Thomas Sowell
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This may go down in history as the year when an attempt to win an election, at all costs, led to longer run disasters that make any election pale into insignificance. The biggest and loudest political rhetoric of this year is that President Bush "lied" about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
 
 What are the known facts about Saddam Hussein's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons?

 We know that, at one time or other, he was either developing or producing or using such weapons. Back in 1981, the Israelis bombed an Iraqi nuclear facility, to the loud condemnation of many nations. But, without that pre-emptive strike, the outcome of both Gulf wars could have been tragically different.

 Saddam Hussein not only had, but used, chemical and biological weapons against his enemies, foreign and domestic. With the help of the French, he was rebuilding nuclear facilities, ostensibly for civilian energy purposes, but oil-rich countries do not need nuclear power plants to generate electricity.

 More than a decade of playing cat-and-mouse with international weapons inspectors raised more and more suspicions about Iraq's weapons programs, and various nations' intelligence services reported that in fact he was back to his old tricks and developing weapons of mass destruction that could pose a major threat.

 Who said so? The Russians said so. The British said so. Bill Clinton said so. Leaders of both political parties said so. George W. Bush was one of the last to say so. Yet he alone is accused of lying.

 Were all these people wrong? While that is possible, it is also possible that Saddam Hussein used the long months between the time when the threat of invasion was debated at the United Nations and the time when it actually occurred to dismantle his weapons facilities and disperse them, perhaps to some neighboring country.

 There is already photographic evidence of a massive dismantling of a facility of some sort before last year's invasion. These photos were published on the front page of the New York Times. Whether or not that particular building was producing weapons of mass destruction, it shows that Saddam Hussein saw the need to get rid of some things before they got captured.

 Nations do not wait for iron-clad proof when there are lethal threats. The massive Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bomb was begun when the United States was at peace because of reports that Hitler's scientists were working on such a weapon.

 We had no proof -- and, after Germany surrendered, it turned out that Hitler's atomic bomb project was nowhere near the stage that we feared. But we couldn't take that chance.

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Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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