “WMD, or the Risk of WMD?”

  1. I can’t speak for Calpundit, but speaking for myself, if we had found WMD in any non-trivial quantity, I would say the war was justified. If we find any, even less likely now that David Kay is asking to go home, I have a lot of crow to eat, although why I should be more apologetic than those who insisted we would find WMD by now escapes me. And I was much more opposed to the war than Calpundit.

    I found Bush’s refusal to credit the UN inspector’s abilities to find WMD, if any remained, and our refusal to re-evaluate the craptelligence we got from Chalabi & Friends even when our tips to the inspectors all turned out completely wrong indicated that Bush didn’t take the WMD argument seriously. It was obvious to me that there may have been many reasons for the war (glory, magical democratic transformation of the Middle East, favor to Ariel Sharon, split the Democratic Party in twain), but that genuine fear of an Iraqi attack (as offered to Congress in secret) was not one of them.

    What we’re left with, as has been obvious for months, is a war of choice that for political reasons was sold, with falsehoods, as a war of necessity. The necessity has evaporated. All we’re left with is Bush pointing out Saddam desired weapons, which as I remarked elsewhere, is like 50 million American women filing for divorce because their husbands desire Paris Hilton.

    (Are all those 1998 quotes from before we bombed Saddam’s CW labs?)

  2. Andrew assumes, wrongly, that WMD was the only jusitification…blythely ignoring ceasefire agreements broken, resolutions unadhered to.

    Regarding the inspections and our refusal…the most recent resolutions put THE RESPONSIBILITY TO DISCLOSE WEAPONS IN SADDAM’S LAP.

    It was SH’s responsibility to reveal, not the inspectors’ responsibility to traipse endlessly through the sandy countryside looking for weapons. Just because Andrew don’t have a problem shifting responsibility doesn’t mean everyone else sees it that way. At the rate it was going, SH could endlessly shift responsibility and Blix would still be playing a shell game with Saddam.

    I prefer the analogy I gave my coworker…using an old cowboy western scenario.

    The cowboy in black and the cowboy in white confront each other. White hat has every reason to believe black hat will kill him given the opportunity. Black hat seems to be on the verge of pulling out his gun but he drops it. What would white hat do?

    Unless he’s a fool, he’d shoot black hat.

    CBK

  3. I would also emphasize that it is not “WMD” per se, but rather the “threat of WMD”. You cannot call intelligence faulty even if it proves mistaken. It might nevertheless be based on reasonable inferences from imperfect information (as well as the consensus view), which is sometimes exactly what is expected from intelligence.

    I like the toy gun analogy. Another example would be if North Korea started threatening to bomb Japan with a nuclear strike. Imagine that, based on such threats, the U.S. decided to bomb North Korean nuclear facilities (or even invade the country if necessary), resulting in thousands of deaths, only to find that the North Koreans in fact possessed no nuclear weapons. Would that be an intelligence failure or another case of Bush lied? Of course not. It may have been the most prudent course of action.

  4. Another example would be if North Korea started threatening to bomb Japan with a nuclear strike.

    Except North Korea is brandishing its nukes and Saddam was denying owning any (correctly). The analogy is totally inapt, and ignores that by the time we launched the war, the UN inspectors were making real progress. How, exactly, Saddam was to “reveal” weapons to them he did not possess is an amazing conundrum.

    Andrew assumes, wrongly, that WMD was the only jusitification…blythely ignoring ceasefire agreements broken, resolutions unadhered to.

    Did you read what I wrote? I said “[T]here may have been many reasons for the war (glory, magical democratic transformation of the Middle East, favor to Ariel Sharon, split the Democratic Party in twain)”. I should add punishing Saddam for disregard of UN resolutions to the list, but given the fact that he wasn’t guilty, as far as we can determine, of even one of the acts Colin Powell accused him of in the February speech to the UN, I find this claim rather overblown as well.

    I’ve seem another blogger remark that the outcome today is like fighting the American Civil War and discovering afterwards there was no Southern slavery.

  5. Yeah, I read it.

    “May have been” does not equal “were”

    And your paranthetical examples are laughable!

    Yeah, it was all a diabolical plot to smash the democratic party to smithereens! The fact that we could renew our glory and help good old Ariel out only makes this plot that much more delicious!

    BWWWAAAHHHAAHAHAHA!

    It was up to Saddam to prove his innocence.

    What good is an international body, in the face of such threats, if it can’t act upon its own resolutions? The US gave the UN an opportunity to develope some spine in the face of potential world threats. The UN failed miserably.

    And, since it seems clear you haven’t really read any of those resolutions or the cease fire agreement, I feel obliged to tell you that it was Saddam’s place to prove this and has been for years. This didn’t just sprout up with Powell’s last address to that august body. You know, they are all online. They may take longer to read than silly analogies about the Civil War, but they are a record of history and applicable in this discussion.

