The last thing you expect is for the New York Times to publish a story vindicating the Bush Administration report that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, thus justifying the invasion that overthrew him.
And the story published by the Times yesterday does not exactly do that. Instead, it tells the tale of the Pentagon’s secrecy over the course of many years in dealing with older chemical weapons stashes found by U.S. troops – sometimes bringing harm to these troops – and revealing that even Congress often did not get the truth about what the military was finding in Iraq.
Congress, too, was only partly informed, while troops and officers were instructed to be silent or give deceptive accounts of what they had found. “ ’Nothing of significance’ is what I was ordered to say,” said Jarrod Lampier, a recently retired Army major who was present for the largest chemical weapons discovery of the war: more than 2,400 nerve-agent rockets unearthed in 2006 at a former Republican Guard compound.
Jarrod L. Taylor, a former Army sergeant on hand for the destruction of mustard shells that burned two soldiers in his infantry company, joked of “wounds that never happened” from “that stuff that didn’t exist.” The public, he said, was misled for a decade. “I love it when I hear, ‘Oh there weren’t any chemical weapons in Iraq,’ ” he said. “There were plenty.”
That raises an interesting question about the entire Iraq venture: When the government tells us anything about what happened there, how would we know if it’s true?
It seems the Obama Administration was reluctant to let it be known that any chemical weapons were found – even old, obsolete ones – out of fear that this might undermine the Democrat narrative that “Bush lied about WMDs.”
Of course, George W. Bush did no such thing. He acted on the same information that the Clinton Administration trusted concerning Saddam’s weapons programs. The mistake the Bush Administration made was in pinning so much of its rationale for the war on the assertion that Saddam not only had active weapons programs, but that U.S. troops would surely find them, and that this would justify everything.
It did not need to go that way. Under terms of the 1991 Gulf War cease fire agreement, Saddam was obligated to file reports with UN weapons inspectors that proved he had destroyed his weapons of mass destruction. He continually violated this agreement. He was also obligated to grant unfettered access to UN weapons inspectors. He routinely kicked them out. He was also obligated to respect no-fly zones set up by the U.S. and our allies. He constantly pushed the envelope.
During the Clinton Administration, the only price he paid was the occasional pin-prick missile strike. Saddam knew that Clinton had little interest in going back to war, and both sides were content to play cat-and-mouse rather than move toward any sort of permanent resolution to the problem.
Once the Bush 43 administration was in charge, and we were all taking the threat of Middle Eastern-based terrorism more seriously post-9/11, it no longer seemed so plausible to let Saddam keep defying us. The obligation was Saddam’s to prove he had destroyed the weapons. It wasn’t on us to find them and prove he hadn’t.
The Bush team understood that even the presence of older, obsolete weapons proved the defiance of a man who could, at any time, restart his weapons programs – whether to use them against his own people (as he had done in the past) or to use them in posing a threat to others.
So why did they base so much of their selling of the war on the promise of active WMDs they were sure they’d be able to find? Looking back, you’ll recall that the Bush Administration wanted very badly to get the United Nations behind the invasion – even though they already had the legal right to resume hostilities based on the 1991 Gulf War cease fire. They felt they needed this politically. Those at the UN had little appetite for an invasion, but the Bush White House thought WMDs would get their attention, so they sent Colin Powell to present the evidence they had.
That actually did result in a 9-7 vote in favor of authorizing the invasion, but because the French and others had veto power as permanent members of the Security Council, the resolution was not passed. It didn’t matter. We invaded anyway because President Bush rightly declared he would not ask for a permission slip to protect America’s interests.
Except that he did kind of sort of ask for one. He just went ahead anyway when he didn’t get it. And in the process of asking, he set himself up for a political narrative – there are WMDs and we will find them – that came back to bite him.
I think the Bush Administration didn’t want to make announcements about old, obsolete weapons that would just prompt Democrats and the media to argue they had found nothing current. And the Obama Administration didn’t want to admit there were any WMDs at all.
The result was that our troops found lots and lots of chemical weapons in Iraq, and we didn’t hear about any of it because the actual facts always presented a problem for someone’s narrative.
Any way you look at it, politics is trumping strategic reality in our national security decisions. That needs to stop.
UPDATE: Gabriel Malor at Ace of Spades gives an absolutely outstanding review of the real case Bush made for the invasion of Iraq, and demonstrates how liberals – especially those at the New York Times – have been lying about it ever since and really are lying about it in this story as well. As Malor points out, one of the most astonishing things about this whole story is that much of it is easy to remember. I remember most of it, although he did a better job than I did of going back and researching the contemporaneous facts, quotes, etc.
The narrative that’s been developed since then is built completely on lies, and Malor does a great job of demonstrating that. If you’re at all interested in the truth about the Iraq War, you need to read what Malor wrote here.
By: Dan Calabrese