At first glance, I didn’t understand the big stir over the New York Times’ piece about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We’ve known about this for years, even if some of the details about the exposure of American troops to chemical weapons they discovered across Iraq were not widely disseminated until now. The opening paragraphs of the Times piece provide a tense description of one such encounter:
The soldiers at the blast crater sensed something was wrong.
It was August 2008 near Taji, Iraq. They had just exploded a stack of old Iraqi artillery shells buried beside a murky lake. The blast, part of an effort to destroy munitions that could be used in makeshift bombs, uncovered more shells.
Two technicians assigned to dispose of munitions stepped into the hole. Lake water seeped in. One of them, Specialist Andrew T. Goldman, noticed a pungent odor, something, he said, he had never smelled before.
He lifted a shell. Oily paste oozed from a crack. ???That doesn???t look like pond water,??? said his team leader, Staff Sgt. Eric J. Duling.
The specialist swabbed the shell with chemical detection paper. It turned red ??? indicating sulfur mustard, the chemical warfare agent designed to burn a victim???s airway, skin and eyes.
All three men recall an awkward pause. Then Sergeant Duling gave an order: ???Get the hell out.???
Then comes the thesis statement for the article:
From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein???s rule.
In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
It then occurred to me that this is all news to liberals. They spent a decade shrieking that there were no WMD in Iraq; it’s something close to a religious belief among them. “NO WMD IN IRAQ!” and “BUSH LIED, PEOPLE DIED!” are comparable to the Islamic shahada among the modern Left, a ritual declaration of faith required of all members. The rest of us heard reports of chemical weapons stockpiles over the years, and knowing that Saddam Hussein had a history of using such weapons, filed it away in our mental Of Course folders. Liberals didn’t hear those reports at all. The data just rolled through their brains without sticking to a single neuron.
The game changed recently for two reasons. One of them is the unfortunate seizure of Saddam’s toxins by the unruly new owners of northern Iraq, the Islamic State. There have been photographs of Kurds killed by ISIS who appear to have been exposed to chemical weapons. A few minor WMD scores were rumored for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but the real earth-shaking moment was the Islamic State’s capture of Saddam’s chemical weapons factory at Muthanna… where the Iraqi government recently confirmed long-standing CIA suspicions that a few thousand shells full of deadly sarin gas are stored. According to a report at the UK Daily Mail, Iraqi officials actually watched ISIS loot equipment from the base on closed-circuit TV.
The other reason the New York Times is bestowing its official benediction upon the “hey, guess what, Saddam did have WMD!” storyline is Hillary Clinton. Her impending presidential campaign requires some cover for her vote in favor of the Iraq war, especially if she keeps using surrogates like Leon Panetta to paint Barack Obama as a boob she quietly tolerated while Secretary of State because she’s a good soldier. Obama’s people have already reacted angrily to Hillary’s “distancing” efforts. Those efforts will surely intensify as 2016 approaches, pitting a Clinton team eager to portray her as the smart centrist Democrat who can clean up Obama’s mess versus Obama loyalists eager to build up his “legacy.” Somewhere in that scrum, Obamabots are going to throw a “she voted for Bush’s War!” punch at Clintonoids.
The NYT is moving into position as a referee, with an eye on Obama’s cratering approval numbers and growing public anger over the disaster he created in Iraq. If Obama had done a better job of securing the country’s defenses, we wouldn’t be worried about ISIS thugs making off with sarin gas shells right now. The tricky part is that the Times has to make Hillary look good without openly admitting that Bush was right about Iraqi WMDs all along. This is how they do it:
The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.
That is not true, and it’s not a typo – the Times repeats the claim several times during the piece, at one point going out of its way to say “the discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.” It’s Democrat mythology about the Iraq War, but it has nothing to do with what George Bush actually said, when he went about securing the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Barack Obama is still using, because he can’t be troubled to ask Congress for one of his own. The myth is that Bush tricked Democrats into voting overwhelmingly in favor of the Iraq invasion by telling them we would find a mad-scientist lab cranking out nuclear bombs. The truth is ably chronicled by Gabriel Malor at Ace of Spades today, who did what the New York Times apparently couldn’t bring itself to do, and reviewed the actual words of President Bush in 2002. There’s nothing ambiguous about this, as he makes clear in his summary:
As I have demonstrated from Bush’s own contemporaneous words, an active weapons program was not the sole reason for war. In fact, an active weapons program was not even mentioned in the multiple speeches Bush delivered to the American public and to an international audience.
Do not let the NYTimes get away with its false history of the Iraq War. The war was not made solely based on claims of an active Iraqi weapons program. It was made because, as President Bush explained repeatedly to the American public: Saddam Hussein possessed old weapons of mass destruction, desired to evade inspections so as to keep them, hoped to restart his weapons programs in the future, and could pass weapons to terrorist groups with ambitions to harm the West.
One might also read the text of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which does mention Iraq’s “continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations,” but also specifically mentions existing WMD stockpiles as one of the reasons force was authorized:
Whereas the efforts of international weapons inspectors, United States intelligence agencies, and Iraqi defectors led to the discovery that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical weapons and a large scale biological weapons program, and that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons development program that was much closer to producing a nuclear weapon than intelligence reporting had previously indicated;
Whereas Iraq, in direct and flagrant violation of the cease-fire, attempted to thwart the efforts of weapons inspectors to identify and destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and development capabilities, which finally resulted in the withdrawal of inspectors from Iraq on October 31, 1998;
Keep that in mind as you watch lefty pundits and bloggers haul the Iraq goalposts out of the ground and lug them right out of the stadium, claiming that they always acknowledged Saddam had extensive stockpiles of WMD, but Bush still lied about the regime’s constant creation of new weapons as the sole reason for invading. Concerns that they would ramp up production again were part of the case for war, and will remain a historical imponderable, since the war happened. Suspicions that Saddam had, or was on the verge of obtaining, nuclear WMD were well-sourced by international intelligence services, and reinforced by the regime’s behavior, but didn’t pan out. But yes indeed, he had weapons of mass destruction on hand, and a demonstrated willingness to use them.
The new details revealed by the NYT piece make it well worth reading, as do concerns about troops exposed to Iraqi WMD who say their health has been compromised by the government’s decision to keep their discoveries secret. If their allegations prove true, these troops also deserve the commendations they have long been denied. But it’s downright comical to watch the Left crank up its Memory Hole and prepare the political battlespace for ISIS’ capture and deployment of WMD they spent over a decade pretending did not exist, while shoring up their old fairy tales about how Bush said nukes were the only reason to invade. What’s happening right now is exactly what supporters of the Iraq War were worried about: terrorists getting their hands on Saddam’s stockpiles. Liberals were so busy crafting a political narrative that would let them hammer Bush, without holding the Democrats who voted for the war accountable, that they completely lost sight of the actual debate over the invasion. Among other things, this made it tough for them to constructively criticize the decisions made after 2002, which would have been more useful.
We’ll never know for certain if Saddam would have used them himself, or ramped up production to create more, or finally gotten the nuclear weapons he most certainly did want – and would have wanted even more fervently as his old nemeses in Iran drew closer to producing their own bombs. We’ll also never know how the rise of ISIS would have played out if Saddam was still in power, but there are plenty of reasons to think the situation would not be more positive than it is now. Saddam’s old Baathist stooges seem to have found a ready home in the Islamic State. One of the reasons they want to take Baghdad is that it’s the historic seat of the “caliphate” they’re intent on reviving and expanding. Saddam Hussein probably would have dropped off his resume for the Caliph position, don’t you think? And he would have listed “history of defying the West and thwarting U.N. weapons inspectors” as bullet points.