    The inspectors were to help Saddam document the destruction of known weapons. Clinton’s attacks did nothing to cause adherence to the resolutions that were and are in place.

    CBK

  6. The analogy’s broken. Saddam Hussein didn’t have a fake a weapon, and didn’t brandish one. The argument that he meant the West to think he had one rests on non-cooperation with the inspections not on fakery.

    If you want a cop story analogy, it would be about a search warrant not a fake gun.

    Western Civilization’s Finest [outside apartment]: OK, we know you’ve got a gun in there, and we’ve got a UN search warrant.

    Voice of Arab Dirtball [from inside apartment]: I haven’t got a gun.

    WCF: Open the door or die.

    [Door opens.]

    ADB: See, no gun.

    WCF: It’s not our job to find it, it’s yours to tell us where you’ve hidden it.

    ADB: I haven’t got a gun.

    WCF: Give now or die.

    ADB: I haven’t got a . . .

    [BANG. WCF searches apartment.]

    WCF: Why did the dirtball pretend he had a gun?

    I wouldn’t set too much store on cop story analogies, but this one’s much closer to the facts of the Iraq war than Armed Liberal’s.

  7. Andrew,

    My analogy was not supposed to be perfect in every particular. What I find odd, frankly, is that you can so easily credit extremely weak theories of motive – (“[T]here may have been many reasons for the war (glory, magical democratic transformation of the Middle East, favor to Ariel Sharon, split the Democratic Party in twain”) – while dismissing the obvious, historical and stated reasons: risk of WMD, in particular given the history and the consensus between domestic political parties and agreement among our allies on their existence.

    If the basis for the war was not clear on 9/10 – even if I thought it certainly was at the time – it was certainly clear by 9/11. Not because Saddam was known to be in cohoots with Bin Laden, not because of a particular risk of WMD falling into the hands of terrorists, but for the simpler reason that what was barely tolerable in security terms at the threshold on 9/10 was bound to find itself above a justifiably lower threshold on 9/11.

  8. Andrew, one of the obligations on Saddam under the resolutions was to cooperate with interantional inspections sufficientr to assure that he had no WMD. Even Hans Blix stated that he didn’t do that.

    And no, Abu, the analogy isn’t to a search warrant, but to a suspect who has his hands in his pockets, won’t display them on command, and continues to maintain a threatening pose.

    I might argue that a less-lethal beanbag would be a good response to that, but in it’s absense…and I can’t think of a military equivalent…the officer is going to get cleared, and probably should be.

    A.L.

  9. It still find it incredible that even after the Hussein regime was actually found by a unanimous Security Council to be in breach of disarmament obligations, given a ‘final opportunity to comply’ and was found by Hans Blix not to be cooperating, the best that Kevin Drum can come up with is “the possibility that he could acquire weapons”. That is sheer abuse of the benefit of hindsight directed at a single individual: George Bush. It strikes me frankly as dishonest. Calpundit lied!

    Even Hans Blix acknowledged: “However, despite very far-reaching rights of immediate access to sites, authorities and persons, and despite access to national intelligence and overhead imagery, many years of inspection did not bring confidence that chemical and biological weapons had been eliminated in Iraq.” And this statement was published in the WSJ five weeks after the war (May 16, 2003) on Blix’s path of retreat.

  10. Armed Liberal:

    Well, if you’ve given up the “fake weapon” and “brandishing” part of your analogy, that’s progress. Further progress would be to acknowledge:

    * There was (contra Clinton) no “threatening attitude”. The only threats that Iraq was making were to defend itself fiercely if attacked (and, as we know, it didn’t deliver too well on them). There was a history of bad behaviour, but that’s quite a different thing.

    * The West was facing no such immediate danger as the police in your analogies. The chemical and biological weapons that it was seriously claimed that Iraq might have (unaccounted leftovers from the Iran war) were of no great strategic significance. There was no serious case that Iraq was anywhere near deploying nuclear weapons.

    I’m not saying that there was no real case for war; I’m saying that your analogy obscures it rather than illustrates it. The situation the West faced was nothing like that of a police officer looking down the wrong end of a gun barrel. That’s just the way Cheney et al. liked to misrepresent it. They’re the ones who suckered you, not Saddam.

  11. Abu

    Why are you singling out Cheney as suckering anyone? Why not Bill Clinton? French or British intelligence? Even Hans Blix? 12 years of weapons inspections? Also: rather stunning that Saddam Hussein gets a pass on all this.

    As for your certainty re: the “leftovers from the Iran war”, were you equally omniscient about the French Roland missiles, the Russian missiles, the Russian and South African cluster bombs, the Russian and French anti-tank bombs?

    We know what we know now. That is not the question.

  12. And this statement was published in the WSJ five weeks after the war (May 16, 2003) on Blix’s path of retreat.

    Retreat? From what? From Baghdad because the inspectors’ physical security was jeopardized by the war? Retreat admitting Saddam had hidden his WMD beyond his capacity to find them?

    Amazing, seven months of our own fruitless search, and it’s not enough to stop the slanders against Blix’s team!

    I find it most strange, furthermore, that you describe as “weak” not only my presumably scurrilous reasons[footnote 1] for the war, but the conservatives’ own post-WMD retreat, the magical (and in my opinion quite fanciful) reconstruction of the Middle East along democratic, pro-Western, and even pro-Israeli principles.[footnote 2] The threat-of-WMD excuse is dangerous to the Administration, because it invites inquiry into how and why we exaggerated this threat, which we now see was zero.

    [footnote 1]: although I will be glad to defend them, including links.

    [footnote 2]:

    In an interview with a Vanity Fair reporter, Wolfowitz outlined the strategic reasons for invading Iraq. Though he denied authorship of the 1992 Defense Planning draft, he admitted that the war had little to do with any Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction. “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on … weapons of mass destruction as the core reason.”

  13. Gabriel Gonzalez:

    I mentioned Cheney by name because he went further in his claims than most, even within the Bush administration, let alone the rest of the world. Yes there were many others involved, though it would be unfair to implicate French and British intelligence or Hans Blix in (for example) Cheney’s claim that Iraq had reconstituted nuclear weapons (or a reconstituted nuclear weapons program).

    Re “leftovers from the Iran war”: since I’m not omniscient, if there were claims that Iraqi possessed WMDs of strategic significance, why not fill us in on them? Claims based on hard intelligence, that is, not tales promoted by the INC and stovepiped by the Office of Special Plans.

    Re Iraq’s long history of delayed compliance, partial compliance, non-compliance with the inspectors: yes, there is a valid argument (though a weak one) that Saddam’s motive was to conceal the fact that he didn’t have any. That’s a lot different from brandishing fake ones.

    The interesting thing about Armed Liberal’s cop-staring-down-a-gun-barrel analogy is that it so well expresses the mindset of many war supporters, and at the same time has so little connection with the facts of the matter.

  14. Abu, I see you are repeating the myth that Cheney claimed that Iraq had nuclear weapons. Your attempt to distinguish your attacks on Cheney from all the others who concluded that Iraq had a program to develop nuclear weapons fails.

    As does your attempt to undermine A.L.’s argument with handwaving. Concealing that he didn’t have something i.e., nuclear weapons, is functionally equivalent in the context of Iraq to brandishing a fake. Both served to use the threat as a deterrent to the world community interfering with Saddam’s ambitions.

  15. Sure do love the revisionist history being brandished about the US Civil War. Slavery was not the cause of the Civil War, or the South Succession, but a dispute over State Rights and Federal Rights. Slavery did not become an issue, until 2 years into the war.

    And the north also had slaves, and indentured servents.

  16. Interesting analogy, A.L.

    Here’s one I’ve been thinking about lately. In WWII, Heisenberg having placed all his bets on heavy water, the Germans built a heavy water plant in Norway. British commandos and Norwegian resistance (Army guys who hadn’t surrendered) blew it up, and the Germans rebuilt it and made a bunch more of the stuff.

    Then they had to get the stuff back to Germany. They sent it as freight, heavily guarded, on a ferry. British intelligence picked this up, and the Norwegian resistance managed to plant explosives in key points inside the ships hull. When the ship was halfway between shores, they blew it in half, and all that heavy water mixed into the ocean.

    Along with the Germans who were on board, they killed over a hundred of their fellow Norwegians, men, women, children. There was no way to warn them off without the Germans figuring it out. One said later if his own family had been aboard, he couldn’t have warned them (and he’d have been shot if he’d tried).

    It turns out, the Germans never got all that close to an atomic bomb. Heisenberg was taking a much longer route, and the best bet is that he wouldn’t have gotten to the goal in time. (There’s a theory, unsound in my view, that he was deliberately sabotaging his effort because he was too brilliant not to have seen he was on the wrong track.)

    So: What do we all think of these Norwegians who blew that ferry in half, and murdered a hundred of their countrymen? Remember, the Germans weren’t on their way to getting a bomb. The sole justification for what they did is this: They might have been. The risk that they might was too great to accept. And the risk of waiting until we knew for sure was that by then, Hitler would have the bomb.

    Sorry for the length of this.

  17. Robin Roberts:

    I see you are repeating the myth that Cheney claimed that Iraq had nuclear weapons.

    Actually, I found Eugene Volokh’s argument, that Cheney mispoke when he said that, somewhat persuasive; which is why I linked to it above. The weaker claim, that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, is still false enough.

    I don’t claim that Cheney was all that much worse than everyone else; take Armed Liberal’s Clinton quote, if you prefer, for another example of the kind of talk that instilled the “staring down a gun barrel” mindset without actually lying.

    Concealing that he didn’t have . . . nuclear weapons is functionally equivalent . . . to brandishing a fake.

    (1) Brandishing a fake is functionally a lot different from leading people to believe that you might get a weapon some years out — especially in relation to the proposition “We’ve got to blow this guy away right now.”

    (2) You’re begging the question, was Saddam even trying to fool the world into thinking that he had (or was acquiring) nuclear weapons? My point is, there’s little evidence for that. If you want to understand why the West overestimated — grossly — Iraq’s WMD capabilities, you’d be better off looking at spin, politicization, and incestuous amplification, than at some subtle fakeout by Saddam.

  18. Abu Frank,

    After the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein was (initially) quite cooperative with the weapons inspections, Iraq was found to be maybe, at best, a year away from having a crude, functional nuclear weapon.

    Of course, American and various European intel agencies said they were ten years off. Hans Blix had given them a clean bill of health.

    Given that if they were still working on it, they’d have been trying to hide it, and they sure did seem to be playing keep-away: Do you really think it would have been prudent to put our faith in the scenario where they *might* not have been up to anything threatening?

  19. North Korea, then and now, was obviously the bigger danger.

    It made no sense to tie up this much of our military in persuit of Saddam for any of the reasons you Bush fans cite above.

    If it was because he was in breach of U.N. directives, what made it suddenly so crucial that his country be invaded *right away* as Bush demanded, without even waiting to try to round up global support? It’s not like Saddam hadn’t already been in breach for years, right? So then maybe it was immediately urgent because of those WMD that BLix and the boys couldn’t find, that Saddam himself denied having and that, by golly, turn out not to have existed. And if we had to invade because our intelligence was telling us Sadam either did or might have possessed a big nuclear cannon, then what was our intelligence telling us about North Korea and why was that not considered a more crucial target?

    Or then maybe the Iraqis required democracy *right now!* because they couldn’t survive another month under a dictatorship. Clearly, no.

    Or it was suddenly incredibly crucial to stop the torture of the Iraqi people – which coincidentally didn’t seem to be crucial at all in, say, the first quarter of 2001. (Torture and genocide of greater magnitute in Africa and Southeast Asia has yet to merit an invasion.)

    It seems to me that A.L. and some of his followers above are working hard to weave complex and detailed excuses together in order to try and explain away the obvious: That this invasion was to have been a lightening strike to take out a wildly unpopular villain, quickly set up an Arab democracy and (most importantly) score big approval points in the polls. And if Cheney’s buddies could make a few bucks rebuilding what we blew up, hey, bonus.

    Only it all went wrong.

    Yes, we have Saddam, and that’s great as far as it goes. Only it doesn’t go very far. Because our army is still stuck in the desert with a damned unfocused exit strategy, and none of the Iraqi ex-patriots the Pentagon is backing hold weight with the population.

    Meanwhile, the guy who hit us in New York is still alive and plotting in Afghanistan, the Taliban is regrouping and North Korea still has verifiable WMD. And now we’re taking sides with China against Taiwan.

    God help us if any fires break out elsewhere because, essentially, our whole army is still pinned down in Iraq.

    If they would’ve found WMD would it have made any difference to me? Yeah, at least then I could maybe believe that it wasn’t all a Wag-the-Dog made-for-TV exercise in political PR with a little Bush family revenge thrown in the pot for good measure.

  20. Dennis Kay has found a large network of hidden biological laboratories. fully stocked. with vials of nasty organisms. Does that qualify as ready to produce or not?

  21. Dennis [sic] Kay has found a large network of hidden biological laboratories. fully stocked. with vials of nasty organisms. Does that qualify as ready to produce or not?

    No, he found nothing of the sort. He found laboratories with innocent organisms sufficiently close to nasty that he was able to hype it. 100% PR, 0% science. At least he wasn’t lying.

    Example 1: The LA Times reported

    A suspicious sample of biological material recently found by U.S. weapons hunters in Iraq was probably purchased legally from a U.S. organization in the 1980s and is a substance that has never been successfully used to produce a weapon, experts said.

    Kay hypes the confusion with the sibling deadly strain. To repeat myself: the Bush Administration is trying to scare you out of your wits. Both American and Soviet scientists tried years ago to weaponize this stuff, without success.

    Example 2: The Kay Report means to terrify you with Iraqi vials of Congo Hemorrhagic Fever. Charles Krauthammer compares it to Ebola, and comments that despite his medical experience, he’d never heard of it. Well, the last part is correct. If he’d heard of it, he’d know it was endemic in Iraq, and any public health program worth a darn would be trying to cure or prevent it. (You can use the same link as above for details.)

    The initial reports of WMD finds hit the papers and Faux News hard. The experts’ rebuttal only catches up later.

  22. Andrew: You say “How, exactly, Saddam was to “reveal” weapons to them he did not possess is an amazing conundrum.” Actually, this could be done in many ways. Chemical weapons treaties and the like have these issues as well (I know, I’ve worked with the Russians on a chemical weapons treaty). Records of weapons destruction would be one example. So would “boneyards” that have decommissioned and demilitarized weapons (eg, missiles).

    Abu, regarding your analogy:

    “WCF: Open the door or die.
    [Door opens.]
    ADB: See, no gun.
    You forgot a main point of the story. ADB had already used the gun to shoot his neighbors and roommates. Now, doesn’t that change how the WCF should act when at ADB’s front door? I certainly do.

    Finally, Abu, your quote:

    “The interesting thing about Armed Liberal’s cop-staring-down-a-gun-barrel analogy is that it so well expresses the mindset of many war supporters, and at the same time has so little connection with the facts of the matter.” So what expresses the mindset of many war opposition? The image of Saddam as some poor, innocent, noble yet unfairly downtrodden Arab that is suffering from a case of mistaken identity? Come on.

  23. Uncle Bob,

    That this invasion was to have been a lightening strike to take out a wildly unpopular villain, quickly set up an Arab democracy and (most importantly) score big approval points in the polls. And if Cheney’s buddies could make a few bucks rebuilding what we blew up, hey, bonus.

    This is just false. I don’t know ANYBODY who ever believed we could take out a country the size of California (with a hostile military, to boot) “lightening quick.” How can you possibly even think this? Please give a source, any credible source, that ever gave an indication that the US could do so.

  24. Andrew doesn’t deal with the fact that even if the laboratories that Kay found didn’t have WMD biologicals in them, they were supposed to have been declared by Iraq as dual-use facilities.

  25. And your point is that the war was justified because Iraq had undeclared dual-use facilities, even though there was no evidence the facilities were used for anything other than benign purposes? Seriously?

  26. JPS:

    Iraq was found to be maybe, at best, a year away from having a crude, functional nuclear weapon.

    I used to think so too, but I’m not so sure now.

    Given that if they were still working on it, they’d have been trying to hide it, and they sure did seem to be playing keep-away: Do you really think it would have been prudent to put our faith in the scenario where they *might* not have been up to anything threatening?

    Given that most of what they might have kept from the Iran war would have been past its use-by date, that they’d demolished their own production facilities between 1991 and 1993 to keep the UN from finding them, and that the last thing Saddam would have done with WMDs, if he did have them, would have been to give them to Osama to provoke the USA, I’d say that General Zinni, for example, had good reason for dropping it off the bottom of the priority list.

  27. I miss the good old days when we could just blow up an old destroyer or provoke torpedo attacks and then exaggerate them.

    The funny thing is, Saddam had been shooting at US planes for quite some time. Why wasn’t this part of the equation?

  28. Ughman:

    Re “mindset”: I don’t suggest that the war must have been wrong because some people supported it for bad reasons. People supported and opposed the war for many reasons, good and bad. I think the the “staring down a gun barrel” mindset is interesting because it did significantly ease the way to war; and because it can lead a smart guy like Armed Liberal into a dumb analogy like the one in the post above these comments. I don’t know of anyone who was led to oppose the war by an “image of Saddam as some poor, innocent, noble yet unfairly downtrodden Arab”.

  29. praktike:

    Saddam had been shooting at US planes for quite some time. Why wasn’t this part of the equation?

    It was, a small part.

    It wasn’t part of the case presented at the UN, because most of the UN members considered the no-fly-zones illegal. It was only a minor part of the case presented domestically in the US and the UK because the WMD, support-for-terrorism, and humanitarian arguments were more effective.

  30. And your point is that the war was justified because Iraq had undeclared dual-use facilities, even though there was no evidence the facilities were used for anything other than benign purposes? Seriously?

    What’s more, by Kay’s standards, a typical American school science laboratory was “suitable” for weapons development.

    Iraq was found to be maybe, at best, a year away from having a crude, functional nuclear weapon.

    Absolute rubbish. Even the Kay report says Saddam was nowhere near any nuclear capability. No fissile material, no bomb, no delivery system: the only thing the Iraqis had were a few scientists who knew nuclear physics. Cheney’s “reconstituted nuclear weapons program” was another nightmare fantasy from his oxygen-deprived secret location.

  31. Ughman:

    You forgot a main point of the story. ADB had already used the gun to shoot his neighbors and roommates.

    That’s why the warrant was issued in the first place. There’s no prohibition on his neighbours owning guns; in fact the nice yarmulke-wearing guy down the street is said to have quite a collection (though some people are urging that if the shifty-looking towelhead across the street tries to get a piece, the cops should move in, law or no law).

    Now, doesn’t that change how the WCF should act when at ADB’s front door?

    It might suggest bringing a larger squad, putting on the kevlar, that kind of stuff. As an argument for blasting him away it’s not so hot.

    I don’t know that this shows anything much, except that any analogy gets tiresome if you push it too far.

  32. Abu –

    You’re missing the point of the analogy.

    The standard isn’t what’s discovered to be there after the fact. It’s what a reasonable person believed would be there beforehand.

    My point in the analogy is that I can’t judge the police officer with my after-the-fact perfect knowledge that the gun was a toy. I can only go on the knowledge that the officer had in the moment available to make a decision.

    You may argue that the information was imperfect and needed improvement; I’ll agree. But it was the best information available at the time.

    You may argue that the officer should have waited a few more moments to try and improve the information; that’s fine as long as dead officers and holes in Manhattan are acceptable to you.

    (Note that in fact, I argue in the specific case – re officer training – that slowing the hair-trigger would bea good thing, because in the long run the cost to society of the loss of officer legitimacy is greater than the cost of a few dead officers. Easy for me to say, as a non-officer, and untrue in the case of WMD.)

    A.L.

  33. But it was the best information available at the time.

    Whatever you posit for the hypothetical, that’s a long way from the case in Iraq.

    1. Much of our WMD information was obtained for money from defectors affiliated with a convicted swindler and could not be cross-checked.

    2. We didn’t revise or even question our beliefs on the basis of the inspections that were in progress during the run-up to war, even when they directly contradicted claims we had made.

    3. We already know that the White House somehow didn’t notice that the Niger Yellowcake story was refuted even at the time they were citing it, suggesting that we weren’t acting on best intelligence at all.

    We believed what we wanted to believe, and didn’t let any facts get in the way.

  34. A.L.,

    Nice post, and a great argument you started with it!

    If I can engage in a minor quibble, however, the very existence of the argument shows that this:

    > we have to look not in the light of the perfect information of hindsight,

    is quite an exaggeration. I.e. even in hindsight, our information is far from perfect.

  35. Armed Liberal:

    My point in the analogy is that I can’t judge the police officer with my after-the-fact perfect knowledge that the gun was a toy.

    Agreed as to the substance; and acknowledged that that was part of your point. But it seems to me that in arguing that Saddam was more like Newsome than Lee, you were also claiming that Saddam deliberately created and exploited the impression that he did have WMD. If not, what was the point of that part?

    . . . it was the best information available at the time.

    What Andrew Lazarus said.

    You may argue that the officer should have waited a few more moments to try and improve the information; that’s fine as long as dead officers and holes in Manhattan are acceptable to you.

    Acchh, not the Saddam-9/11 thing. Saddam had nothing to do with the hole in Manhattan, the hole in Manhattan had nothing to do with WMD, Saddam’s actual current Manhattan hole making ability was estimated at the time — without the benefit of hindsight — at exactly zero, taking out Saddam was around item 103 on any reasonable Manhattan hole prevention to do list; and all this is well known or ought to be; yet the ideas just won’t stay apart.

    Even with all the stovepiping, spin, hype, and sexing up, the case for “war now” was never “We’ve got to do it now or risk a hole”. It was “We’ve got to do it sometime or risk a hole, and right now is a fine time.” When Blix or Chirac said “You can afford to wait a few months to see what the inspections turn up”, the US response wasn’t “No we can’t”, it was “But we’re not obligated to (and anyway they won’t turn anything up because of Saddam’s cheating)”.

    You say your point is don’t abuse hindsight in judging others’ past decisions — and that’s fine — but then you use the analogy so as to raise other points — Saddam was faking us out! UN inspections raise Manhattan insurance premiums! — that aren’t fine at all.

  36. Philip Gourevitch in New Yorker Magazine crystalizes it pretty well here:

    “President Bush has consistently assured us that America will “stay the course” in Iraq, but what he means by that—what that course is—is not clear. Just as the official reasons for the war keep shifting, so does the Administration’s proclaimed objective. For now, we are in Iraq because the President and his most influential advisers wanted to go to war there. Having made a misleading case for the war, the Bush team drastically mismanaged the crucial early period of the occupation, and has recently responded to the Iraqi insurgency by scrapping its original plan for political revitalization in favor of a hastier schedule of “Iraqization.” With Bush’s attention turning ever more urgently to holding on to the White House in next year’s election, he is pushing for the election of an Iraqi transitional government by the middle of next year. “We’re going to get out of there as quickly as we can, but not before we finish the mission at hand,” Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, explained the other day.”

  37. Ughman, what do you consider a “credible source?” I can’t quote you from Rush Limbaugh, but there’s this:

    “What you have accomplished is truly remarkable. You’ve rescued a nation, you’ve liberated a people, you’ve deposed a cruel dictator, and you’ve ended his threat to free nations. You’ve braved death squads and dust storms, racing across hundreds of miles to reach Baghdad in less than a month. Some people call that a quagmire. It was possibly the fastest march on a capitol in modern military history.” – Donald Rumsfeld, April 30, 2003

    As an aside, if you see a dog squatting in a field, then walk over and notice some chocolate-colored cylindrical objects lying on the ground with steam rising from them, it just might be possible to accurately identify them as dog poop without ever having to go get a credible veterinarian to confirm your findings.

  38. Andrew –

    If the rash desire of the Bush Administration to invade was the lens that shaped their view of intelligence, why is it that in 1998 and 1999, all the Democratic leaqdership – who can hardly be accised of wanting to lead us into war – believed that Saddam had WMD?

    A.L.

  39. Andrew writes: “We believed what we wanted to believe, and didn’t let any facts get in the way.”

    That certainly defines Andrew’s beliefs. As illustrated by Andrew’s repetition of the misrepresentation of the State of the Union reference to African uranium, and his misrepresentation of the Niger reference.

  40. Joel writes: “And your point is that the war was justified because Iraq had undeclared dual-use facilities, even though there was no evidence the facilities were used for anything other than benign purposes? Seriously?”

    Yep. Seriously. The act of concealing them is itself evidence of a malignant purpose.

  41. If the rash desire of the Bush Administration to invade was the lens that shaped their view of intelligence, why is it that in 1998 and 1999, all the Democratic leaqdership – who can hardly be accised of wanting to lead us into war – believed that Saddam had WMD?

    A.L., that’s a great question and I’m not entirely sure how to answer it. As far as I can tell, even before Bush we already suffered from two intelligence failures. First, Ahmad Chalabi was already feeding us false intelligence (for a price). Lieberman Democrats, just like Republican neo-conservatives, were seduced by him. You know from 1998 his group had quasi-official recognition from the US Government. Second, we had no one on the ground (unavoidably) who could verify just how completely the 1998 bombings destroyed what remained of Saddam’s CW program.

    It’s my opinion that under Clinton, we would have had a much better chance of correcting our intelligence by correlating it with Hans Blix’s new information. As you know, the Bush Administration demanded that the CIA exaggerate the Iraq threat as much as possible (the yellowcake is just a tip of this iceberg), and when that wasn’t sufficient, Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans was established to frighten Americans with every unsubstantiated rumor available. And look, it worked with Robin! He’s still way out there believing these stories. (I hope he isn’t too sad when no fat man comes down his chimney this week.)

  42. Andrew,

    When I wrote that Iraq had been maybe a year away from developing a crude bomb, I was referring not to 2002, but to 1991.

    The West thought they were ten years away. Blix had certified them as in compliance with the NPT. Then after the first Gulf War, our inspectors were shocked at what they found. It was their impression that given the devices and facilities they had, a competent team would have needed a year or less to come up with a functioning nuke. Abu Frank’s link, which quotes Iraqi scientists saying they had exaggerated their progress, is interesting but does not specifically address this.

    In other words, they’d lied before, and they’d fooled the U.N. (Blix himself!) before. But I guess we had no reason to believe they would ever do it again.

    By the way, please read more carefully before calling my comments “absolute rubbish.”

  43. JPS, I’m sorry, I did misunderstand you as referring to 2002, when they were nowhere near a bomb. They were certainly much closer in 1991.

  44. Thank you uncle bob, you said everything quite eloquently.
    Another thing to ponder. What came out of the hole was not a defiant dictator bent on destroying the world and the United States in specific. It was a broken down man in charge of nothing.
    Saddam may have been a madman who went after his own people, Osama is a sly crafty fox whose hatred of the United States surpasses anything Saddam ever felt. We will never be safe as long as he is off somewhere plotting.

  45. JPS:

    It was [our inspectors’] impression that given the devices and facilities they had, a competent team would have needed a year or less to come up with a functioning nuke. Abu Frank’s link . . . does not specifically address this.

    Some excerpts from the link:

    “Other leading physicists, in Baghdad interviews, said the hope for an Iraqi atomic bomb was never realistic. “It was all like building sand castles,” said Abdel Mehdi Talib, Baghdad University’s dean of sciences.

    .
    .
    .

    At best, Khadduri writes, it would have taken Iraq several years to build a nuclear weapon if the 1991 war and subsequent U.N. inspections had not intervened.

    .
    .
    .

    Al-Bahili, who joined the Atomic Energy Commission in 1968 but remained outside the weapons program, said his colleagues inside “all knew they wouldn’t achieve results.” As for whether the program was later revived, he said, “these American inspectors are wasting their time.”

  46. I have to give an electronic ‘pat on the back’ to Andrew and JPS; to Andrew for saying ‘I don’t know‘ and to JPS for acknowledging that that his response was grouchy…

    …these discussions matter a lot to me, and the spirit of openmindedness – even by someone as avowedly partisan as Andrew – makes me more confident than usual that the people I’m having discussions with care about them as well.

    Back to the usual…

    A.L.

  47. Dear A. L.:

    As usual you’ve given us quite a bit of food for thought. My own opinion is that the Bush administration has been completely incompetent at building a logically compelling case for war either before or after the fact. This emphatically does not mean that such a case could not be built–they just haven’t done it.

    I believe they’ve done the right thing for the wrong reasons. For example, if you take OBL at his word why was the U. S. attacked on 9/11? Because we had troops in Saudi Arabia (I hate typing that–who else has the chutzpah to name a country after a family). Why did we have troops in Saudi Arabia? To contain Saddam Hussein. Why were we containing Saddam Hussein? Because he had irrefutably and indubitably repeatedly demonstrated the will and ability to attack his neighbors (and his own citizens) both with convential forces and WMD. Does anyone serious believe that without our troops on his border any kind of compliance could have been obtained from Saddam Hussein at any time for anything?

    But the Bush admin did not make this argument or any of the many other good arguments for war (or at least didn’t make them very credibly or strongly).

    I opposed the war on the grounds that a credible argument had not been made (once again not that it didn’t exist), on prudential grounds, and because I doubted that we had the fortitude to complete the job that needed to done. Now we’re there and the only way out is through.

  48. Frankly, AL’s trying to have it both ways. On one hand, he says it’s not his belief this war was about WMD. OTOH, he asks the “what if question:” that WMD had been found.

    It’s an ancient debate trick to frame the argument so regardless the answer, you win.

    The fact is the American public only narrowly bought into this war on the basis of an immediate threat of WMD. Thus, that’s how this administration sold it. For pity’s sake, folks like Wolfowitz, Card, Perle, Cheney, and crew have said as much.

    Andrew Lazerus is correct; a Gore admin would have understood Iraq was contained and could have received a more accurate and honest (devoid of WH arm-twisting) intelligence assessment. The very real fact is that this appointed administration *knew* better; as of early 2001, Colin Powell is on record as saying Iraq had no WMD capability and wasn’t even a threat to project conventional force against its neighbors.

  49. Jadegold, I’ll disagree on at least three points.

    First, and most important, containment was collapsing in the face of OECD unwillignness to meaningfuly enforce it. Short of a blockade (an act of war, as I recall), I’m not sure what a Gore Administration could have done to revice it.

    Second, it’s not clear to me that any policymakers in the Gore Administration believed that containment was working, or that Saddam’s desire to have WMD wasn’t being met. That’s my key point, and one that you don’t address.

    Third, my point in this post is a very narrow one; opponents of the war and the present Administration (there are very few people like me who split on those issues) have managed to reframe the issue as a Johnny Cochran-like ‘if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit’ around the presence or lack of WMD, a concept which I reject.

    A.L.

  50. Wait, so invading Iraq was like shooting an innocent guy with a toy gun? Something that seemed rational at the time, but with the benfit of hindsight can only be seen as a mistake? That sounds about right.

    So why are you still pro-war?

  51. AL: The fact is this administration sold this war on the basis of an imminent and significant WMD threat. You may reject that premise but you do so in stark contradiction to the evidence.

    As for containment, it was working just fine. Saddam didn’t control nearly 2/3 of Iraq so to claim containment was breaking down is an exaggeration. We were acutely aware of the state of Saddam’s conventional forces (approx. 20% the capability of the first Gulf War), so we were confident Saddam’s ability to threaten his neighbors was extremely limited. We also were well aware Iraq’s progress toward a gaining a nuclear weapon was nil.

    Your argument appears to hinge completely on trying to understand Saddam’s dreams, fantasies, and desires as opposed to what his actual capabilities or plans were. Using such a rationale, there at least half a dozen other nations I’d be more concerned about.

  52. JadeGold writes: “AL: The fact is this administration sold this war on the basis of an imminent and significant WMD threat. You may reject that premise but you do so in stark contradiction to the evidence.”

    As usual, JadeGold completely misrepresents reality. President Bush’s state of the union speech specifically stated that we could not wait until there was an imminent WMD threat from Iraq. But the actual words of the administration aren’t good enough for JadeGold, so we see the above inventions. The “stark contradiction” is between JadeGold’s writings and reality.

  53. Robin: …we could not wait until there was an imminent WMD threat from Iraq.

    How is that any better than JadeGold’s “imminent and significant WMD threat.”?

    To stretch and mix analogies: ABD is an ass and shoots at his neighbors. He then doesn’t comply with a number of security measures. He keeps on being an ass, but when his residence is finally searched, there are no guns. Then WCF bombs the crap out of his house because they say that ABD might be able to get a gun at some time in the future. WCF says that they just couldn’t wait until he had a gun (real or fake). Then there’s a really cool fight scene with tons of explosions, and Bush rides off into the sunset on his horse.

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